Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Gluten-free dining at Chicago's Glen Prairie
Enjoying a meal that is not presented in a plastic basket is an amazing treat, but going out these days has become few and far between because of a combination of details, including finding a babysitter. Fortunately, everything seemed to fall into place last week, and we were able to enjoy a lovely meal at Glen Prairie, voted one of Chicago Magazine’s ‘Best New Restaurants of 2009’. Glen Prairie is located just outside the city in the western suburb of Glen Ellyn.
Having celiac and needing to eat gluten-free, I did a little reading on Glen Prairie beforehand. It is a huge relief when I saw they actually have a gluten-free menu. Many times going to a restaurant requires asking many questions to the server and sometimes the chef before I can feel comfortable with a meal, but knowing that they are knowledgeable on gluten-free eating put my mind at ease before we even walked through the door.
In addition to the gluten-free menu, I was impressed with the fact that Glen Prairie’s Executive Chef Daniel Ovanin focuses on contemporary American cuisine and sources many of their ingredients locally, as well as having a wine list that includes organic and sustainably-farmed wines. In addition to providing “green-farmed foods”, they used environmentally friendly products in creating the restaurant down to their recycled paper menus.
When we arrived at the restaurant, I must admit, I was bit taken aback that it is attached to a Crowne Plaza hotel chain, but decided that with all of the excellent reviews I had read on various reviewer-run web sites, I would put my snobbery aside and location did not matter. The exterior of the restaurant had a prairie-style feel, which I love, and made me quickly forget it was located next to a hotel.
As soon as we walked inside it was immediately warm and inviting. The décor was beautifully minimal, with dark warm woods and colors. The staff was instantly welcoming.
I was given a gluten-free menu as I took my seat, which made me particularly happy and comfortable. I ordered a mojito and examined my choices. Our server was extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable and really made our evening. I asked him many questions from how they prepare their gluten-free dishes in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination to what types of juices they use for their signature drinks. I was assured that the kitchen was trained and extremely careful in preparing gluten-free dishes and that the juices they use in their signature drinks are all 100% juice.
One thing, that left me slightly disappointed in the beginning of our experience was that I was eyeing, with envy, the neighboring tables as they enjoyed their warm homemade bread with butter while awaiting their meal. I had hoped since Glen Prairie caters so well to the gluten-free community that they would also serve gluten-free bread, but sadly this is not the case. In the end, I was grateful because I would not have been able to have room for all of the delicious food that was to follow. My husband was my partner for the night, and also ordered from the gluten-free menu.
I started my meal with the heirloom beet salad served with baby greens, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and a balsamic truffle vinaigrette ($7). My husband ordered the farmers garden salad with was served with baby greens, shaved winter vegetables and a champagne-cider vinaigrette ($6). The beets were delicious and a great combination with the goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. My husband’s salad was equally enjoyable, especially the shaved parsnips, which I have never had in a salad, but quite enjoyed. I must say that I was a bit unimpressed with the dressing on the beet salad as it tasted a little too creamy, and much more favored the champagne-cider vinaigrette on my husband’s salad.
For our main course I once again, fell off the vegetarian wagon, and ordered the Iowa-farmed filet mignon, served with herb whipped potatoes and green beans ($32). I rarely eat meat, but came to the conclusion that if I am going to eat meat, this is the kind place where I want to eat it. My husband ordered the Atlantic salmon with whole grain mustard, fennel and blood orange salad served with fingerling potatoes ($19).
I took one bite of my filet and I was in love and couldn’t remember why I had stopped eating meat in the first place, it melted in my mouth. The herb whipped potatoes were the perfect consistency and flavor and the green beans were cooked flawlessly with just enough crunch. The flavors blended really well with each other, and I wanted to savor each forkful. My husband’s salmon was also cooked to perfection, and worked incredibly well with the combination of the shaved fennel and blood orange. The roasted fingerling potatoes were also just the right amount of flavorful, and the perfect accompaniment to the salmon. I couldn’t decide which meal I liked better and kept stealing bites from the salmon dish.
During our main course we enjoyed a glass of Monterra Merlot, from California, which was very rich and smooth, and a great pairing for the meal ($8 a glass). I wanted to take the bottle home with me. I am not even much of a wine drinker, more of a liquor girl, so this means something!
When we thought we could eat no more, we saw the dessert menu and had to indulge, especially when there was more for a gluten-free eater than just ice cream. We ordered two desserts to share, and decided on the vanilla bean crème brulee served with raspberries ($6) and the fallen chocolate soufflé with gelato ($6). The crème brulee was perfectly crispy and richly flavored. But I think the fallen chocolate soufflé was the star of the dessert show at our table. The soufflé is served in a large mug, warm from the oven, next to a shot glass-sized helping of gelato. The server immediately placed the gelato into the soufflé to create an amazing combination of textures and temperatures. It was such a rich and fabulous dessert and was difficult to imagine it was gluten-free.
As we concluded our evening out, I felt extremely satisfied and for that meal, I forgot I was someone who had to eat “differently” from the average diner. I was able to enjoy my food, stress-free like everyone else in the restaurant. It is such a great feeling to know that restaurants are becoming more aware of gluten-free eating and offering us to the opportunity to eat in an environment where the staff is knowledgeable and we can feel comfortable. I realize that anytime we eat in a facility that also handles gluten, there is possibility, even if small, of cross-contamination, but I can say when I left here I felt great, and I will definitely be coming back. Chef Ovanin has given the gluten-free community a great gift.
This is definitely a place to go on nice occasions as the average main course is about $22, however, they do offer a prix fixe menu that includes 3 courses of an appetizer, main course and dessert for $20, which makes it much more affordable in these tough times.
Glen Prairie is located at 1250 Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Reservations are encouraged; you may call them at 630.613.1250. In addition to their dining room, they also have a lounge area, with plenty of seating, adjacent to the bar, and a private dining area that can seat up to 40 people.