Category Archives: Travel

Gluten-Free Sushi at JW Marriott in Orlando

I had the most wonderful experience at the JW Marriott in Orlando (known for their tropical pool area and lazy river).  I was staying at the Ritz-Carlton next door for a conference and headed over to the JW Marriott one night to try some sushi.

I sat at the bar, which was beautiful. I noticed a few other solo diners, probably other people traveling on business, and I was immediately greeted by Roberto.  He took my drink order and handed me the sushi menu.  To be safe I usually just order tuna with avocado and no sauce.  I never ever expect that a place will have gluten-free soy sauce, however, I always ask (nicely of course).

Roberto was gone a while and when he came back he had a bottle of Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) in his hands.  I was SO HAPPY.  I wasn’t expecting gluten-free soy sauce at all and it was such a great treat!

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My dinner was a great experience. My sushi was perfect not too chewy and perfect portions.  The servers were so nice.  I had one or two others stop by to check on me.  I couldn’t believe the amazing service.

When it was time to close out my check Roberto was nowhere to be found.  Within 5 minutes he came back with a brown paper bag full of gluten-free biscuits, donuts and muffins.  I couldn’t believe it.  He had gone into their refrigerator to see what type of gluten-free goodies they had to give me.  It was such a nice gesture and perfect to have with me for the duration of my trip.  It was probably $30 worth of gluten-free goodness that he would not allow me to pay for.

Who would have thought that a place known for their lazy river and luxurious pool would also be so hospitable for those of us with gluten issues.

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Travel Dining: Marmalade San Juan, Puerto Rico

In Mid March I embarked on Spring Break 2012 with 3 girlfriends of mine.  Each year we go somewhere warm and sunny to sit by the pool, catch some rays, catch up (we live in 3 different cities), relax, drink frozen drinks and EAT!  This year we traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico and stayed at El San Juan in Carolina Beach (about 5 minutes from the airport).  A majority of our trip was spent at the resort by the pool or people watching in the lobby however, one night we went into the square of Old San Juan.  It was very charming and lively due to the proximity to the cruise ship terminal.

old san juan fort gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto ricoWe made reservations to eat at Marmalade, a highly recommended restaurant known for flavorful drinks and an exquisite tasting menu. By the time we reached this restaurant I was a little frustrated with my experience in Puerto Rico.  It was really a challenge to explain what my needs were.  I almost cried when I spoke to our server who understood exactly what my needs were and knew exactly what should be substituted to help me out.  I was finally able to relax and enjoy a meal.  So I figured, what the heck- go for the 5 course with wine pairing.  We all did the tasting menu and had a blast sharing food and making yummy food sounds.

old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

The wine pairings were no joke.  They went so well together and included some of my favorite- King Estate Pinot Gris and Conundrum. The white bean soup which is their signature item has dairy in it.  But I am pretty sure it is gluten-free.  They were happy to give me another course instead.  Everyone loved the soup though.


tuna tartare old san juan fort gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

My first course, tuna tartare, was delicious.  Instead of the gluten-containing chips they gave me rice paper chips that were so light and crisp.

red snapper ceviche old san juan fort gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

My second course was a red snapper ceviche with plantain chips. This was such a great summer/warm weather dish.  There was a distinct orange, citrusy, onion flavor that went so well with the saltiness of the plaintain chips.  It was paired with a glass of Albarino- which is one of my favorite spanish wines.

lemongrass coconut soup old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

Since two people at the table were doing a six course sampling, the restaurant offered up smaller tastings for those of us doing less than six courses.  Probably one of my favorite courses- though not intentional- was this Thai inspired corn lemongrass coconut soup, It was delicious and at the bottom were chunks of avocado.  I don’t even think this is on the menu but I have to find out how to make this at home.

My third course was an heirloom beet salad with grapefruit paired with one of my favorite wines: King Estate Pinot Gris.  It was so fresh and citrusy.  I am a huge fan of beets thanks to Veggie Bin, I seem to get them in my bin every other week and have really grown to be a big fan!

old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

Wait for it…………………………………

lamb old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

Tada!  My 4th course was the lamb.  While it usually comes on tabbouleh, they  were easily able to give me rice instead.  This dish had amazing Indian spices.  The lamb was tender. Inside were pomegranate seeds, blanched almonds and cilantro.  It was small but extremely filling.

berry cobbler old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

My fifth course was a berry cobbler with home-made almond ice cream, black berries, raspberries and gluten free cookies.  Talk about a dish I rarely get to eat.  I can’t remember the last time I had cobbler. This was delicious! It was paired with a wonderful ruby port.

cheers old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

Cheers to a great dinner, a great trip and great friends!cheers old san juan gluten free jacksonville marmalade puerto rico

A great time was had by all.  This Florida girl loved the citrus inspiration at this restaurant!  You definitely must try Marmalade if you plan to take advantage of the non-stop flights to San Juan from Jacksonville!

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Denver and Steamboat Springs Colorado Gluten Free

About a week ago I submitted a blog about dining gluten-free in Denver Colorado at Vesta Dipping Grill.  I want to share my experience at a few other places we visited that left me stunned and realized Jacksonville needs to step it up!  After dining at Vesta Dipping Grille, we walked next door to 9th Door.  More than one person had recommended this place to us and it was well worth the hype.  Dark lighting, flowing drapery, candles and India inspired techno-esque music playing over head.  I was still suprised Vesta Dipping grill had gluten free beer so I thought I would ask the bartender at 9th door if they had gluten-free beer.  Sure enough, he brought out a Spanish beer that was gluten-free.  I could not read a thing on the bottle, but the bar tender assured me it was and I could kick myself for not getting the exact name of the beer.  Instead of having the beer I opted for the recommended blueberry martini.  It was amazing, it had real blueberries in it and had a hint of vanilla.  SO GOOD!

The next morning after our dining experience and 9th Door drinks, we headed to Steamboat Springs.  As usual, I had done my homework and had saved a link I had found about eating gluten-free in Steamboat Springs from the blog No Gluten, No ProblemThat night for dinner, I suggested Rex’s, because I heard they had gluten-free hamburger buns and gluten-free pizza.  GLUTEN FREE HAMBURGER BUNS?  Do you know how long it has been since I have had a sandwich, much less a gluten-free hamburger.  I was so excited, and they had bison burgers at that.  The bun was awesome.  It looked a little like sourdough but much like regular gluten containing breads it was actually chewy and doughy.  It was the best hamburger I have ever had (since being diagnosed with Celiac).  It was a little odd that the restaurant was connected to a Holiday Inn, but there seemed to be a lot of locals and their back patio seemed to be the place everyone was headed.  According to the blog, the restaurant is locally owned along with a few other restaurants as part of the Steamboat Restaurant Group.  Their names are: Big House and Mazzola’s.

Thanks Denver and Steamboat Springs!

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Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver, CO Drives Home a Hit!

This past weekend I visited a dear friend of mine in Denver Colorado.  She is one of the happiest people I know and she loves being active outdoors.  She is so cute, she ads “lou” at the end of things like Huggy-Lou, Kristy-Lou, Drinky-Lou.  It is her signature language.  Every time I come to visit, she does the best job planning activities.  This time was no different, she planned a fun night of drinks and dinner and even did some research on where I could eat gluten-free.  A few days before my trip Kristy sent me a link to the restaurant she had chosen, Vesta Dipping Grill

I immediately went to their website as well as did a search in google for Vesta Gluten free to see how friendly the web world thought Vesta Was for those of us with Celiac.  I immediately found it on Urban Spoon rated in the top ten restaurants in Denver for gluten-free dining.  I immediately went to their website and told them I was coming to eat there with some girl friends and wanted to see what kind of arrangements I needed to make there to let them know I would need a special menu.  While I never checked my email before dining, after we sat down we were approached by their manager Jeff Bustos who asked if Jennifer was at the table and he referenced my email to him.  He let us know, that I was looking at a Gluten Free menu, when in fact they have an actual Celiac menu.  I have never seen this before and could not have been happier. 

There is a growing trend across the nation for those without Celiac disease to eat gluten-free.  There are many benefits to dining gluten-free regardless of if you have Celiac or not, however extra precautions need to be taken in the food preparation process for those with Celiac.  The difference between the two menus is that the Celiac Menu took into account cross contamination while the Gluten Free menu only took into account ingredients in the meal that contain gluten. 

For example, I asked about the tater tots and was quickly informed that while the ingredients were gluten-free, they were fried in the same batter as gluten containing food items.  So this would be ok for someone trying to eat gluten-free without the sensitivity, but for me who cannot have ANY it is not ok. 

Vesta Dipping Grill also has gluten-free beer on their drink menu.  I have never seen gluten-free beer on a menu at a restaurant before.  It was delicious!  For dinner I ordered the Jalapeno Grilled Pork Tenderloin with coconut rice and mustard greens.  I got it with their recommended sauces which were green chili gastrique, Steuben’s chimichurri and bacon aioli.  It was AWESOME!  I did not like the green chili sauce too much but the other two were amazing.  I have always been a sauce girl.  I love dipping things like chips and salsa, veges and hummus and this night, pork tenderloin and bacon aioli.  It was so fun to dip, however, my meal could easily stand alone, the flavors and seasoning were just right.  My friend barely even dipped because she wanted to savor the flavor of her beef tenderloin.  I enjoyed the flavor of mine, but the variety of sauces was to die for.  The portion sizes were reasonable and the presentation was not pretentious, it was appropriate for the atmosphere.  As a southern girl, it was great to see a restaurant out west do greens right.  All in all a great experience, great ambiance and super service.

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Spring Break 2010

I recently took a trip to Montego Bay Jamaica for Spring Break (ok, I am 33 but who’s counting).  I went with great friends from my college and from Atlanta.  In spring breaks past we would perhaps consume a little too many Pina Coladas and stay up late, but on this trip (with a friend 5 month’s pregnant with her second child) we were planning to enjoy the food and fine dining and taking naps on the beach.  As you can imagine the “fine dining” had me a little nervous, however I chose before the trip to not let it get to me and not stress out about the food.  I imagined eating at a restaurant each night with a server who could express my dietary needs to the chef.  To my dismay, and the dismay of my traveling friends when we arrived all of the restaurants were booked except for 9:00 on Saturday night, the night before we were leaving.  As anyone with Celiac disease knows, eating at a buffet is typically forbidden because of cross contamination.  I tried my best but ended up getting sick a few times during the trip.  Another thing that was hard to avoid was spiced Rum, which I have heard contains gluten.  As much as I tried to request my Pina Colada with clear Rum, there were times when the spiced run made it into my drink.  On the second night we were actually able to get into the Steak restaurant and it was a really nice experience, we relaxed, talked about our trip so far and sadly I began to think that this trip was too short.  I was enjoying the laughter and catching up with old friends.  On our last night, I was very surprised by the Chef at the Japanese restaurant.  Almost all of the dishes were covered in soy sauce, another big celiac disease- no no!  He informed me of the dishes I could have such as the curry chicken dish and even made a fresh batch just while we were talking.  With amazing memories of  a great trip, I look forward to being home and being able to prepare my own dishes again.

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