It’s that time of year again in Philadelphia—Center City District Restaurant Week!! Just to clarify—they call it Restaurant Week, although it usually lasts for two weeks, not one. During this time, you can get a delicious three-course prix fixe dinner for only $35 at participating restaurants. This is a tradition upheld by many major cities across the United States annually or biannually around late summer/early fall and sometimes in the winter. Typically, the restaurants that choose to participate in this event offer a limited menu, so you can only choose from a handful of selected dishes. Out of the 100+ restaurants participating in Philadelphia’s Restaurant Week, only a few offer gluten-free options on their already limited menus. Although this was a bit discouraging at first, I chose to participate in Restaurant Week at two restaurants that were carefully chosen based on availability of gluten-free options and customer reviews. And I’m so glad that I did! Prepare your taste buds…
After a 40-minute delayed train and a bizarre incident between a passenger and the conductor of the train with the threat of “police assistance” that never came, I finally made it to Philly for Restaurant Week! Whew. For the first dining experience of Restaurant Week, I went to Twenty Manning Grill with a few friends (two couples to be exact, so basically fifth wheeling it for the evening). Just kidding—my friends aren’t like that and I totally didn’t feel like I was awkwardly crashing a double date. Thank goodness. My thoughtful friends had even ordered me a Doc’s Draft Hard Cider, which was waiting for me at the table when I arrived fashionably late post-train fiasco.
I had already analyzed the menu days before our dinner reservation and knew exactly what I wanted before I even sat down. Nevertheless I took a peek at the menu while everyone else perused it for the first time. The items that were gluten-free were clearly marked on the Restaurant Week menu and the staff at Twenty Manning Grill were super knowledgeable about cross-contamination and how to accommodate my dietary needs.
Shortly after we ordered, the waiter brought out the usual non-GF bread basket for our table. Although I was starving, I had already accepted the fact that I would just have to wait for my first course to arrive before I could eat anything. Much to my surprise, the waiter brought out a small bowl of sliced cucumbers for me to snack on while everyone else munched on bread—very much appreciated! They also brought out a small cup of large salt crystals that looked like something a bartender would use for the rim of a margarita glass. I’m still not entirely sure what I was supposed to do with the salt. As someone who never adds extra salt to food, I certainly wasn’t about to add it to my fresh cucumber slices. But curiosity got the best of me and I added a few salt crystals to one of my cucumber slices. Never again. It’s ok though because I still had so much delicious food to look forward to.
For an appetizer I ordered the Day Boat Scallop Ceviche. I had never had ceviche before but I love scallops, so I figured why not? It was a tasty combination of scallops marinated in a citrus, avocado, jalapeño mixture and served with GF crackers. For an entrée, I ordered the Citrus & Rosemary Roasted Chicken Breast, which was a perfectly flavored chicken breast served over creamy mashed potatoes and haricot verts (fancy French name for thin green beans) in a cast-iron skillet. Since the only dessert offered on the Restaurant Week menu was a “homemade dessert sampler” aka a plate full of delicious looking gluten-filled treats, I was planning on just asking for a scoop of vanilla ice cream or something similar. So, I was pleasantly surprised when they automatically provided me with a special GF dessert that wasn’t on their Restaurant Week menu. Without even having to ask, they brought me lemon sorbet with fresh strawberries and grapes, which was the perfect way to cleanse my palate after a flavorful evening.
The actual trip to Philly for my second Restaurant Week dinner was definitely less eventful (probably because it involved a car this time instead of a train.) I ate at Tinto with a couple of friends and the dining experience was just as enjoyable as the first week! Iron Chef Jose Garces is the owner of this restaurant and clearly holds his staff to high standards, which definitely didn’t go unnoticed by me. The GF items were not indicated on the menu and I was unfamiliar with some of the ingredients on the menu, so I ended up asking an annoying amount of questions (story of my life). The waiter patiently answered all of them and understood what I meant when I alerted him that I have celiac disease. He was very knowledgeable about the gluten-free dishes that I would be able to safely enjoy and even double-checked with the chef to ensure that there would be no cross-contamination.
The restaurant serves everything tapas style (small plates), so even though it was still considered a three-course meal here, I got to select a total of FIVE dishes. I ate here two days ago, and I think I’m still full. For the first course, I selected house smoked Marcona almonds and the Manchego cheese plate (made from sheep’s milk), which was served without bread but came with apple slices and membrillo. I was unfamiliar with membrillo and thought I was eating raw honeycomb at first. I later found out that this thick jelly-like substance was actually made from quince fruit (another food I was not familiar with but enjoyed). For my second course, I chose haricot verts, which were topped with almonds, dates, orange segments, and paprika sherry vinaigrette (yes, haricot verts again—I think I must really have a thing for these fancy green beans). They were bursting with flavor! I also ordered organic chicken, which came with Brussels sprouts, chorizo sausage, and fingerling potatoes. Let me tell you, for being considered a tapas restaurant, this particular plate was not small. It was equivalent to a regular portioned entrée! Definitely not complaining though. It was incredibly delicious and hands down my favorite dish of the night. When the dessert arrived I was entering a food coma and completely forgot to take a picture of my “Copa Helado” (vanilla ice cream made with Pedro Ximenez, prunes, Marcona almonds, and membrillo). Somehow, I still managed to finish all of it though. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m literally still full.
So, with a little planning and a lot of questions, it is definitely possible to enjoy Restaurant Week in your city even when you have to order gluten free. If you are local to Philadelphia or visiting the area, be sure to check out these two restaurants. Keep it locked here for future restaurant reviews!