Gluten intolerant out-of-towners in Oakland
We ended up at Haven where we did the chef's tasting menu. They were able to accomodate gluten-free. The only hiccup was a barley salad with squid. Although it was delicious, it was not gluten free. Our guest said sometimes people don't realize barley = gluten, so this wasn't a huge misstep. After we told the waiter, they apologized and said they would "make it up to us." This led to a smorgasbord of food and, indeed, we felt like things were made up. I can't believe we only paid $60 each for that meal. It almost reminded me of the Commis quality-to-price equation.
Started with a carrot soup poured in over some stuff in a bowl. This might have been my favorite and I nearly licked the plate.
Second and third courses were salads. The cabbage salad with vinegar was awesome, especially the pieces of raddish and pickled red onion.The cabbage itself was charred, but cold, which created an interesting texture and nice light char taste around the edges. The squid and barley salad was a standout but, again, not gluten free so kind of dampened the mood.
Things picked up again with a smoked black rice and uni entree. This was decadent and I really enjoyed the combination of umami from the uni and the smokiness of the black rice. Probably my favorite of the night. The misses doesn't like uni, so I got an extra piece too! There were greens that almost looked like asparagus, but were actually a seaweed type of green, sticking out from the rice. Very cool element that completed the "ocean" feel of the dish.
After the rice, we had three other entrees: (1) a pork dish with lentils; (2) the cod and thai chili sauce that appears on the regular menu; and (3) a braised beef with turnip. The pork dish was a bit too salty, mainly because of the salt in the lentils, but the pork itself was great. Somewhere between a bacon and carnitas. The cod is what I would have ordered on the menu had we went a la carte, so I was happy to try it. I thought the fish was a little undercooked, but maybe that is the proper way to make cod and I've been messing up all along in my home preparation. The thai chilis were balanced with a sweet marmalade-like sauce, which ended up providing a more sour than hot flavor. Very enjoyable, but I was hoping for some real heat from the thai chilis. The braised beef came out and everybody thought it would be the desert course, so we were simply stuffed at that point. However, the beef was really well braised and maintained its juiciness. The turnips were good, and I enjoyed how turnips were incorporated into a few of the dishes in different ways.
For desert, we had a palate cleanser sorbet which everybody devoured despite being stuffed. The bowls it came in were freezing cold, which was a nice touch. I don't know if I've ever had peppercorn powder with a desert course, but it was very enjoyable. Finally, they brought out two large desert dishes to be enjoyed family style with no individual plates. One was a fruit thing with a semifreddo custard. Really excellent. The other was some sort of flan-like desert, not as great but still good.
My bourbon cocktail was great, and everybody seemed to enjoy the house barrel-aged cocktails.
Overall it was a fantastic meal. I felt like they really made up the gluten misstep by adding an extra course or two, which was great although we were discussing during dinner how we appreciated places like Haven because they didn't leave us stuffed with cream and butter after 10 courses, and then ultimately we had a 9 course meal. Still, the dishes really showcased fresh ingredients on their own and had almost no butter/cream so it's a different feeling of fullness than many multi-course extravaganzas. I feel like if I hit the weight room today last night's meal will help in my current mission to bulk up.
We've been to Haven a bit now, and last night's meal was definitely my favorite. Maybe it's what is in season now that I love, or just that the restaurant has stepped it up, but I'm a fan.
They also made a special off-menu gluten-free graham cracker for desert that gave our guest flashbacks to her graham-cracker eating days and was a huge hit. Overall, most of the dishes we enjoyed were not on the menu, which was a really nice surprise and made me want to enjoy the chef-selection menu* more often since it truly seems to be unique and creative. Bravo, Haven!
*One nit: the menu states that the chef-selection courses come from the chef's "daily trip" to the farmer's market, which I just don't really believe. Where is there a daily farmer's market around here? There's nothing wrong with hitting up the farmer's market once a week, but I just find it hard to believe we were eating things picked out that same day at some mystery farmer's market. Just something I was thinking about...
I think everyone "gets" gluten free in the Bay Area. Any fine restaurant, and most not-so-fine restaurants, will accomodate you well. For example, last night I ate at Plum, and nearly everything was naturally gluten free, and the wait staff was very clear on what did and didn't have gluten.
Lots of places may try to accommodate people who want gluten-free dishes, but Gather's particularly welcoming since they mark dishes "gf" and most of them are or can be with minor substitutions. And the food's really good even by omnivore standards.
I think Plum, Haven, AQ, and other places that do that vegetable-centric modernist style tend to make many dishes gluten-free almost accidentally, as part of a reaction against tradition. So they don't have to make any special accommodations.