Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Going Gluten Free with Tommy Lasagna

Everyone who knows me can vouch for how much I love bread, as it’s a very big part of my Eastern European roots. That’s why it may surprise you that I’m going gluten free for the next two weeks.

If you’re wondering why – it’s simply an experiment to see how my body will react and whether I feel any difference in my energy levels and my ability to think clearly. Currently, reading about the positive effects a gluten free diet has had on one of my favorite tennis players, Novak Djokovic, I was totally intrigued and decided to plunge in to see if it does anything for me. And if not, that’s OK too, at least I’ll know that my body reacts well to gluten. We’ll see…

On that topic, I had a little taste of the gluten free life last week, as a friend and fellow blogger Erin from Gluten Free Fun invited me to a blogger dinner at Tommy Lasagna. Even though this restaurant isn’t a purely gluten free establishment, they do have a dedicated menu to gluten free eats they were excited to show off.

Situated just East of Park Ave in Union Square, Tommy Lasagna is a centrally located restaurant with a neighborhood vibe. I like its modern façade and the interior design to match, which is suited for both intimate and larger groups. We happened to sit in the central part of the cozy dining room at a large communal table, which felt small enough to have good conversation. In fact, the acoustics were great in this space, as you can easily have a conversation with the person at the other end of the table.

Overall, the vibe at Tommy’s feels laid back and comfortable, making you feel far removed from the bustling atmosphere of Union Square. I also like the somewhat open kitchen concept and the access you get to Chef Tommy and the folks who cook your food.

Exposing us to their new gluten free menu, there were tons of things we tried that night. So much so honestly, that we walked out incredibly full – almost to the point of overstuffed. I didn’t mind of course, as pasta is one of my favorite foods, but after the fifth course, you could stick a fork in me. I was done. Here were my stand-outs of the night:

Focaccia Bread – Even though it was just a little sample of things to come, the bread really stood out to me. Using Cup4cup gluten free flour, as Chef Tommy explained, the bread had a nice crusty texture that was accented with fresh herbs such as rosemary. I was pleasantly surprised how light and airy it was, and at how hard it was to differentiate it from regular bread.

Ceviche – The sole presentation of this dish got me excited, as it came in a pretty drinking glass that was layered with ceviche goodness. The bottom layer consisted of the actual marinated seafood such as calamari, shrimp, octopus and the like, while the top was dressed with popcorn. Yes popcorn! It was such an unusual way to eat ceviche, and one that I’ve never thought of before, but it worked really well. The two textures complemented each other really well, and I loved how the popcorn soothed your tastebuds after each sharp bite from the citrusy marinade that hugged the seafood.

Bolognese Lasagna – I love me a good Bolognese, and seeing as this dish exemplified what Tommy’s is named for, I was expecting it to be good. The lasagna delivered, and then some, as I was totally in love with the chunky tomato sauce that rested on top of the pasta and the meaty bits found inside its layers. The pasta sheets themselves were delicious and felt a little lighter than its gluten full sibling – but just like with the focaccia I mentioned above, it was hard to tell the difference.

Lobster Fettuccine – Looking forward to this treat, it once again surpassed my expectations. The beauty was in the simplicity of the sherry pasta sauce, which was a little buttery and was laced with chunky bits of fresh lobster that was perfectly cooked. The pasta itself was silky smooth and cooked al dente, as it should be.

Dessert – Even though we were stuffed to the gills, who can resist dessert, especially when you had cheesecake and a flourless chocolate cake on the same plate. Out of those two, I liked the cheesecake best, as it was a lot lighter and airier than a traditional NY style cheesecake. It also boasted a distinct vanilla flavor, which was just delicious.

Service and Cost:
We really appreciated the personalized service at Tommy’s and it was especially a treat to get to know Tommy himself. I enjoyed hearing the story about why he created a gluten free menu, which seemed genuine, and overall, it seemed like Chef Tommy is invested in the community and to delivering unique and progressive comfort food.

While the gluten free menu comes at a premium, the prices are fair and still approachable for the high quality of food and the care with which they’re crafted:

Appetizers - $8 - $15
Pasta – $18 - $26
Main Course - $25 - $28
Dessert - $10

3 Mmmms

Tommy Lasagna – 119 East 18th Street, New York NY 10003
4/5/6/N/Q/R/L Trains to 14th Street/Union Square

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