On this last trip to Washington D.C. I got stuck in the National Geographic lobby during an insane thunderstorm, never adjusted to East Coast time, and ate at the chef's counter of an absolutely fantastic restaurant. It was a pretty wild trip.
That last experience was up there with my top gluten free dining experiences ever. Let me start by recommending that you make reservations at Birch & Barley the second you find yourself in Washington D.C. - don't let the name fool you either, they are incredibly gluten free friendly. By some amazing source of luck, I wandered in without a reservation and got seated at the chef's counter on a Thursday evening. Serious win.
As I walked in I asked the hostess about my dietary needs, specifically gluten and dairy, and was assured they would take care of me. Sitting down, I noticed the menu has a kind notation about welcoming substitutions to accommodate your needs. This was definitely my kind of place.
My server had already been briefed by the hostess about my dietary needs and slowly led me through all the different variations of menu items that could be made to suite my needs. This was basically everything on the menu, including the flat breads. He explained to me that the owners wife is gluten free and he wanted to ensure that she could eat just about everything in the restaurant. The best part about the ordering experience at Birch & Barley was that I never felt like a bother to the staff - something I get at most restaurants.
Since I make a rule of not ordering gluten free pizza or flat breads out, I ended up splurging on a Lobster and Mushroom Fricassee, the Seared Bluefish, and a trio of unique house made gelatos. I ended up with an additional two mini courses - fried chickpeas (better than popcorn for watching the show that is the kitchen) and house made sausage. The fun part about watching the kitchen as a gluten free guest was the chant that went about the kitchen whenever a dish with dietary needs was ordered. It was basically a chorus of staff members chanting "GLUTEN FREE (insert dish here)" - super fun and kind of empowering too. I get the sense that whenever a guest with dietary needs enters the restaurant, all the staff are made aware. I watched a gluten free flat bread go from a frozen not so hot looking piece of dough, to a super puffy and well browned piece of yum which looked just like the gluten full varieties minus an inch or two in length.
By the tail end of the meal, the staff had me figured out with my DSLR and copious note taking. My trio of sorbets came out as a quintet on the house. My favorite flavors? The cherry black pepper, apricot elderflower, and and exotic spice. The base of toasted coconut was also the perfect substituted touch.
My other two gluten free friendly finds both had gluten free options clearly identified on their regular menus - which is my favorite way to dine out. It's nice to just have the same menu as everyone else, with notations to guide you to a safe dish. I'm always on the lookout for tasty Mexican food, so Casa Oaxaca was my choice for one night. I ordered the Tacos de Aguacate (avocado) since I like to take the option of a good vegan meal when it's available in D.C. (not often). The Habanero sauce on top was fantastic as were the beans, so all was good in my mind.
Scion Restaurant was a bit more mainstream offering more meat based dishes - in fact, at the time I visited there were no gluten free vegan options available. So I went out on a limb and did something crazy - I ordered a pork chop. Totally not my style, but it was an incredibly tasty dish. The fresh broccoli and rice pilaf were delish and the apple butter like sauce was an absolute perfect pairing for the chop and everything else.
Gluten Free Friendly Finds in Washington, District of Columbia:
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