Gluten and Date Night: A Battle Story

14 Jun

It has been a while since I’ve posted. This is a good thing! My lack of posts is a sign that I am living life gluten-free without too many challenges or obstacles to warrant a post! However, this is no more. After all these years (almost a decade!) I have a gluten-free battle story for the ages.

My fiance took me out for date night in Little Italy, San Diego. The plan was to grab dinner before heading to a Corinne Bailey Rae concert. We used Find Me Gluten Free (my absolute favorite gluten-free tool! I could not function without it) to find a restaurant in Little Italy with gluten-free pasta.

Because I just started my third year of medical school – a year with incredibly demanding hours – I wanted to be extra careful about making sure my meal was gluten-free. I don’t have the time to be out sick! Before ordering I asked our waiter if their gluten-free pasta was cooked in separate water from the regular pasta on the menu. He told me that it was not.

If the “gluten-free pasta” is boiled in the same water as the regular pasta, then it is not gluten-free. Have you ever come across a lone rigatoni noodle in your penne pasta? That is because Italian restaurants often use and re-use the same boiling water to prep several orders. They use a strainer with a handle to scoop out the pasta instead of pouring out the boiling water so they can re-use it. 

I asked if the kitchen could boil water separately to prepare the gluten-free pasta for me. He said they were too busy and could not spare the burner.  Pushing my annoyance about falsely advertising GF options aside, I asked if there were any items on the menu that they could prepare gluten-free. He advised that I consider ordering one of their chicken of fish dishes.

I ordered a chicken dish in mushroom sauce. I asked the waiter to double check that it was gluten-free and reminded him that sometimes restaurants coat chicken in flour to get a good sear before adding sauces to the pan. He comes back and confirms the dish is gluten-free.

About fifteen minutes later he brings out our dinner. I take one look at that thick beautiful sauce and immediately have doubts. When he puts the plate down in front of me I say, “Are you 100% sure this is gluten-free? The sauce looks suspiciously delicious!” He laughs politely at my joke and confirms that the dish is GF.

Then one of my most common recurrent nightmares unfolds in real life. I am 5 bites into my amazing savory dish when I see our waiter walk out of the kitchen looking panicked. Please don’t walk over to me. Please don’t walk over to me. Please don’t walk over to me.

He walks over to our table.

“Ma’am, did you need the whole dish to be gluten-free? I think that our demi-glace sauce has a small amount of wheat in it. But not a lot”

Ok, first off, what the fuck is demi-glace and why does it have wheat in it?? Secondly, I asked multiple times if this dish was for sure gluten-free. When I ordered it, I even prefaced my order by saying that I literally did not care which protein dish I ordered so long as it was gluten-free. If I wasn’t down for pasta that shared the same water as wheat products, why would I be ok with glutenous demi-glace??

Demi-glace is “a rich brown sauce in French cuisine used by itself or as a base for other sauces.” 

I could feel myself starting to get upset, panicked, frustrated, mad. Thank goodness I had my amazing fiance there to help navigate the conversation. He reminded me that this waiter really tried and it was the system that failed. This helped calm the storm that was brewing in my head. The waiter did make sure that the chefs/cooks didn’t flour the chicken before pan searing BUT the restaurant buys their demi-glace (not made from scratch) and, because of my intense questioning about gluten, our waiter thought to himself “Wait, maybe I should check the ingredients on demi-glace the restaurant buys.” Sure enough it was a wheat product.

How was this a system failure? Well, the gluten-free pasta protocol actually DOES prepare the pasta separately from regular menu items according to the manager. Our waiter did not know this but the manager and chefs did. Our waiter marked the ticket as gluten-free. The chefs took note and did not dredge the chicken in flour. The issue arouse due to the use of restaurant made ingredients! An overlooked step in making sure menu items are GF. 

Our waiter flagged down the manager. This added attention did not ease my stress level. The last thing I wanted for this situation to cause any more of a scene.  The manager kept asking me what she could do, what did I want, anything on the menu could be mine…but I didn’t have much of an appetite. Her persistent questioning started to draw some attention from the people next to us. I really wanted to leave but…I also really wanted to go to this Corinne concert and did not want to go on a mostly empty, slightly glutened stomach.

I told the manager that I was fine with anything so long as it was gluten-free. For real this time. She says, “Absolutely.” Meanwhile, my fiance’s spaghetti was definitely getting cold. Just in the nick of time, our waiter returns with a full bottle of wine. Strong move. A few minutes later (unreasonably fast) two people come storming out the the kitchen each carrying a dish. They made me a LOT of food.

My fiance and I started to eat but it was hard to shake off what had happened. I felt so panicked. I only had 4-5 bites and the ingredient wasn’t a major component of the dish. I would probably be fine…

One of the difficult parts about living with celiac is the constant fear that you will be glutened. Pretty much any time I eat at a restaurant, I can feel my stomach drop any time I see a waiter/waitress walk over to our table after I’ve started eating. I am so scared I will be halfway through a dish and then be told, in front of people, that it wasn’t gluten-free. Won’t everyone feel awkward? (Yes) Isn’t there a chance I get really sick? (Yes) Will everything be ok? (Yes!).

So far, I haven’t gotten sick since the glutening. I did notice a small patch of DH on my arm starting to form this morning but if that is the worst of it, that is fine by me!

I try really hard to be gluten-free but even a decade into it occasionally find myself in situations like this. I am so grateful I had such a wonderful, supportive person with me when it happened. I can’t believe how quickly I felt tears fill my eyes during this encounter and am relieved I had a wingman to help with the situation.

Being gluten-free isn’t so bad but there are certainly days when it is not easy! I am writing this so that my readers know that it is ok to get upset about bad experiences, to be frustrated with celiac life, to cry a bit, but – MOST IMPORTANTLY – that it is ok to pick yourself up, assume it will be ok, and even enjoy the rest of your evening despite a bad GF experience and a lot of unwanted attention.


❤ CC


PS Mom, I know you are reading this and I promise I am fine ❤ ❤

One Response to “Gluten and Date Night: A Battle Story”

  1. Celia June 14, 2017 at 6:27 am #

    Oh no!!!! So sorry honey!

    Sent from my iPhone


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