Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gnocchi on Heaven's Door

Contributor Alice Ozma is a young professional in the publishing industry who works from her home in Old City. She was diagnosed with celiac disease a year ago but also has problems with everything from dairy to fresh fruits and vegetables, which makes life… interesting.

By Alice Ozma

Although the high ceilings, tall chairs, and business suits at Davio’s initially made me feel awkward,  I felt at home when the hostess handed me and my roommate extensive gluten-free menus. I came to the Center City Italian steakhouse (117 S. 17th St., 215-563-4810) to try the pumpkin gnocchi but didn’t call ahead and, unfortunately, it wasn’t in yet. The manager came over to apologize and took my card; when I arrived home an email awaited me, including details about the gnocchi and even the recipe. Impressive.

Our lunch started with a shared basket of bread (for my non-celiac roommate) and potato chips cooked in a dedicated fryer. I mentioned to the server that I couldn't eat the chips since some had touched the bread, so he removed the basket and started from scratch with fresh orders in separate baskets. The chips would have tasted better warm – some were crispy, most a bit soft and oily – but I was happy to have a non-bread option. We ordered figs with gorgonzola and micro greens in a port wine syrup as our appetizer, gnocchi with mushrooms and truffle oil (not on the menu but our server’s suggestion) for me, and the pasta with applewood smoked chicken, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes in walnut cream for him - all gluten free.

After 20 minutes, our tiny appetizer arrived –four or five figs. It was, however, quite tasty – the cheese balanced the sweet figs,, the greens were fresh, and it was just warm enough to enhance the flavor. After a pause before our entrees, the manager reemerged to explain the special steps the kitchen took to prepare them gluten free, including boiling our own water.

The hearty gnocchi (my roommate noticed slight graininess, though I did not) was complemented nicely by the oil and mushrooms, making it feel deceptively light and airy. His brown-rice pasta held its shape and soaked up the salty yet silky smooth sauce; he remarked that he wouldn’t have known it was gluten free. The smoked chicken, too, was incredibly flavorful. While both dishes were a bit heavy on the pepper, overall we loved them. Paired with an appetizer or dessert, the portions were spot-on.

We followed those dishes with a zesty panna cotta served with fruit, which was so aromatic we smelled it coming. As tropical flavor fans, we loved the pool of flavorful juice at the bottom of the plate. It was wonderfully tangy, and my roommate correctly detected a hint of passionfruit. The panna cotta itself was merely a sponge for this fruity goodness, but it served its purpose well.

Shortly after putting our spoons down we were surprised with warm, gluten-free chocolate cookies, which were the highlight of the meal. They were fluffy and so darkly chocolatey, I couldn’t eat them without sighing. Our server assured me the cookies were available “to-go,” and I’d definitely pick some up for a party or just to scarf down two at a time on the subway.

The bill was the only unpleasantry, totaling $57 before tax and tip. This might have been easier to swallow if the small portion of figs had not cost $13 – and we did not know this, as it was the special. We were full to bursting by the end of the meal, though, so if we returned, I’d skip appetizers. For me, the prices are somewhat inhibitive for lunch, but I’d certainly go for a special occasion, where I could dress up. It’s better suited for that anyway.

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