Saturday, April 12, 2008

El Rinconcito Mexicano - Mexican Restaurant in Cambridge

Let me start by saying that El Rinconcito Mexicano is probably my best restaurant find in years.

Firstly, finding a real authentic Mexican restaurant in Kitchener-Waterloo is impossible - they just don't exist. El Rinconcito Mexicano is probably as authentic as you get, and the food is incredible. Since we now live in Cambridge, we are about 10 minutes away from this restaurant, located on Ainslie street near Main in downtown Galt.

Secondly, real Mexican food is usually very Celiac friendly since a lot of it is made from corn flour. El Rinconcito Mexicano's menu has plenty of options: from corn tacos, enchiladas (made from corn) and also other options that are less known to me, such as gorditas. You have to stay away from the burritos and other items made with flour tortillas, but the two ladies that work there (I think mother and daughter) are very friendly and helpful if you can't understand the somewhat cryptic menu. (See below for what their menu looks like!)

All of the food is home made and cooked fresh. The prices are very reasonable: you can easily eat most of the dishes for $8 tax included. I've been twice now and had the enchiladas (with chicken) and also the soft tacos (I've tried chicken, pork and beef). I also had the gordita which was amazing. Although there are some standard drinks available (Coke, Sprite, etc.) many of their drinks are sodas from Mexico, like grapefruit or orange soda. Pretty cool.

Now, don't expect fine dining here. The decor is made up of a good mishmash of what looks to be garage sale items and old furniture from a student apartment. There are probably only about 5 tables, so if it's busy you're stuck with takeout. Here's a picture to illustrate:

But all of this adds to it's character, and quite frankly with food this good it doesn't matter what you're sitting on. It's clean - that's the most important point here.
Plus, if you ever need ingredients for your Mexican feast at home, the restaurant has also a few shelves of hard to find items such as corn flour, mole sauce (not GF), peppers and salsas from Mexico.

Well there you have it. Even though from Waterloo it's probably about a 30 minute drive, it's definitely worth the trip some Saturday afternoon for a great Mexican lunch! Enjoy.

Blackshop Restaurant in Cambridge

My wife and I went to Blackshop on Hespeler road for her birthday a few weeks ago. Although I can honestly say that their sister restaurant in Waterloo (Sole) is not my favourite, Sole does treat Celiacs very well. I thought I'd see if Blackshop was similar.

Well, my overall impression was similar to Sole. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the menu looked great. The waitress didn't know much about Celiac disease but asked the chef about all my choices.

But overall the food just didn't taste amazing, as the menu, atmosphere (and price) would lead you to believe. I found it just mediocre, and actually didn't feel well afterwards.

I ended up ordering from their Southwestern specialty menu. For an appetizer I had an interesting twist on tacos - the shells were made from shredded and baked Parmesan cheese. Unfortunately the beef was served at room temperature. I didn't complain because I thought maybe it was supposed to be served that way. (?) Overall, I can't really say I enjoyed it though.

I chose the Enchiladas for my main meal. They were stuffed with pulled pork, which in theory sounds amazing but overall just tasted 'ok' - they definitely didn't wow me in any way. My wife ordered the Tequila Tiger Shrimp, and although the shrimp was good it was way too spicy for her to eat. They marked it with a '2 chilies' meaning it's medium, but it was way hotter than my '3 chili' tacos which we both could eat without breaking a sweat.

Here's one I haven't heard before though. My wife ordered the potato frites for an appetizer - basically french fries - and I asked the waitress if they were gluten-free and cooked in a separate fryer so I could sample them. She came back and said they were cooked in the same oil as other gluten-products, but "the chef says it's ok because all gluten breaks down in such a hot fryer and therefore you have nothing to worry about".

Wow! That's news to me, and of course I didn't believe it. All literature I've read certainly does not give this indication, and thus I stayed away from the fries. (As an aside - does that mean I can have onion rings because all the gluten content breaks down? Hahaha, wishful thinking.)

So that was pretty shocking. That comment alone makes me very skeptical about a restaurant. I appreciate the fact that they mention it, but a comment like "if you are very sensitive to gluten you might want to stay away from the fried food" would be a better answer.

Anyway, by the end of dinner, I wasn't feeling all that great, so we passed up on dessert. I really wanted to try their creme brule, (and it is my favourite) so you can tell I really wasn't feeling good! I'm really not sure if it was gluten contamination in their food or just indigestion. (I didn't get completely sick, just an upset stomach.)

I don't know if I'd return to Blackshop any time soon - their atmosphere and menu does look good, and perhaps their regular menu items are more tried and true. But for a $120 meal for 2 people (including wine), I feel like their are plenty of other restaurants (like Verses or Charbries in Waterloo) that would be much better options.

Have you been to Blackshop? What was your experience like? Feel free to leave a comment.

Fifty's Restaurant in Cambridge

A few weeks ago my wife and I visited Fifty's restaurant in Cambridge on Hespeler Road. It's a diner, with a menu that's typically tough for a Celiac to find options on - burgers, sandwiches, etc. But we thought we'd give it a try as sometimes you can find hidden gems in places like this.

I was hopeful, but I can honestly say it was a disaster. Although their menu was rather large (you could almost have anything: sandwiches, salads, ribs, chicken, fish, etc.) most didn't look appetizing or definitely contained gluten.

Firstly, the server didn't really know too much about eating gluten free, but she did offer to check with the kitchen staff. So I asked about the burgers (of course without the bun) but they contain wheat. The fries are cooked in the same oil as chicken fingers and other gluten-products. So that was out.

I ended up choosing the chicken breast sandwich without the bun, and coleslaw. I got the meal about 20 minutes later and the chicken was on a bun. I mentioned this to the waitress and she went back to the kitchen and returned in 2 minutes with a 'new' plate - she said this one was cooked fresh and didn't touch any bread.

I'm not sure what to think of that. Maybe their chicken breasts are already cooked and they could produce another one in 2 minutes, but it seemed awfully quick considering the first try took almost 20 minutes.

Anyway, the meal came with a mustard-mayo condiment on the side, which I asked about and the waitress said: "well the kitchen wouldn't have served you it because I marked 'no wheat' on your it must be ok". I thanked her politely but didn't eat it. About 5 minutes later she came back and said that it probably did have wheat in it after all.

Finally, my coleslaw had a few chunks of chicken in it. And my wife's didn't and that concerned me. How did a couple pieces of chicken get in the coleslaw? It just makes me think that the kitchen isn't being very careful in their preparation.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I won't be going back to Fifty's any time soon. In fact, my wife's dinner wasn't very good either (just a simple club sandwich) even if you're not a Celiac, I wouldn't recommend Fifty's.

All inclusive resorts and travelling

It's been a while since I've posted - seems like March just flew by. We have a family tradition of going south in March, and this year we went down to Club Med in the Bahamas.

I thought a little post about travelling and being a Celiac might start a good discussion on resorts to go to, travel tips, etc.

Firstly - when travelling I always try to bring my own food on the plane. You can easily make a GF sandwich, pack some snacks, and buy something to drink at the airport. On many flights I've been promised GF food, and they forget, give it to someone else by accident, or like many flights now, don't even offer a GF option. (It seems to be more common that you have to purchase a meal on the flight, and there is little (if anything) that is gluten-free.)

We've been to a variety of resorts, from Club Med, Sandals, Iberostar, and others. Although we like to experiment, time and time again we come back to Club Med for their food. Both my mother and I are Celiacs and have had good experiences at Club Med. Usually the staff speak English very well, and you can always talk to the head chef about the buffet.

On a few occasions, the chef walked my mother and I through the buffet and let us know what we could and couldn't eat. I also had soup on a few nights (they used cornstarch to thicken it), but on other nights they specifically said that wheat flour was used. My rule of thumb is always to ask.

Of course, being at Club Med does pose its challenges: they have a pastry chef on staff and amazing chocolate bread! (I remember how good these treats were from before I was diagnosed.)

Of the week we were there, we visited the buffet and both specialty restaurants. Neither my mother or I ever got sick, and we always ate very well.

I've also been on a couple cruises, and my mother has been on many through Princess. They've always tried to accommodate the GF-diet by having gluten free meal options and even gluten-free bread (usually just 'ok', but the fact that it's available is amazing).

I think they do a terrific job, but on a ship that large with so many staff and guests, things sometimes get lost in the mix. As an example, on my mother's last cruise they presented her meal, and she got half way through before they returned and said there was wheat in the sauce. She got very sick that evening...

As for other resorts we've been to, they usually have enough options that I can manage to eat GF for a week. Sticking to the basics is always a good bet - grilled fish, salads, etc. But it's nice to just not worry about it while on vacation. If you're heading to Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, etc. - knowing a little Spanish goes a long way. But if you stick to the larger resorts like Club Med, usually the chefs all speak English and also French.

If you have any travelling tips or good resort destinations, please feel free to comment.