Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gluten-Free Road Trip: What Happens in Vegas ...

Though we usually head to Florida between Christmas and New Year's Day with our boys, this time around we opted for something different - going west. It had been more than 15 years since my wife and I were last in Las Vegas and much has changed since then. This time around, however, we had to be mindful of gluten-free dining options. I'm happy to report that both on and off the Strip, Sin City has many accommodating restaurants.

Topgolf (above) and M&M World are among the non-gambling
attractions on the Las Vegas Strip
While gambling and Vegas go hand in hand, you don't have to be a high roller to enjoy the area's many activities and sights. We used one of the many hotels on the Strip - Mandalay Bay at the southern end - as the base for our week-long stay. Since we were flying to and from the East Coast, two days were effectively for travel, leaving us with five full days to sight-see. We flew back on New Year's Eve, but as you can imagine, Las Vegas is a popular draw for holiday revelers, so the city was crowded throughout the week. (Artists as varied as Drake, Bruno Mars, Elton John and Sting were performing in town on the 31st.) During the week, we saw the always-entertaining comedy-magic act Penn & Teller (who are in residence at the Rio), America's Got Talent-winning illusionist Mat Franco (at the Linq) and the incomparable Jerry Seinfeld at one of his two shows at Caesars Palace, whose set was as funny as ever. Must-see Strip attractions include the Mirage volcano, the Bellagio fountains, the gondola rides at the Venetian's Grand Canal Shoppes, M&M World and the Coca-Cola store (where you can sample soda flavors from around the world), the Stratosphere tower, and the Topgolf golf entertainment complex at the MGM Grand (there's one opening in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey in late 2017; gluten-free flatbreads and burger buns are on the menu).

Winter in Utah's Zion National Park
We alternated our days between spending time in Las Vegas proper and taking road trips to explore the surrounding area. If you plan to visit places away from the Strip during your stay, it's worth your while to rent a car compared to the cost of paying for a tour, particularly for more than two people - the drives themselves are priceless. On one of the days, I made the nearly three-hour, one way trek though Nevada and Arizona to Utah's Zion National Park - a breathtaking sight, especially in the winter.

The gateway to Zion National Park is a small Utah town called Springdale. We stopped for lunch at Cafe Soleil, where our son had the Southwest Chicken Salad. Gluten-free options are noted on the menu and there were pre-packaged snacks and cookies available.

Within an hour's drive from Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam (above)
and Valley of Fire State Park
Our other - shorter - road trip was to the majestic Hoover Dam, traversing back alongside Lake Mead and through Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, where we walked several trails.

We found it easy to dine gluten free at the Strip hotels we visited. At Mandalay Bay, our waiter at the SeaBreeze Cafe was diligent about making sure our son's breakfast (eggs, potatoes and bacon) were made separately. For dinner one evening, the chef at Lupo by Wolfgang Puck prepared his gluten-free spaghetti in a clean pot with fresh water and tossed it with a Bolognese sauce. Though we didn't get to many of the other restaurants at Mandalay Bay, most can accommodate and note gluten-free options on their menus, including Border Grill, Fleur by Hubert Keller and House of Blues.

The Shoppes at Mandalay Place have gluten-free-friendly
restaurants that include Burger Bar (above) and Rick Moonen
RM Seafood
At the adjoining Shoppes at Mandalay Place, our older son enjoyed a delicious burger (with gluten-free bun), separately prepared steak fries and a shake at Burger Bar. For dessert on another evening, we went to Rick Moonen's RM Seafood for "Rick's Tasting Game," 16 flavors of ice cream and sorbet served blind. (We asked to make sure that all flavors were gluten free.) We were given a sheet to write down our guesses and if we got all correct, the dessert would be on the house. Though we only got about half right, we had a fun time trying them all. RM Seafood lists gluten-free options on the lunch and dinner menus.

Lupo by Wolfgang Puck (above) and El Segundo Sol are
among Las Vegas's many gluten-free-friendly
The Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants out of Chicago has long had a reputation of being gluten-free-friendly, and the Vegas outposts we went to were no exception. My wife commented that the chicken fajitas she had for lunch at El Segundo Sol were the best she'd ever had. We took advantage of some refills of the unlimited tortilla chips (prepared in a dedicated fryer) and our older son had a chicken quesadilla made with grilled corn tortillas. On the night my wife went to see the Michael Jackson-themed Cirque de Soleil show (which she highly recommends), the boys and I ate at Mon Ami Gabi, the chain's French bistro at the Paris Hotel. (There are East Coast locations in Bethesda, Maryland and Reston, Virginia.) Not only did the restaurant bring out warm gluten-free bread for our older son, he had French onion soup with gluten-free croutons for the first time as the prelude to a wonderful salmon entree.

Incidentally, we ended up at Mon Ami Gabi because our original plans were scuttled. We had a reservation at Brooklyn Bowl at The Linq Promenade but had to cancel after after there was a gas outage in the shopping complex. We were looking forward to some gluten-free fried chicken (prepared in a dedicated fryer) but will have to wait for next time - or at least until we get to the original location in Brooklyn.

We did try one hotel buffet for breakfast, the aptly named MORE at the Luxor. The chef came out to speak with us about safe options and several items were clearly labeled gluten free. However, the food was fair at best and not worth the $20 per person that would have been better spent elsewhere.

We also dined at a couple of spots with New York connections. Although the original Carnegie Deli in New York City just served its last pastrami sandwich at the end of 2016, a subsidiary remains open at the Mirage, where our son had corned beef sans bread with a side of cole slaw. He had an ahi tuna salad and a banana split at the Las Vegas outpost of Manhattan coffee shop Serendipity 3, which closed since the time of our visit.

The gluten-free crepes at Crepe Expectations are worth
a drive off the Las Vegas Strip.
Off the Strip, popular West Coast fast-foodery In-N-Out was careful to prepare protein-style burgers and fries. One morning, our son had his first crepe - made with gluten-free batter, Nutella, bananas and strawberries - at Crepe Expectations. The staff uses one of the griddles for gluten-free crepes and cleans it thoroughly when not in use exclusively for them.

Although the Joseph James Brewing Company in nearby Henderson does not have a taproom or offer tours, visitors can find the brewery's gluten-free Fox Tail Pale Ale sold in local bars, markets and liquor stores. The beer, sold in cans as a four-pack, is made with organic rice as a base.

You can find more Las Vegas restaurant recommendations posted at Gluten Free in Las Vegas, where Vegas resident Lisa writes about her favorites, and at Alexis's Gluten Free Adventures.
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