What is in this Cuisine: Dining with Dietary Restrictions

Desserts Aboard the Celebrity Reflection
The definition of cuisine is a style of cooking that is specific to a country or region. It can be cultural or geographic, but for each individual, the cuisine can take on a different perspective. What one person appreciates in a particular cuisine may not be to the liking of another and vice versa. For someone with allergies and dietary restrictions, it can take on an entirely different light.

As a writer with dietary issues, finding the perfect cuisine can be daunting no matter where I am traveling in the world. At the same time, these restrictions can also show the true colors and creativity of a chef. At many dining establishments taking the easy way out is often the case. It does not bode well with writing a review or enjoying a meal. When a restaurant suggests removing the sauce, having poached fish, or plain grilled meat, I cringe, knowing I have entered the unimaginative ordinary zone. Why go out to dinner to have something I can make at home? I want something that is unique and will enhance my dining experience, bringing out the wow.

Chef David Velchez, Cafe Del Rey, Marina Del Rey
Chef David Velchez, Cafe Del Rey, Marina Del Rey

I remember one establishment recommended to me by our hotel in Hawaii. When I arrived, the chef took his entire menu, crossing out and adapting his menu to fit my dietary needs, thereby giving me a choice of 6 -8 items. If I had been a writer then, I would have given this restaurant a glowing review because this chef thought outside the box.

Trattoria Burde
Trattoria Burde in Florence, Italy

Another restaurant, JoJos in New York, would keep a record of my allergies on their computer, so each time I visited the restaurant, once or twice a year, they were already prepared to assist me.

It is fun when a chef truly understands your allergies and suggests making something special, not on the menu. I love to give the chef that freedom and those surprises are the ones that do make you go, wow.

No matter where you travel, there are special food moments that stand out, especially when your dietary issues limit you.

Restaurants With Cuisine Catering to Dietary Issues

Here are some of my favorites from the past year. Each chef went overboard to eliminate wheat, dairy, and soy, the main staples of most eateries.

A recent trip to Italy brought me to Trattoria Da Burde in Florence, a charming Osteria featuring regional Italian Cooking. In its third generation, this family-owned restaurant prides itself on service. One will definitely encounter an exceptional dining experience. You will not go away hungry, as the portions are large. For those with allergies, the restaurant staff goes overboard to cater to your dietary needs.

In Quebec, on the spur of the moment, a last-minute notice of my allergies, the owners of Initiale while catering to a large group of IFWTWA members, went out of their way to make sure my luncheon was as delicious as those attending. No wonder this French restaurant has earned Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux certification and an AAA/CAA Five Diamond rating. Initiale brings out the charm and cuisine of Quebec to the ultimate.

Initiale, Quebec Main Course
The main course served at Initiale, Quebec

Cruising on the Celebrity Reflection this past summer from Rome to the Greek Isles, the chef surprised me with different and unusual desserts nightly. Typically I avoid desserts because the usual fare is sorbet. The cruise was a real treat and one I could not turn down.  You might say it was one of those food wow moments.

Homemade Bread Table at the Hotel Adler
The Bread table at the Hotel Adler in Tuscany

On a cruise, the one thing often asked of those with dietary issues, especially in the main dining room, is that you order your meal the night before. That can be difficult when you do not know what your hankering will be for the next day.   It is also hard because you are given the following day’s menu right after you are satiated from the current evening’s meal. On the other hand, those in your party get a glimpse at what to expect for dinner and can decide if they wish to dine in one of the ship’s other restaurants.

Desserts at the Hotel Adler
The dessert station at the Hotel Adler, Tuscany, Italy

My stay at the Hotel Adler, a thermal spa in Tuscany, Italy, also was welcoming in terms of cuisine. Chef Gaetano Vaccaro was more than willing to accommodate my dietary needs. The staff was equally accommodating. Everything is made fresh at the Hotel Adler, whether it be using local produce from organic farms: herbs from the hotel garden, their own olive oil from olives grown on the property, organic flour used to produce daily oven-fresh bread, tender cuts of meat from Tuscany’s Chianina breed of cattle, or fresh sun-ripened vegetables.

For those eating gluten-free, they make special bread, cakes, and pasta. Breakfast was a treat because I could sample bread that I would not normally try at that meal. Often I avoid breakfast because with allergies, how many scrabbled or hardboiled eggs can you have? Breakfast was a luxury at the Hotel Adler, where I could pile my plate with all sorts of goodies.

Scallops at the Hotel Adler
Scallops at the Hotel Adler in Tuscany.

If you love Santa Barbara Wine Country, one of the newer restaurants in the area is Pico in Los Alamos, California. Driving down the main drag, Bell Street, one is enchanted by the flair of an old cowboy town, and the restaurant is located in what used to be a general store. The food created by Chef Drew Terp is superb. Focusing on highlighting the farm, food, and kitchen experience with local farm-to-table cuisine. If you are a lover of pork belly, don’t miss out on Pico’s version.

Pico Los Alamos
Pico, Los Alamos, CA

With food allergies, you can never go wrong at Café Del Rey in Marina Del Rey, California. General Manager Brian Cousins makes sure Executive Chef David Vilchez visits your table to ensure he prepares the perfect dish to meet your dietary needs. Not only will you have a delicious meal, but the view from the dining room of the marina is well worth the visit.

Coffee Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Cafe Del Rey Cuisine
Coffee Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Cafe Del Rey

Most recently, a visit to Obica in Santa Monica, California, proved that these small plates of authentic Italian Restaurants will go overboard to enhance one’s dining experience. The restaurant is a Mozzarella bar and more. If you love Mozzarella or Burrata, Obica is a must.   Mozzarella Di Bufala comes from Campania, Italy, the Protected Designation of Origin for truly the best Mozzarella. It is shipped in twice a week, guaranteeing freshness. The restaurant features an outstanding wine list. In fact, Thursday night’s wine is 50% off.

Raimondo Boggia CEO of Obica
Raimondo Boggia CEO of Obica with his pairing cookbook.
Salmon Tartare at Obica Santa Monica
Salmon Tartare, Obica Santa Monica

These are just a few of the wonderful establishments around the world that bend over backward to ensure those with dietary restrictions are satisfied. With it becoming more commonplace for people to have special requests or dietary needs, we are seeing more gluten-free items on the menu, more flexibility, and a good chef will happily take on the challenge to be more creative yet at the same time show off his expertise.