As a gluten-free eater, I am used to constant vigilance. I play 20 questions at every restaurant I visit and often feel more skeptical than comfortable with the answers kitchen staff provide. I am used to navigating around typical gluten-free problem zones: shared pasta water, utensils, and free-flying flour.
Italian food is the arch-nemesis of any gluten-free eater because it’s basics- pasta, bread, and pizza- are all traditionally flour-based. As a dairy-free diner, I find it doubly challenging to find safe eats, because cheese tends to be as abundant as wheat flour on Italian menus.
That’s why when it came to deciding on my birthday dinner location in New York City, I had no hesitation in selecting Senza Gluten, a 100% gluten-free Italian restaurant in the heart of Greenwich Village. Here, celiacs can sit down to a worry-free meal, and for a rare moment let down their guard and truly enjoy the experience of dining out.
Gluten-free food gets a bad rap of being a lesser imitation of gluten-containing fare, but at Senza Gluten, the food is no second-place contender. Authentic and artfully crafted, Senza Gluten offers both peace-of-mind and a culinary adventure.
While the whole menu and kitchen is gluten-free, the food is not allergy-free, so you still have to inform the wait staff of any co-occuring allergies or restrictions to egg, dairy, milk, soy, shellfish, or other foods.
While deliberating what to order- a trying ordeal- the wait staff delivered warm bread and poured fragrant olive oil, an experience I have rarely enjoyed eating out. I was downright giddy with excitement over getting to partake in a dining experience I am so often left out of. The bread is chewy and bread-y (as bread should be) and is delicious dipped in olive oil. It was slightly sweet and reminded me of white Italian bread I used to enjoy before going gluten-free.
I entered almost sure that I would order pasta but I pivoted at the last minute, tempted by risotto zafferano, which featured asparagus, shrimp, and saffron. When it arrived, it took my breath away because it was generously portioned and smelled heavenly. The risotto was creamy and rich, infused with the flavor of shrimp and saffron. The asparagus was evenly spread throughout and the dish contained a generous amount of shrimp. Every spoonful was satisfying, and I relished each and every bite of this downright dazzling dish.
As a side I ordered the sautéed string beans, which were lightly salted and seasoned to perfection with olive oil. They were crisp and satisfying- and generously portioned too.
The beauty of Senza Gluten is that I can show off my family member’s orders too because they all were gluten-free. My mom ordered the spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clam sauce) and my sister ordered the penne al pomodoro. I tried her dish, and the pasta was truly exceptional. My dad ordered a rigatoni dish with mushrooms. They all are gluten-eaters, and gave their meals two thumbs up- way up.
Before too long, the meal was sadly over- and I was too stuffed for dessert. The whole experience was like a dream, and I couldn’t get over the enjoyment I had in partaking in the full experience of the meal. It’s weird to think that I could eat off of my family’s plates (if they were dairy-free) and I kept reveling in the joy of not worrying about whether my meal was compromised in some way. For that moment in time I realized just how stressful dining out is, and the constant vigilance that has transformed my life since giving up gluten.
I am eternally thankful to Senza Gluten for realizing the vision that Italian food can be accessible to those who cannot eat wheat. I eagerly await my next meal, and will dream of my dinner for a long, long time.