Tuesday, February 28, 2006

February MetroCeliac Supper Club - Bistro 110

Happy February, the month of love,

The month of love, the language of love, of course, a french bistro! Time to break all resolutions, or at least any that include giving up creme brulee. Since French is the language of love, in this, the month of Valentine's Day, we went French, to Bistro 110. It is described on Metromix as..."Part of the Levy Restaurant Group, Bistro 110 is often recommended to out-of-towners by Chicago concierges, but it's not a tourist trap. The menu features French-influenced cuisine. Velvet hats join loud artwork and a news board as well as wall hangings in the informal dining room. The restaurant overlooks the park adjacent to the city's historic Water Tower".

We wanted a french bistro and had heard good things about the food and quaint atmosphere of Bistro 110. I was a bit nervous as this is a restaurant owned by the Levy Group, a larger company with nothing to really gain by accommodating a small group with dietary restrictions. While it is nice to have a great relationship with smaller communities, it is not completely necessary to go out of one's way when business is constantly flowing from the tourism trade on the Mag Mile. Nicole Wexner is the party coordinator at Bistro and was very enthusiastic about hosting our event.

Well, I got the menu and was not really all that thrilled. Two of the dishes were exactly the same descriptions, but with two different kinds of fish. I have not really been in this position before, so I was unsure how to address that without sounding ungrateful. I sent Nicole an email and prepared for the worst. We then had some issues with me signing a contract committing me to a certain number of guests and a financial commitment. I addressed both of these issues with Nicole. To my surprise, she and the chef immediately and without discussion whipped up a new menu for me, allowed me to add Nicole to the evite so she could see the count herself, thereby extricating me from the contractual obligation...and the problems were easily solved. Whew. A very easy and pleasant resolution.

On to the evening. Every member who responded showed up, thankfully. There were new people as well as some favorite regulars and some non-celiacs, some couples and overall a fantastic, fun, loud, entertaining group of MetroCeliacs!

Once we were seated in the side dining room, the bright but muted colors and the lighting made our experience exciting and the energy in the room was palpable. The food was even more delicious than it was described in our menu. The presentation was artistic but simple and colorful, similar to the feel of the restaurant. Everyone raved about the food and its presentation. And can we talk about the creme brulee. It was so rich and creamy that even a diehard fan like myself could not finish it off without help.

Our waiter was probably the best waiter we have had to date. He took pictures for us, kept everyone's orders straight and even gave us all separate bills. The timing of the meals and the speed with which he honored everyone's requests made everything seem effortless. Only after I left did I realize just how amazing he was. I never asked for anything twice; I never asked for a refill of my drink; my dessert came with a spoon; and he anticipated everything else that is normally requested throughout the course of a meal.

Kudos to the fine staff and chef at Bistro 110. They gave us a delicious meal and a pleasurable experience overall.

Here is the menu, remember I mentioned that it was more delicious after you see the presentation and taste it for yourself:

First Course Selection
Bistro Salad - Organic mesclun greens tossed with a sherry vinaigrette
Carrot and Ginger Soup

Roasted chicken - served with roasted knob onion, fennel, asparagus, tomato, zucchini, lemon wedges
Tilapia - Served with creme fraiche mashed potatoes and mushrooms.
Wood Oven Roasted Pork - Pork porterhouse on crème fraiche mashed potatoes, broccolini and Armagnac prune sauce

La Fameuse Creme Brulee du Bistro 110
Glaces ou Sorbets-Ice Cream or Fresh Fruit Sorbet

Freshly brewed Coffee, Tea, Fountain Sodas and Bottled Water

With such a great turnout and after having such a great time, I am really excited about the whole Supper Club experience and look forward to each and every event we are planning for this year.

Thanks Nicole and the generous and competent staff at Bistro 110. If you are out shopping or looking for a nice downtown restaurant with a cozy and warm atmosphere, good food and staff that cannot be outdone anywhere, stop by Bistro, you will be happy you did!

Au Revoir!
Jenny and Tanya

February MetroCeliac Meeting, Hosting Gluten Free Passport

February's meeting of the MetroCeliacs hosted Kim Koeller of Gluten Free Passport. I have recently traveled to Ireland and Tanya is going to soon be traveling to Europe, so this meeting ended up being rather timely for us. Before hosting the MetroCeliac Supper Club, both Tanya and I (and most celiacs) had experienced firsthand how difficult it could be to dine out safely, even here in America where there are no language barriers or cultural differences in cuisine. Traveling seems like it would be rather daunting, so it was a great find to meet Kim and Robert La France, her business partner, at a U of C event last year. We discussed our common desire to have a way to be as comfortable as possible when dining out and when traveling. Gluten Free Passport makes traveling much easier and more comfortable and it also discusses our responsibility as celiacs regarding these issues. She gave an impressive talk and power point presentation and addressed all of our fears related to these issues and offered statistics that put it all into perspective.

Gluten Free Passport collaborates with individuals and organizations on a global basis across a multitude of disciplines. These include culinary, research, medical, marketing, distribution, publishing and allergy related fields. This advisory structure ensures the applicability, relevancy and quality of their media products and services.

Kim Koeller, Founder and President, has been living with various food allergies and sensitivities for the past 30+ years. Her food-related allergies include gluten, seafood, dairy, fish, pork, food colorings, food additives/preservatives such as aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sodium nitrate. In 2002, she was diagnosed with celiac/coeliac disease. She has extensively explored food allergies and Western/Eastern medicines and therapies due to her recovery from 12 orthopedic surgeries, three years of physical therapy and her multitude of food allergies.

For the past 23 years, Kim has spent typically 75% of her time traveling across the globe and eating approximately 80% of her meals in restaurants. The combination of Kim’s health concerns and her extensive domestic and international travels has provided her with a practical understanding of dining out with food allergies.

To that end, the passport to which the company refers, is a set of books and dining guides offered to celiacs. Let’s Eat Out! Your Passport to Living Gluten and Allergy Free is the first book dedicated to eating around the corner and around the world while managing ten food allergies including: corn, dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat. At last! A book that gives you the freedom to eat what you want, where you want and when you want with confidence and ease.

Let’s Eat Out! Your Passport to Living Gluten and Allergy Free provides you with everything from delicious menu items to order in 7 popular cuisines (American Steak and Seafood, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Mexican, and Thai) to which questions to ask in safely guiding your decisions.

Let’s Eat Out! (available on Amazon.com) offers you peace of mind with less effort, enabling you to have more fun. Inside you will find:

The collaborative process of dining out
An approach to eating outside the home
The restaurant approach to handling special dietary requests
7 international cuisines outlining traditional ingredients, gluten awareness, allergy & dining considerations and sample menus
175+ savory menu item descriptions and preparation requests
65+ ingredient and preparation technique descriptions with sample questions to ask
10+ allergen quick reference guides
130+ snack and light meal ideas
200+ breakfast and beverage suggestions
300+ multi-lingual phrases
50+ global airlines with special meal options
100+ product resources in 15 countries
180+ international organizations… All this and more to simplify your gluten and allergy-free lifestyle, Let’s Eat Out! also brings you the worldwide insights and expertise of:
15 chefs and culinary experts
10 health and medical professionals
20 celiacs/coeliacs and individuals impacted by food allergies

Kim discussed how we can establish and maintain a good working relationship with the restaurants in Chicago, which will help the MetroCeliac Supper Club, and also how we as celiacs can address our concerns appropriately when dining out. She really is an expert on her topic and her book(s) would be a great addition to any celiac library. I highly recommend checking out her website. It was a very beneficial meeting.

As a post script, she also told us about a successful beer fest, with around 16 vendors and people from all over, that took place in Europe when she was there. I hope she hosts one here in Chicago soon. I know a lot of interested parties, so to speak.

Our thanks to Gail at Sherwyn's for samples of some new bars and other tasty treats. Amy also contributed some tasty homemade pizza! Thanks Amy!

Our thanks as well to Kim and the Gluten Free Passport company for a successful and informative February meeting of the MetroCeliacs!

Jenny and Tanya

MetroCeliac January Supper Club - Mas

The MetroCeliac Supper Club meets once a month at a new restaurant in Chicago. We contact restaurants and ask them if they are aware of celiac and its dietary needs and then we offer them a variety of resources to learn the ins and outs of cooking for celiacs. Our goal is to make Chicago chefs excited about learning a new skill and offering that new skill to the public at large. One day we hope that all menus will have options that are naturally celiac, and labeled that way, as well as other options that are specifically designed for us (breads, pastas and desserts, to name a few). We are trying to reach that goal one restaurant at a time...for now. After the chefs are aware of how to cook for us, we then decide what to cook for us. We set a menu, a price and a date and all the members have to do is show up ready to have a good meal and a good time. So far, it has been a wonderful success and 2006 looks to be continuing that tradition.

What a wonderful way to kick off the new year with style and a spicy flair! We chose Mas Restaurant 1670 W. Division Chicago, Illinois. The chef and the management went out of their way to learn what our restrictions are. They shared our philosophy about not focusing on what we cannot have, rather they focused on the myriad of things we CAN have. They took that concept and ran with it. Nothing bland for us here. We had an excellent crowd, evenly divided between celiacs and non-celiac friends of the group. The restaurant has an intimate charm and the various courses had an impressively stylish presentation. The flavors were unique, spicy, rich and bordering on decadent. Each dish offered something unique in flavor, texture and combination and each member of the group chose something different from each course as their favorite. Mas was a huge hit and I hope all celiacs who miss flavor and variety and a unique dining experience try this restaurant as the ultimate in celiac-friendly dining.

Mas is described by the local go-to website for Chicago socializing, Metromix, as "... a stylish eatery on the eastern fringe of Wicker Park that features ambitious Nuevo Latino cuisine. Sit with the trendy crowd in the front of the restaurant, where the picture window affords plenty of people-watching opportunities, or retreat to the more intimate dining area near the back of the restaurant, where your view will include the open kitchen." Mas restaurant, located in the heart of Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, captures the true soul of Latin culture in a contemporary environment. With its own unique style of "Nuevo Latino" cuisine, Mas is radiant with authentic flavors that reflect the mosaic of the Latin landscape. Mas offers more spirit, more soul, more vibe.

Here is the menu (read on full stomach):

Primero(family style)
mixed greens, guajillo-candied pecans, roasted garlic and cilantro vinaigrette

grilled flank steak, eggplant escabiche, spiced goat cheese, cilantro, pesto

Ceviche Del Dia

Proximo(family style)
acorn and butternut squash, wild mushrooms, truffle risotto, pumpkin seed oil

pan-roasted boneless chicken, fingerling potatoes, poblano rajas, aji amarillo sauce

chile-cured pork tenderloin, white beans, truffle scented jus

Bananas fried and covered in chocolate sauce with pistachios and cinnamon, vanilla bean ice cream

While dimly lit so that it was difficult to see what we were actually consuming, the food was wonderful, the staff attentive and so accommodating and the chef, who came out at least twice every course, was absolutely the best we could have hoped for. The whole experience is one you wish you could guarantee each and every supper club. Tanya and I consider this a spicy hot beginning of a wonderful 2006. Our thanks to Mas and to all who attended the event!

Monday, February 27, 2006

January MetroCeliac Meeting, Hosting Enjoy Life Foods

Happy New Year MetroCeliacs and Friends!

We are so excited to be kicking off the New Year as we have a new schedule of speakers as well as many new restaurants for the MetroCeliac Supper Club. The January meeting focused on a local vendor of gluten and allergen free (and delicious) products. The company is called Enjoy Life Foods.

The MetroCeliacs were very excited to have Scott Mandell, the founder of Enjoy Life Foods, come to our first meeting of 2006. We met at Whole Foods on Ashland on January 17. Scott brought a few samples and talked about how Enjoy Life Foods came into being. The process started as a Graduate Class project and grew to an actual gluten and allergen free company that produces cookies, cereals and bars. In addition to Enjoy Life Foods, they have acquired a new branch company called Perky's. This adds a line of "Cheerio-like" cereals that are quite tasty and stood up to actually being in a bowl of milk. It was a fresh taste, lots of flavor, but not so sugary that it leaves that cereal taste in your mouth... we all tried samples and loved them.

We listened to the story of how Enjoy Life came to life, then Scott graciously allowed us to brainstorm products that a Celiac community would like added to the shelves... from pie crusts, to graham crackers, bread crumbs, better pastas, FLOUR TORTILLAS, various flours (manioc-brazilian kind like a Chebe), quick & easy mixes... and more. Enjoy Life Foods has several things in the works, so keep your eyes open!

Also, Scott mentioned the difference with the Enjoy Life Foods manufacturing and the Perky's... Enjoy Life Foods facility is free of the gluten and the top allergens and Perky's, is gluten and nut free, but not made in an allergen free facility.

Here is some information from the man himself:
Enjoy Life Foods products are formulated to be gluten-free and free of the 8 most common allergens. Our products are manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free and nut-free bakery. Our ingredient suppliers are required to complete non-contamination certificates. Ingredients are additionally tested for casein, gluten , peanut , and soy protein. Equipment is cleaned thoroughly after product and flavor changes. Enjoy Life employees understand the severity of food allergies and intolerances, and take every precaution to protect our customers.

Finding safe, gluten-free products just got easier! Look for the new GF symbol on food packaging. The GF symbol identifies products that are free of gluten and possible cross-contamination.

Who came up with such a brilliant idea? The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), a program of the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG). The GFCO uses the highest standards for gluten-free ingredients and safe processing environments. In fact, its standards exceed the requirements of current government laws and regulations.

Enjoy Life is proud to be the first food manufacturer to be certified by the GFCO supervision program. We are happy to provide the extra convenience and safety assurance this certification brings.

To learn more about the GFCO please visit, http://www.gfco.org.

tree nuts

Also made without other common triggers of intolerance:
corn, casein, potato, sulfites or sesame.


We really enjoyed sampling his products, listening to the history of the company, finding out what they are going to come up with next and of course, making suggestions for things we would like to see in the future!

Thanks to Whole Foods on Ashland www.wholefoods.com for their support in letting us use their meeting room to host our New Year Kickoff!