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Friday, May 2, 2014

Making my way through the planets: Venus Restaurant Review

Hello Friends!

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but haven't got around to it. Without further ado, here is my review on Venus!

After many months of wanting to try Venus, I finally got the chance to try it out with one of my good friends, Debbie. (On a side note, I think it’s pretty funny to see how many restaurants and bars in Berkeley that are named after planets- Jupiter, Saturn and now Venus. I’m waiting for the other planets to open up!)

Venus is a cozy American fusion restaurant, situated on Shattuck and tucked into the walls of the street. They specialize in high quality farm-to-table cuisine and attract many street strollers in for a meal with their savory menu items. We headed in around 7:30PM and the place was packed! The restaurant is already limited in space with crammed tables and customers rubbing elbows with their strangers next to them. Despite the cramped space, the aroma from the kitchen was incredibly inviting and we took our seats without much complaint.

After looking at the menu, Debbie decided on the Mandarin Lemongrass Hoffman Farm Chicken and I chose the Butternut Squash Napoleon that I had been previously eyeing before I came into the restaurant. The great thing about the menu is that the items that are gluten free are marked clearly and so that took out much of the guesswork and questioning I usually have to do.

We waited around 15-20 minutes until we got our food. Here’s a look at our dishes:
Layered ricotta and parmesan cheese, spinach, shallots, and butternut squash with a pistachio and saffron cream

Chicken with basmati rice and wilted kale 

My dish was just perfection in my mouth! The butternut squash was sweet and tender, swimming in a sea of rich cream and melted cheese. The garlic roasted vegetables on the side were a nice touch in contrast to the heaviness of the main dish.

Debbie’s dish was a bit plain for the price. The chicken was tender, but without much flavor. The kale had minimal taste and was unimpressive. Of course, I venture to guess that the chicken dish is a healthier option in terms of calories, but I would order my squash dish again before I ordered this chicken.

All in all, I had a good time. The food was above average, the service well done, and our waters were consistently filled. The ambiance was decent enough, but still very crowded. The price is about $20 per person, which is not a typical college student type budget, so save Venus for a nice occasion. And as always, the company was the best part of my meal. J

Until next time,


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rangoon Superstar: Burmese Style Cuisine

Happy Thursday my friends! 

Thanks to the contributions of our US Presidents back in the day, I was able to happily enjoy my Monday off as well as a shortened week of school. I'm SO glad tomorrow is Friday! :)

Anyway, today's post is about Rangoon Superstar, a Burmese ethnic cuisine place down Telegraph Ave. My mom came to visit me and I wanted to take her to a place she has not tried before here in Berkeley. So at around dinner time, we found ourselves standing in front of Rangoon Superstar, ready to fill our tummies with delicious Burmese food. 

Rangoon Superstar is a branch off from Burmese Superstar, their main restaurant in Oakland. The food is similar with the exception that Rangoon tends to have more of a Thai style twist while Burmese has, well, Burmese style foods. The inside of Rangoon was very pleasant, with hardwood floors and floor to ceiling windows letting customers glance at the beautiful views of cars rushing past on a busy Thursday afternoon (hah, not really...). Well, the windows were nice even though the view could be improved. The place was smartly decorated with Burmese style art pieces and the lights were dimmed for a more enjoyable dining experience.  

I had previously read reviews about this place and they recommended the Tea Leaf Salad. And of course, when everyone raves about a food, I naturally have to try it for myself and be the judge. One thing I have to mention is that the service here is exceptional. Right when they put down the appetizer of shrimp chips, the waiter told us the allergens in the food!! (!!!) I know, right? This NEVER happens (at least at the places I go to!) 

So, as you can imagine, I'm thoroughly impressed (and I haven't even ordered anything yet!) The waiters were all very nice and attentive to our needs. My water glass was never empty for more than 5 minutes. I mean, if that isn't great service, I don't know what is! 

My mom and I decided that we had to try the popular Tea Leaf salad and we also ordered the mango chicken. The waiter asked us if our party had any food allergens (rare, I know!) and I told him that I had a wheat/gluten allergy. He immediately went to the kitchen to inform the chef of this and came back and said the mango chicken had a little bit of wheat in the mango puree sauce. He asked me how sensitive I was and since I know my sensitivity level is pretty low, I went ahead and ordered it. Since my track record has been decent with cross-contamination, I figured a tiny bit in the sauce wouldn't hurt much. Again, I want to make a brief disclaimer that if you are very sensitive, pick a different menu item or do not eat here. I'm sure since the service was so great that the waiters would help you find something that is suitable. I feel a bit guilty to my body, but I really wanted that mango chicken because I just adore mangoes! 

The tea salad came out first. Here is a snapshot before the waiter mixed the salad together: 
The tea leaf salad is an authentic, popular Burmese dish that has romaine greens, beans, tomatoes, peanuts, fried garlic, sesame seeds, shrimp powder, a squeeze of lemon topped off with Burmese tea leaves. The presentation was very colorful and quite attractive. I was excited to dig in. 

Unfortunately, I did not like the salad that much. I blame it on my preference for sweetness and the fact that I am not familiar with traditional Burmese food. The salad was more on the savory side with a bit of sourness from the lemon, crunch from the fried garlic and nuts, and bitterness from the tea leaves. If you enjoy those flavors over sweet then you would probably enjoy this salad. I admit that I was unaccustomed to the taste and could not fully appreciate the complexity of flavors. I hope that one day I may be able to enjoy this dish when I acquire a broader range of taste buds than the ones I have now. Of course, years later, I still might not enjoy this dish, but only time will tell. 

The mango chicken came out a bit later. Here is a nice picture:
The mango chicken is originally spicy, but since my stomach is not good at handling spicy foods because of its delicate nature, we decided to go for mild spice and err on the side of caution. Apparently mild means no spice, so it came out not spicy at all and mostly sweet. I enjoyed the sweetness because of my sweet tooth, but my mom thought it was only average. The fresh green mango in the chicken had a delightful crunch yet soft, sweet insides. The chicken was very tender, although a bit lukewarm. Not my idea of a good chicken. Chicken, in my opinion, should have some steam when it comes out. But that may just be me. I like foods that are hot when they come out of the kitchen. 

All in all, Rangoon had average food with nice decor and excellent service. The service really saved my impression of this place. If not, I would not even think of coming back. When their food improves (ie, get a new chef), and the service remains the same, you'll be sure to see me sitting at Rangoon eating my meal and staring out those floor to ceiling windows gazing at the magnificent view of traffic on Telegraph Ave. 

Take care and until next time,


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pieology Gfree Pizza Pies

Hello loves!

Happy (late) Valentine's Day! I hope all of you had a fantastic time celebrating and spending time with your loved ones. I was incredibly thankful and blessed to be able to spend mine with a good friend- nothing beats good conversation, good laughs and good company. Throw in some chocolate... and it's a party!

Today's post is another of my food adventures here in Berkeley. This time, my two friends from church decided that 1) we never spend time together and 2) we need to fix this. And so what do three friends do to remedy this situation? We eat.

As I was going through the innumerable list of restaurants in Berkeley that I have yet to try, I figured that there's got to be a place that I've overlooked. And sure enough there was! Pieology Pizza.

Pieology has just recently opened up a new branch here in Berkeley. I could tell it was a success because the line was almost out the door when we were there. Pieology offers unlimited toppings for a flat rate of $7.95. Adding in tax brings you to $8.64. Not too bad for a personal pizza. The gluten free crusts do tack on an extra $2 so just be aware of that.

Of course, the gluten free crust option on their menu and some other gluten free bread product got me super excited and ready to have a feast! One thing I do want to mention is that there is a high degree of cross contamination. They bake the wheat pizzas with the gluten free crusts in the same oven (because they only have the one ) and some of their gloves and utensils are contaminated with gluten because of application on the wheat pizzas. If you are sensitive, I would not recommend eating here. They were very nice about changing their gloves and I'm sure you could ask them to use different brushes to spread on the sauce and oils, but the bucket of toppings/sauces would still be a bit contaminated. I ate here and had no adverse reactions, so this level of gluten was okay for me. Still, be cautious and know how much your body can handle. They also mention the cross-contamination potential on their menu as a FYI for people who order the gluten free crusts.

Anyway, I ordered my pizza with the gluten free crust and got all of my favorite toppings. I mean, if it's unlimited, I might as well have a field day with it! Here was the finished pizza:

The thin crust was very nicely browned and caramelized on the sides. It was also the right amount of crunch on the crust and deliciously soft in the middle. The pizza had marinara sauce with the herb butter base and fresh basil, olives, juicy pineapple, sliced ham, soft red onions, mushrooms, chicken and mozzarella topped off with what the restaurant calls, "after bakes," which are sauces/toppings that you can put on your pizza when it's out of the oven. We topped ours off with a BBQ sauce after bake and it was SO SO good. Oh my gosh.

I will definitely be back here again. The food was great, inexpensive and the atmosphere of the store was bright and lively. Service was decent (I think it could be better when there are less people). There are other places in Berkeley that serve gluten free pizza (like Build on Shattuck), but they charge for each individual topping and brings the total to around $15 for a personal pizza. And that's not including switching over to a gluten free crust (at least I don't think!). However, Build's ingredients are fresher and of a better quality so you really cannot compare on that level. But, hey, I'm a college student with little money and a big appetite. So, Build's just going to be left in the background and Pieology moved up to center stage. Overall, if I want to satisfy my pizza cravings, I know where to go.

Up next, get excited for my future post on ALCOHOLIC BOBA! (:


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturn Cafe

Greetings my dear readers!

I hope your holiday season was lovely and full of tasty food, fun and other shenanigans. My last semester at Berkeley has already started and I must say I have a rather nasty case of senioritis and the work has not even begun yet!

Today, I wanted to share another foodie destination spot that most Berkeley folk have eaten at or passed by on the way to class near the Starbucks on Center and Oxford. I’m talking about Saturn Café. I was one of those students who always passed by the retro looking place and thought it too hipster for my taste even though it has the words “GLUTEN FREE FOODS” glaring at me from the shop windows. Saturn Café also is famous for serving vegan and vegetarian friendly foods as well.

I was back in Berkeley one week before classes started and my good friend, Jen, called me up and asked me if I would like to have dinner. And when someone asks me to go to dinner with them, I almost always say yes (well, unless it is an impromptu visit to Chez Panisse at which point I would run and hide my wallet!) As we were searching for dinner selections, Saturn Café popped up in my mind and I offered the suggestion. Next thing I know, I’m sitting down in one of those retro booths with colors screaming from every direction ready to try out this restaurant that I have always glanced at as a passerby but never found the will to go in.

Once Jen arrived and we received our menus, both of us unanimously decided that the Crunchy Potato Taco Plate was the best thing on the menu so we ordered two plates.

Close up shot of our Crunchy potato taco plate

I seem to always wear this shirt to go to new restaurants! 

I think now I know why I never had too much of an inclination to go to this restaurant beyond a minor interest. The food did not really impress me at all and reminded me of food I could easily make at home. The tacos were nice and crunchy but we were only given two small tacos (hardly could satisfy my rather voracious appetite that day), the black beans were simply opened from a can, scooped and warmed up, and the salad was fresh but without much substance. I could get more selection on my salad at the dining commons. One thing that was nice was that all the salad dressings are gluten free- I tried the cilantro lime dressing which had a pretty nice taste.

Overall, service was slow (although I didn’t mind as much because I was too busy chatting up a storm) but the waitress was nice and kept our waters filled. Food was average and they could really use some interior upgrading. I had to move booths because the one the waitress seated us at had a huge slash through the fabric revealing the yellow foam on the bottom. The price is also a bit expensive considering they didn’t give us much food- however, I understand why they have to mark it higher seeing as how they market themselves as a specialty diner.

Next food adventure, I think I’ll skip the glittery columns and the retro themed music and just save up for my long awaited trip to La Note, Gather or Chez Panisse. Although, I wouldn’t count Saturn Café out just yet because I found out they actually have seasonal gluten free cupcakes!

Many thanks to Jen for her company and the gorgeous pics! The pics make the plate look infinitely better.

Until next time,


Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving thanks for the Small Things

To our dear readers~
I have a confession to make. For the past month, I have been regretfully in a state of seemingly perpetual writer's block. It is extremely frustrating to not be able to produce something for our blog readers each month, let alone each week. Despite somewhat of a setback, I wanted to write this post for our dedicated readers and supporters who have given us inspiration from Day 1. We are forever grateful. Thank you. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and giving thanks, I could write about how I am thankful and blessed for many things in my life: my family and friends who love and support me, my continued faith in God and His presence in my life, my education at one of the greatest universities in the world, etc. The list can literally go on for pages and pages if I was determined to write every little thing down. But, today I want to spend some time looking at aspects of our daily lives that we often take for granted. On that note, I wanted to share a personal story about an unexpected encounter. 

As some of you know, I volunteer at Alta Bates Medical Center at the Diabetes Center. My normal duties are of the mundane, clerical type as expected of my volunteer status: filing, faxing, writing and addressing letters, appointment phone calls, database, etc. My duties don't vary much from week to week, but this past week I was able to visit a patient at the main hospital. The main reason for the visit was to give nutrition counseling for a diabetic patient whose caregiver had given him too much insulin that had landed him in the hospital. Thankfully, he was fine, but my supervisor decided to check up on him in any case and make sure the caregiver knew what to do when he was discharged to go home. 

My supervisor and I entered into the main hospital and up the elevator to the sixth floor. As we circled around the corner and identified his name placard on the door, we quietly entered the room. The patient was an elderly British gentleman with wisps of grey hair barely covering his head and multiple wires and tubes running up his thin, age spotted arm. He was lying on the bed facing the television with the subtitles running across the screen for a home improvement episode. His stomach was distended and represented a mound underneath the blanket. My supervisor went ahead and started asking questions and making small talk with him as I stood awkwardly by the door. I didn't know how long this session would take and I was anxious to catch the bus back to Berkeley because the days were getting shorter and I disliked the idea of waiting at a bus stop at night. Eventually, after my supervisor finished asking questions, we stood waiting for the caregiver to arrive. As we waited, my supervisor looked out the window and said, 

"Wow, take a look at that sunset! Isn't it beautiful?"

I followed her gaze and discovered a breathtaking view of the bay with a sunset filled with an array of colors. I hadn't even noticed it when I came in. I was too caught up in my own mind to care about a sunset that happened every day. My supervisor asked the gentleman if he was able to see it, to which he replied, "No, I can't see it from here. It hurts when I turn my head." 

It occurred to me that I could help him see it. I pulled out my phone and held it close to the window, snapped a picture, and had that beautiful sunset captured in that moment. Here is the picture I took: 

 I walked over to him and showed him the sunset I had captured. He looked at the picture and then up at me and replied, 

"That is quite beautiful. Thank you." 

Although I knew the picture wasn't nearly as beautiful as actually seeing it, for him, it was good enough. For him, he was thankful for having been able to see the sunset even if he only saw a crappy photo captured on my phone. 

Looking back at this experience, I realize that when my life gets too hectic, I naturally forget about all the simple, wonderful things around me. I forget to thank God for all the wonders and blessings He has given to us such as the warmth of sunshine on our face, the smell of the air after the rain, the roof over our heads, the food on our table, the feeling we get when we hug our loved ones, our health and even a beautiful sunset at the end of the day. Thanksgiving gets us thinking about what we're thankful for and so I invite you to take a moment to be thankful for the small things as well as to give thanks for the blessings and challenges/hardships that have helped you become stronger and hopefully more grateful each day. 

On behalf of T and myself, we hope all of our readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving! T and I are so very thankful to our readers who continue to stick with us even through our long hiatus and my numerous apologetic posts. We hope to get new gfree awesomeness out to you soon and we always welcome blog suggestions. Remember, that we write for YOU, so let us know what you're curious about or whatever you think is interesting that we might want to explore in our next posts. 

Until next time,

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sweet Treats for my Gfree Peeps- Halloween Edition!

Hi All!

I know this is super late, but as Halloween is tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to write about safe candies for gfreers to eat. 

Most candies are usually gluten free except for ones that have cookie bits or other flour products inside the candy or are processed in a facility that also processes wheat. Here is a non-exhaustive list of safe and not safe products to eat: 

  • Baby Ruth
  • Butterfinger Original
  • Laffy Taffy - this stuff is nastyyy in my opinion (no offense to LT lovers out there! I still love you, don't worry. Oh and I always threw away the banana flavor for some reason. Did anyone else do that??)
  • Milk or dark chocolate plain
  • M&Ms original (other M&Ms might have cross contamination so check the label!!)
  • 3 Musketeers Bar
  • Milky Way- Midnight and caramel 
  • Dove chocolate (YUM)
  • Snickers bar
  • Tootsie rolls (these things get stuck to my teeth really bad... therefore not my #1 choice)
  • Dots
  • Junior Mints
  • Tootsie Pops
  • Andes
  • Smarties
  • Almond Joy 
  • Hershey's Milk Chocolate Kisses
  • Heath Bars
  • Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
  • York Peppermint pattie
  • Jelly Belly (has anyone tried any of those Harry Potter flavors and LIKED it? Comment below!)
  • Mike and Ike
  • Most gummies (gummy worms, gummy bears etc)
  • Candy Corn
NON-GFREE CANDY (and therefore not delicious and you shouldn't ever buy them) hahaha jk, but no, really don't buy them.

  • All the Butterfingers besides original (yeah I never liked Butterfinger anyway)
  • Wonka Nerds
  • Sweetarts 
  • 100 Grand Bar
  • Milky Way original (why they would not make the original bar gluten free is beyond me)
  • Mars Bar (anyone know what this is??) 
  • Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme Bar (I used to love this so much... goodbye old friend...)
  • Mr. Goodbar
  • Symphony Bar
  • Crunch bars (malt in crunchy rice bits)
As always, READ THE LABEL. I can never stress this enough. Also, call the company if you are unsure about anything at all. They should be able to answer most of your questions. And if you just don't want to do the previous, just use common sense! 

And that's it! Happy Halloween to all and stay safe everyone! 

And now some candy pics to get you pumped for whatever you're doing on Halloween. Enjoy! 
GUMMIES!!! Aren't they cute?

An army of gummies!

A handful from this bowl multiplied by 100+ houses gives you...
 *Photo credits to Google search. These are not my photos.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are we getting too sensitive??

Hi everyone!

So, I admit that I've been absolutely terrible at keeping up with the blog posts. I hate to use the phrase, 'life happens' because that would just be an even more terrible excuse as to why I haven't been posting. I believe that in life, if something is important to you, you WILL make time for it. No excuses. No if, ands, or buts.

Although my sorry excuse of not having time to post kinda is the truth, I think it's because there hasn't been a great deal of inspiration for me to write. Until last week.

I was at an event for one of my clubs and the idea struck me out of the blue.

Here it is: Why are celiacs or those on a gluten free diets so damn sensitive? 

Okay, so maybe I didn't need to use the word 'damn' but I think it just goes to show how much I didn't realize how sensitive I was about my own diet and people's opinions about it.

Let me key you in on this. Everyone knows that those with restricted diets who have to watch every single morsel that goes in their mouth have a difficult time finding safe, allergen friendly foods. But, where do we, as celiacs or gfree dieters, draw the line between not caring about our diet at all and caring too much? And is there even a possibility to care "too much"? It is our health in any case.

I'll give you an example: my family has been so supportive since my diagnosis and start of my gluten free diet. But on occasion, I'll get some of these comments:

Why are you being so picky? That's why you're so skinny and can't gain weight. 

A little bit is not going to hurt you- stop being so scared of everything. 

Etc etc the list goes on. So, how do I react to this? Of course, I react defensively. Here I am, having to eat a restricted diet that is hard as hell to follow and my own family is telling me how I should eat and making sneering comments about my diet and ultimately my personality. Sometimes, I'll get moments of complete support, almost over-supportive, and other times I'll get the comments above or get sarcastic replies to my questions of "Can I eat this? Is this safe?"

I get it. It's frustrating for those who aren't on a specialized diet to cater to those that are. Over the weekend, I learned a phrase that is surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) fit for this situation. It is from St. Francis who said, "...grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand." This quote symbolizes the traits of an effective listener, and in my case where I reacted defensively to my own family, I sought to be understood by them instead of trying to understand why they acted the way they did. This puts things in a whole new perspective.

For example, did I ever stop to think about how hard it would be for them to have to suddenly cater to a restricted diet? What about their own sacrifices in what they wanted to eat because they wanted to make me feel included so they perhaps sacrificed flavor, favorite foods or certain restaurants because of me? Did I ever think about how much they have already done for me and how much they have supported me thus far?

The answer is no. No, I really haven't. And now when I write this, I feel apologetic and guilty. Guilty for being defensive and for overreacting and self-victimizing myself.

So many celiacs I read about online and know in real life seem to self-victimize themselves. They have the mindset that no one can ever understand them, that they have to stick together because it's them against the world. But, I'm here to tell you that this mindset is so backwards. It actually hinders us from working toward a brighter, more accepting future for celiacs and those on gluten free diets.

If your friend gives you food with gluten, accept it with kindness and share it with someone who will enjoy it even if you can't eat it. It's not about the food, it's the thought that counts. If someone doesn't understand what gluten is or constantly forgets you're on a special diet, try not to take it personally. My motto is "educate, don't hate." If someone goes out of their way to cook something gluten free for you, don't sneer and give a disgusted face because you know it's full of cross contamination. Again, accept with kindness and graciousness knowing that in your heart, you are appreciative of their efforts to cater to you. Politely decline and give a thorough explanation without being overly sensitive. Remember that those who aren't on specialized diets will never truly understand what it's like to be on your diet, but appreciate those who make an effort to try and understand.

In the end, what I'm saying is again summed up by St. Francis's words: Seek to understand, not to be understood. So much of what we do and say powerfully affects the people around us. Be conscientious, be kind, and in the words of one of my good friends, always be charitable.