Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sazon's Greetings

While Center City's business district has the largest concentration of gluten-free-friendly dining spots in Philadelphia, perhaps the most unique one is located just beyond the shadow cast by One Liberty Place. Sazon Restaurant and Café (941 Spring Garden Street, 215-763-2500) is the area's only traditional Venezuelan eatery. Opened in 2004, Sazon is a casual BYOB owned by Robert Campbell and Judith Suzarra-Campbell, a Venezuelan native who serves as chef.

I went with my boys to Sazon on Saturday night before heading over to the Flyers game, with all of us ordering gluten free. The three of us began the meal by sharing an appetizer of platanos frito con queso rallado, a plate of six pan-fried green plantains specked with shredded white cheese.

My 6-year-old opted to order a different appetizer as his entree. The camarones en salsa de ajo was a dish of spicy garlic-sauteed shrimp with a side of crispy curled plantain slices called tostones. The hit of the entire meal was my older son's arepa, a bread-like corn patty similar to an English muffin. He savored the peluda (pictured, above), an arepa filled with seasoned shredded beef and cheddar cheese. Suzarra-Campbell makes the arepas from scratch with South American corn that she grounds herself. The arepa looked so tasty that my younger one and I ended up sharing one of our own, topped with a bit of salted butter.

I enjoyed a more traditional entree of grilled chicken seasoned with a spicy avocado sauce called guasacaca and plated with yucca. I opted for a perfectly shaped scoop of white rice in place of the side salad made with cabbage, carrots onions and mayonnaise.

Nearly the entire menu at Sazon is gluten free. Of the appetizers, only the tequenos - both alone and as part of a combination platter - are not safe. Also avoid the empanadas, the pollo frito entree and sandwiches on ciabatta bread (although all sandwiches can be served on an arepa). All other appetizers and entrees, along with Sazon's soups, salads, arepas, salsa and side orders, are fine. The restaurant's menu includes a number of vegetarian items as well.

Sazon takes great care to avoid cross-contamination. All gluten-free foods take a bit longer to prepare, as they are made in a separate area of the kitchen using different cookware, utensils and oils. Campbell says that he and his wife began offering gluten-free items in response to diners' requests several years ago, realizing that most of the menu choices already were naturally free of wheat and other perilous grains. The couple's next step was to learn more about celiac disease so that they could segregate their kitchen and educate their staff.

Had I known in advance about Campbell's selection of gourmet hot chocolates - all of which are gluten free - I would have allowed more time to get to the hockey game. He rotates the choices weekly, but has about 25 different varieties all told. Campbell uses premium imported cacao beans for his drinks, which can be infused with ingredients as diverse as sour cherries, chipotle peppers and orange zest. Sazon also offers a variety of gluten-free flan.

The reasonably-priced Sazon serves dinner Tuesdays through Sundays and is open for Saturday and Sunday brunch. The owners are celebrating the restaurant's fifth anniversary this Sunday, November 15, with a Venezuelan Buffet that includes many gluten-free items like roasted pork, beef roast and paella. Reservations are recommended for both seatings (4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to closing).

Sazon Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon
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1 comment:

  1. I love Sazon. LOVE IT. Bob is incredibly helpful and accommodating. I have multiple food allergies (in addition to CD) and he and his staff always make sure I have an excellent visit. Many of his drinking chocolates are soy-free, as well! I have never gotten sick from eating at his establishment and I make a point to visit every time we're in the Philly area (We live in central Virginia).