Local and Fabulous Flavors

Whether residing in or simply visiting Seattle and the surrounding area, you will find it is somewhat of a Mecca for those living a gluten-free lifestyle. I feel rather fortunate to reside in the Pacific Northwest where both interest in and the practice of natural healing modalities, coupled with the prominent awareness of holistic and optimum wellness, are rather commonplace conversation for much of the populace.

The surrounding agricultural regions fortify the city with seasonal organic produce and farm-fresh free-range and organically raised meats, while the natural coastline provides a large variety of seafood and shellfish. An abundance of new farms continue to surface within the region that function based upon the principles of sustainability, balance with nature and organic farming techniques, ideals which are slowly beginning to infiltrate our way of thinking and living. It is an area rich with many natural resources, thus resulting in the emergence of a rather metropolitan city slowly becoming more identifiable with that other than rainy days and lattes.

Within this page I will be sharing with you my discoveries of the plethora of destination points within this region that are contributory to the ease of celebrating daily gluten-free living. The possibilities of what you may find described herein are basically limitless, but will certainly encompass dining, shopping, travel and other points of interest. Whatever crops up upon our adventurous path that I find inspiring, helpful or simply amusing may be just that which I choose to share.

Live. Laugh. Love.
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Manna Mills Natural Market in Mountlake Terrace is the first natural grocer of which I am aware in the Seattle-area to focus specifically on gluten-free products. They offer a full range of baking items, produce, snacks, freezer items, cereals, treats and more. It is the only place I will purchase bulk items, as there is a dedicated "gluten-free" area within the extensive bulk section. They've been in business for quite some time and offer a much larger variety than I have seen in any one place thus far.
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Snow Goose Produce

On a recent excursion to La Conner, Washington, and only about an hour’s drive from Seattle, we visited one of our favorite country markets. Snow Goose Produce has a seasonal draw of locals and visitors, with an array of offerings for even the most select and based upon seasonal availability. Among the medley is an extensive selection of locally-grown vegetables, fruits and nuts; locally-made preserves, wines, cheeses, dressings, syrups, jams, peanut butter, bakery items (none gluten-free however…maybe next time), candy and snack items; as well as a seafood counter with fresh and locally caught seafood and shellfish. Many items are organic, all are produced locally, many grown or raised within the reaches of the Skagit River Valley where the market is located.

We visited during planting season and found the front of the market embellished with tray after tray of fruit and vegetable starts in myriad array. Fresh herbs were garden-ready and part of the mix, as were various edible and ornamental flowering plants. All were locally suited for the climate of the Pacific Northwest.

We had been looking for fresh Morel mushrooms and were so delighted to discover them within the produce offerings. They tasted like nothing else in this world. Absolutely fantastic!

The seafood counter offers only fresh-caught wild seafood. We picked up some Copper River Salmon, as limited season release and much anticipated. It was mouthwatering.

We didn’t opt for the fresh-caught crab this time, but it was tempting. The crabs can be steamed for the taking, or placed upon ice and take home live. (It’s a northwest thing, isn’t it?) We did partake in the oysters and they were delightfully fresh and flavorful, some of the best of the season.
There is a full selection of locally produced wines and beers, along with various alimentaries to numerous to list. Snow Goose even offers its own line of preserves.

If you are in the area, it is an absolute must to make a visit to La Conner and make a pass of Snow Goose Produce; clearly on the path to La Connner for those traveling north from Seattle and just outside of town if driving south. There is a strong sense of pride within the local farming community and a conscious daily strive for sustainability. This market is one representation of the commitment and dedication to which I loyally support.
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World Spice Merchants
If it is exotic spices one seeks, flavorful herbs, succulent teas, interesting cookbooks or just a sense of clever exploration, a visit to World Spice will quench the desires of many. This fabulous and unique spice shop is nestled in the vicinity of Pike Place Market near the Seattle waterfront and offers a feel of world trade from days now past.

The location's brick walls and industrial decor are lined with jars and bottles of spices and spice mixes, with over 100 pure spices and herbs from over 50 countries, all of which can be shipped anywhere in the world and delivered to one's door.
Weary travelers may opt to take refuge in a cup of loose leaf estate tea while taking respite in the tranquility of the tasting room. Just adjacent is a comfy sofa for those wishing to linger and enjoy the warm ambiance. The staff creates a wonderful sense of welcome and provides excellent hospitality.
Searching for ideas on how to incorporate spices from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America or the Caribbean into your cooking? Looking to explore the cuisine of another region? World Spice provides an excellent and eclectic selection of cookbooks and culinary tools to augment one's exotic cooking endeavors.
From the moment your olfactory senses draw you through the door, the experience begins and you'll find a plethora of pleasures worth savoring. Linger. Take your time. Stroll your way through the store. Explore the shelves. And if you're like me, once the time comes to depart, you will reluctantly pull yourself away from this wonderful atmosphere so compelling to those of us who keenly appreciate the flavors and aromas of far-away places. Enjoy!
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Anthony's Homeport
Surprised was I when we recently visited Anthony's Homeport for a birthday celebration, as I discovered a gluten-free menu tucked away and available via server-request only. There are several locations around the Puget Sound area, and I can only attest to having tried selections from both the Edmonds and Shilshole locations. I have to say, not bad. Additionally, the Happy Hour is fabulous and offers many gluten-friendly offerings with imbibements to complement. Enjoy!
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Okay, the consensus is in...Blue Moon is the best burger house in-town! Well, the only GF burger house at the time of this writing, but meets Red Mill, the top running in our house. The buns are soft and tasty, the selection extensive (only 2 on the menu are NOT GF) and the fries a perfect synthesis of salty-crispy-squishy. (I have to confess, I ate my whole portion..need we highlight on our relationships with food?! Confession just noted.) 
Café Piccolo
There is a wonderful neighborhood nestled within the northern edges of Seattle called Maple Leaf which is home to this intimate and special café. It is situated on the corner of a maple-lined street in a quaint neighborhood anyone would enjoy calling home. And so it feels, as one walks in the door of this cozy establishment, wherein one is greeted by the warmth of candle-lit table-tops spaced properly as to be close enough to be friendly yet dispersed enough as to provide a romantic setting for dinner with a special someone.

Nick Carlino is the chef and proprietor of Café Piccolo. His fantastic hands have fashioned up a full menu of gluten-free offerings in the authentic Italian tradition. The pastas, sauces, breads, nearly all menu options are made from scratch, in-house, using local and organic ingredients when at all possible. Homemade gluten-free linguini is a featured menu item, as is the gluten-free bread called Farinatta. (This is absolutely fabulous when topped with the Eggplant Agro Dolce, a sweet yet spicy temptation with complementary pungency.) Tomato Bruschetta is another pleasant appetizer that won’t leave one feeling short on the sensation of gustatory delight.

Besides a full offering of traditionally-prepared and absolutely fabulous and sustainable fare which is robust, authentic and full-bodied, the gluten-free menu selections surpass in measure any of those which I have discovered elsewhere. The flavor and quality of the cuisine is incomparable. One may delight in the choice of eight different gluten-free sauces (five of which are also dairy-free) with which to top their pasta, add house-made organic and gluten-free Italian sausage (which is the best I’ve tried), gluten-free organic meatballs (be sure to request they be made with no cheese if you are dairy-intolerant), or add shrimp or grilled organic chicken. Among the specialty entrees I recommend are the Chicken Saltimbocca, delicate organic chicken breast laced with a sage sauce, organic baby artichokes and house-cured pancetta; the savory Puttanesca fused of flavors which linger long on the palette, and which my husband admitted is akin to his own; and, my personal paramour, Lamb Bucatini, with a rich and succulent tomato-based sauce embracing tender bites of lamb. I opted to have this served with house-made polenta and vegetables (though gluten-free pasta is an additional an option). I have never tasted anything quite like this selection. It is my inamorata of late in the world of Italian cuisine.

The desserts change based upon seasonal availability and are made in-house, as well. The Blood Orange Sorbetto is as crisp in flavor as the juicy refreshment of a fresh blood orange, yet gentle and succulent on the tongue. The Pear Sorbetto with Chocolate Chips is irresistible…the delicate fresh pear flavor is ethereal in nature, robust with generous flakes of pure chocolate, endowed with an essence that dangles on your tastes buds as they keep reaching for more. If one is appreciative of an aperitif, Café Piccolo offers something unique. We thoroughly relaxed to the smooth flavors of a mature Grappa with Spicy Fig Infusion specially prepared in-house, while our good friend Win took delight in the refreshingly brisk notes of ripe fruit as expressed in the Blood Orange Lumincello.  A pleasure for all ages is the Rosemary Infused Lemonade, house-pressed and not too sweet, you truly experience the drinking of a lemon.

My description cannot do justice to the authentic tastes which emanate from Café Piccolo. I suggest making it a “must”, and if it works for you, Tuesday and Wednesday night wine by the glass is offered at half-price.

Buon appetito!

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We wandered into a nearby restaurant just three days after the New Year, three days after its opening. We had no idea what we were stumbling into. I was welcomed by a menu boasting allergen-friendly coding – yes, notations of those menu items free of gluten, dairy and vegetarian friendly. (I haven’t seen this since we visited England last summer.) What a delight! This restaurant has become our favorite “regular” for family-friendly dining that doesn’t leave the adults “wanting”. It offers a great kids menu, delightful wait-staff, and a well-appointed and comfortable atmosphere with food items that are easily digestible and, moreover, everything tastes fabulous.  (Take note that special requests and substitutions are well received and delivered with a smile and as ordered.) The emphasis is on “good” great food, made from local ingredients, as much as possible. The kids will love that the check is presented in a decorative cigar box, and once paid, replaced with Greens & Black’s organic chocolates. (Should you visit Vashon Island, you will discover the “flagship” restaurant called, The Hardware Store, which we have tested, but prefer the Seattle rendition.)
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Kabul Afghan Cuisine
Looking for something a little different and very wonderful? Nestled within the comforts of the Wallingford neighborhood just north of downtown Seattle, you can enjoy exquisite and exotic dishes made fresh daily with local ingredients, based upon availability. This wonderful jewel has been serving its succulent morsels to the Seattle dining community for over 18 years. Most dishes are prepared free of gluten, just inform your server that you'd like "no bread, no gluten". Additionally, most dishes have no dairy-derived ingredients and absolutely no soy. What a treat to dine on the coriander rice with fresh (Washington-grown) lamb kebabs...all laced in traditional Afghan spices. Your taste buds will thank you! Reservations are recommended and may be scheduled online.

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About an hour’s drive from Seattle nestled in the quaint riverside town of La Conner is one of our most amazing finds on the dining circuit. This restaurant and pub, which is clearly fashioned on and reminiscent of a traditional English pub, is gluten-friendly, gourmet and offers a savory selection of succulent fare. The menu changes daily, so don’t expect to find the dishes highlighted herein should you make a visit.  (And it is highly recommended that you do.) However, one will delight in choices from local, fresh caught seafood, to authentic bistro signature-style dishes, to grilled meat and poultry options of varying ethnic flare.

We were greeted by a wonderful waitperson, Aaron, who was so hospitable and welcoming, we felt as if we were regulars within the first five minutes.

Everything served has an emphasis on local, with 90% to 95% of the produce bearing organic certification, as well. The house salad was adorned with matchsticks of apples and pears atop fresh and crispy local greens. Made aware of my gluten-free diet, the chef whipped up a special version of the Champagne Vinaigrette, and it was one of the best I have ever tasted. The violas atop were akin to my own personal touch.

I ordered the Tender Braised Lamb Shank served with Glazed Veggies and Braising Jus. The menu listed Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes as part of the dish; I opted out and was enticed instead by tender steamed turnips and savory broccolini. The lamb was tender and rich with flavor; the vegetables were bursting with just-picked freshness. I have had lamb shanks on many occasions; this version tops my list and was nothing short of a gustatory orgasm.

There are plenty of gluten-free choices adorning the menu, such as Calamari “Marseille” which is laced with a chickpea crust and served with Fresh Aioli, or the Sichuan Duck with Cherries. There are many delights from which to choose and we can’t wait until we go back to sample more of the culinary artwork that emerges from this kitchen of appealing epicurean delight.

The menu is printed daily, and at the bottom of the one we viewed on May 29th was the quote, “Love is all there is…” That really sums up the ambiance and cuisine of this fabulous restaurant and the caliber of  offerings made available to the clientele.

One word of advice, however, is to arrive early. The tables fill up quickly after 5pm.

If you wish to make a weekend of it, though not affiliated with Nell Thorn’s, the La Conner Inn is just adjacent. Many other comfortable lodging options are available, as well.

Enjoy this perfect ingredient for a romantic weekend get-away.
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Set on an unsuspecting corner in the heart of Ballard is this wonderful tapas bar. I have heard rave reviews about it, both in the press and from those within the industry. We just had to try it! I have to admit, when I walked in, I thought, "Oh no, I doubt there's much gluten-free friendly fare." I was so off on that inclination. Nearly half the menu contained offerings which were free of gluten- or dairy-laden ingredients. Many of those which were could be altered to be without through a simple request to the kind service staff. This is clearly the place to be, with clientele aged from 21 through 65 on the night of our visit, and the food is beyond expectation. The menu is strictly tapas, and there are no shortage on selections or variety. Our favorite was the roasted peppers, which do not appear on the regular menu. Additionally topping our list were the Bisteca, Gambas al Ajillo and Brocoli. We highly recommend a rendezvouz with your most beloved as a fun and fabulous date night or with friends. I suggest this as one of those perfect, "Let's do something different, leave the kids behind and have a fantastic date night" locales (i.e., Tapas Bar). Enjoy!
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Sante Fe Cafe
This is my favorite when I'm in the mood for SW comfort food. It's difficult (Did you hear me emphasize "difficult?") to find excellent cuisine from the SW here in the Pacific NW. There are seasons, spring and fall in particular, when my mouth waters and my heart yearns for the flavors and fragrances of the southwest...an essence of the desertland I call home. This is the only restaurant I know of in the area which offers traditional New Mexican fare. The tamales are absolutely fabulous! I cannot get past them, though I vow to try something new at each visit. As I have yet to succeed, I find myself unable to resist the succulently spicy green-chili-sauce-topped, masa surrounded, tenderly seasoned pork (they do offer a vegetarian version, as well, but they cannot be presented dairy-free) wrapped in the traditional corn husk. So many flavors, so many experiences in each and every bite. It's comfort to my soul. Be sure to inquire with the server for a gluten-free menu; many items may be prepared free of dairy, as well, if you ask. Wednesdays you can enjoy your selection complemented by a margarita at $2 off the menu price. This is where my son and I go everyone time we have a "you and me night." Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
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Hellams Vineyard
A day spent in La Conner is a day like no other. We frequent this wonderful little town and find there are many enjoyable ways in which to spend an afternoon in a town of so few blocks. It's hard to turn down a wine tasting, no matter one's locale. Hellams' unsuspecting location is easily discovered by simply following the signs housed on various street corners throughout town. Or, just look for the large barn-like building residing on the canal front...
Once inside, clientele may opt for delving into the day's tasting; varieties rotate each Saturday. One can join the mailing list to stay apprised of the selection. Hand-crafted beers are routinely part of the mix. Tastings are a fabulous way to try new wines. We always discover new and enticing wines at each tasting, while meeting wonderful people and taking in the atmosphere.
Hellams Vineyard boasts a selection of wines from throughout the world. The tastings often emphasize wines from locale vineyards produced in small vintages, mixed in with a few from other regions. The woman pouring on our most recent visit declared, "There's not a bad bottle of wine in the store!" She may be right, though we've much more tasting to do before we can fully concur.

If wishing to linger, patrons may purchase wine by the glass and take in a moment of serenity sipping comfortably seated on the outside deck where appetizers are also available. It's a wonderful gathering place full of interesting people coming together to enjoy fine wine. 

The selection is stupendous, reflective of many years of experienced wine buying and familiarity with the vast array of varietals. Ports, champagnes, hand-crafted beers, gift items and more line the shelves of the artfully decorated wine haven. We never walk out empty handed, always selecting a bottle or two of our favorite from the day's selection to take home.
Another item of notice is the Vine Club. Member's may join choosing from a selection of reds, whites, Washington only, bubbly or a mix. Two premium, world-class wines are hand-picked monthly and delivered directly to Club members. Beer aficionados can partake in the Beer Club where member's receive hand-crafted selections on a monthly basis just as Vine Members receive wine. What are the additional benefits? Club Members receive a 10% discount on wine and beer purchases in addition to their monthly selection. Oh, did I mention they receive complimentary tastings any time they visit the store? Sounds like a club worthy of joining. Cheers!
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