During our California road trip, after our stay in Sacramento, the three of us drove to Napa. Eating extraordinary meals in one of the best places for food I know reminded me of the beginning again. When you are first diagnosed with celiac — or figure out for yourself that gluten is not your friend — you might think that life is going to be drab and without interest.
Grab yourself some macarons from Bouchon Bakery and those dreary preconceptions will disappear.
(Now let me say what might need saying: Bouchon is definitively not a gluten-free bakery. These macarons are made separately, away from the other baked goods. This time, when we were in Napa, I could watch a young woman making them through the bakery window. The folks at Bouchon know about gluten-free, since everyone in the Thomas Keller restaurant group seems to know how to take care of folks with food allergies. And this is the third time I have eaten them — I’m not sure how I’m lucky enough to write that statement — and I have never been made sick. Still, proceed at your own caution.)
There is nothing drab about Napa.
The last time we ate at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, Lu was only 14 months old. She sat in a chair clamped to the table, eating scallops and boudin blanc. Her expressive faces made everyone around us laugh. One older woman was so astonished by the food Lu was eating that she asked if she could take a photo of the “gourmet baby.” Lu was a delight. (We still have that photo of the two of us on our refrigerator.
This time, Lu was mostly focused on the french fries. (New parents, this is the difference between 1 and 5.) I understand. The french fries at Bouchon are the most perfect french fries I have ever eaten: crisp and hot and all of them equally cooked. Best of all, they are gluten-free, since they are made in a separate fryer from anything else. So few restaurants have dedicated fryers for french fries that I end up eating them only three or four times a year. To eat them at Bouchon? Makes it even better.
Eating at Bouchon reminded me again: find the restaurant that truly respects food and wants to be of service to the diner. That place can feed you gluten-free, safely.
All the restaurants in the Thomas Keller group know how to feed us gluten-free folks. After all, they’re the people who make Cup4Cup, the wonderful gluten-free flour mix. (Here are some of the good people responsible for bringing Cup4Cup’s flour mix, pizza mix, pancake and waffle mix, and brownie mix to the market.)
We were meant to bake with Lena Kwak, the research and development chef for The French Laundry who imagined Cup4Cup. However, an emergency root canal prevented us from sharing that experience. Someday.
If you happen to find yourself in Napa, California, you’re in luck. It’s a place of such abundance, of fresh food, of chefs whose talents and enthusiasms match the possibilities of ingredients that grow there naturally. This part of the world is phenomenal.
And if you are gluten-free, then you have a new home in Napa.
The Inn on Randolph is located in the small town of Napa, within driving distance of hundreds of vineyards and restaurants. Karen Lynch had a dream of opening a high-quality inn in Napa Valley. She also has celiac. She decided to not bring gluten into the place, on matter of principle. But it’s only recently that she has realized what she has created: an entirely gluten-free inn, right in the center of Napa Valley.
We were lucky enough to stay at Inn on Randolph the night we stayed in Napa, in our own private cottage. Karen offered us the cottage, in hopes that we might like the place and tell our readers about it. And oh yes, we did.
Not only does the inn have comfortable beds, jacuzzi tubs, fireplaces, and every amenity, but it also has the friendliest innkeeper I’ve met. Karen knows every restaurant and winery in the area that can accommodate gluten-free guests. She knew where to send us for dinner that night. And she truly loves the chance to make gluten-free customers feel at home.
She told us the story of one couple who came to stay recently. The woman left her biscuit untouched at breakfast. When Karen came over to ask her if everything was okay, the woman reluctantly said she didn’t want to bother anyone, but she can’t eat gluten, so she couldn’t eat the biscuit. Karen ran into the kitchen and asked the chef to fill a plate with biscuits. When Karen put the plate in front of her customer, the woman blanched. When Karen said they were gluten-free, she burst into tears.
It’s clear that Karen loves the joy she can give people by serving them well at her gluten-free inn.
This is Ethan Speizer, the chef at Inn on Randolph. He comes in every morning to make entirely gluten-free breakfasts for the guests. What I particularly liked is that he didn’t make the requisite and expected pancakes and waffles. The morning we ate there, he made us quinoa cakes with garlic lemon aioli and bacon jam. (Ethan has kindly shared his recipe with us, which we’re giving you below.) And there were little parmesan gougeres as well.
This place is something else. You can follow Ethan’s cooking at their Instagram feed, @innonrandolph. When I posted this photo on Instagram, some women were making marriage proposals to the guy!
If I were getting married to Danny again, I’d have my honeymoon at Inn on Randolph.
When we asked Karen where we should go for dinner that night in Napa, she told us about Cate and Co in the Oxbow Market. People, trust Karen.
Cate and Co is run by Catherine Bergen, who also owns C Casa, another extraordinary gluten-free option at the Oxbow Market. C Casa’s fresh, local Mexican-inspired food looked great. But how often can I order a Bahn Mi sandwich on a gluten-free baguette? Or a tartine with smoked salmon, goat cheese, and capers? Our lovely friend Sabrina joined us for dinner, as did my cousin and her husband, who live nearby. Since four of us at the gathered tables have to eat gluten-free, we bought a bit from Cate and Co, some from C Casa, arepas from Pica Pica, and a gluten-free pizza from another stand. Everyone put his or her dish down and we shared. We didn’t even hit the cheese possibilities, or charcuterie, or ice cream. There was so much gluten-free goodness in that place that we could only giggle a little at the sight of our laden table. Who knew, Napa?
The gluten-free sourdough baguettes at Cate and Co are the best I have ever eaten. As much as I was looking forward to the rest of our California trip, the sight of this crumb made me want to run home to start baking again.
Honestly, the Oxbow Public Market has more density of good food than nearly any place I’ve ever visited. Around the corner is The Fatted Calf, one of our favorite butchers and charcuterie makers in the country. And just down the street, Rancho Gordo, our favorite source for heirloom beans. Honestly, we only buy our beans from Steve Sando. And after we visited, we had banana vinegar in the car. Banana vinegar!
You can’t go to Napa and leave with your hands or belly empty.
There’s even a cupcake place in Oxbow Public Market named Kara’s Cupcakes that takes great care to make gluten-free cupcakes, first thing in the morning, on cleaned lines with separate utensils. Again, having a restaurant or bakery that has a protocol in place to feed us safely? That makes me far happier than any frosting can.
It’s now ridiculously easy to find gluten-free Napa and eat well there. If you are thinking about a trip? Go.
This piece is part of our ongoing American potluck road trip series, where we travel around the country, eating great food, meeting farmers and chefs, and meeting people where they live. We know that not everyone can afford to stay at inns in Napa or make a trek to Bouchon. Heck, we can’t do it very often either. But we’re sharing our adventures here so everyone reading can know: it can be a good life, gluten-free. We hope our adventures give you recommendations for places to stay and eat, should you travel here. And we hope we inspire you to explore your corner of the world too.
We’d like to send out a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Erewhon Organic for sponsoring this California tour. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to meet you and gather material for our next cookbook. Erewhon Organic makes some of our favorite foods in the world, including their new quinoa-chia cereal and their buckwheat-hemp cereal, which was our favorite breakfast on this tour. They do things right.
Quinoa Cakes with Garlic-Lemon Aioli, thanks to Ethan Speizer
These quinoa cakes are crispy, thanks to the addition of mozzarella and parmesan cheese, as well as eggs. Rather than being grain-heavy and dense, these are light and satisfying.
We haven’t tried making the recipe at home yet but we loved the quinoa cakes we ate the morning we made them. This recipe is written in Ethan’s words. Try them. You’ll see that he has worked flexibility in here, so you can make these your own.
For the cakes:
- Bring quinoa and 6 cups of salted water to a boil in a saucepan. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cover. After 20 minutes, the quinoa will have cooked.
- Place all ingredients (except oil) in a bowl and stir together until well mixed.
- Pour olive oil in a large sauté pan and place over medium heat.
- Form small patties with the quinoa mixture and place in the heated pan. If the cakes do not hold their shape well, add another egg to mixture.
- Cook cakes for about 4 minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden brown.
- Repeat with remaining patties.
For the aioli:
- In a food processor, combine egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice and cayenne. Pulse to combine.
- With the food processor on, slowly drizzle in oil until a thick emulsion has formed. Add lemon zest and season with salt.
- Place 3-4 quinoa cakes on a plate. Drizzle with aioli and garnish with fresh herbs and/or fresh greens.