Thursday, 26 August 2010

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA

I spent a week in beautiful Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  This is apparently a Gluten-Free Mecca!  I was amazed at all the Celiac safe options that abound in this adorable little town.  Perfect for a romantic weekend getaway!

Three noteworthy restaurants:

Blue Mermaid Island Grill
This place is hip, funky, and earthy.  It has a bit of an artistic flare.  The first floor is a pub atmosphere and they often have performers strumming a guitar or a rousing game of trivia.  The second floor is a more traditional dining ambiance with small tables, little candles, and colorful tablecloths.  The place has lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch menus.  They all indicate which items are vegetarian (but no indication for vegan) with an icon of a carrot and which items are gluten-free with a little (g) next to the description of each dish on the menu.

While waiting for our orders, the server gave us a dish of corn chips and some fresh salsa.  It was complementary and gluten-free.  We ate them all and asked for more!  I started my meal with the Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Soup.  It was quite delicious and well flavored.  Soups are often hard to come by in the Gluten-free world, so I was psyched to try it.  I was not disappointed.  For dinner I ordered one of their daily specials, consisting of Salmon on a bed of wild rice with a mango chutney.  Although odd to be eating Caribbean inspired food in NH, it brought out the best of the fresh fish that the coast has to offer.

Cava Tapas and Wine Bar
Cava is out of the way on small side walking path off of the main Market Street called Commercial Alley.  It doesn't have street traffic, so it can be easy to drive by without noticing it.  They serve Spanish Tapas a-la-carte or bundled into pre-determined sets called Tasting Menus.

I went with 2 of my colleagues and we got thChef's Tasting Menu consisting of 8 different dishes for only $29 per person.  Be forewarned that the set menu begins with dark chocolate, sea salt & pistachio oil served on bread.  This is a no-go!  So, the server was happy to substitute with a double order on the 2nd dish for me.  So I only got to try 7 items instead of the 8, but it was all amazing.  Didn't upset me at all!

The only other moment of difficulty was with the Scallops.  They arrived with a cracker product on the side of the dish and I had to ask the server to have the kitchen prepare me a new one sans cracker.  She was a little unconcerned for my linking and asked if I could just "move it aside?"  But I stood my ground and she acquiesced.  I'm so grateful too, because the Scallops with the very best dish of them all!!

The tasting menu changes based on availability of ingredients, but each and every dish held its own.  We were "mmmmmm"ing over one after the other.  Highly recommended!

The Friendly Toast
I never considered going into a restaurant called "Friendly Toast" because that seemed like Gluten HELL.  But one of my colleague went there for brunch and noticed that they offered gluten-free pancakes.  She immediately texted me to express her discovery.  

So, of course, off I went to give it a try.  The gluten-free pancakes are actually quite good.  They don't have that dry, dense, or spongy consistency of many poorly configured gluten-free baked goods.  Honestly, it was hard to tell they weren't the honest-to-goodness wheaty original, especially once I doused them with butter and syrup.  The portions were immense and as much as I tried, I could not finish a 3 stack.  It's not super cheap and many reviewers claim it's just a tourist trap.  But I'm willing to pay little more for the opportunity to go out for pancakes with family and friends.

So, there you have it!  Portsmouth is a Gluten-Free haven.  I was only there for 5 days...there may be much more to discover.