I'm not ashamed at all to admit that my life kind of rocks. Lie- it really rocks. I have the coolest family on the planet who support me through everything. I have incredible friends that make me smile every day. I have an awesome job working for 29,000 of the most inspiring individuals with special needs. I have the cutest, fattest, happiest dog in the world who wiggles her butt every time she sees me. I have everything to be thankful for and that makes ranting a little difficult for me. And yet...
As a "foodie", I have a huge life complaint- I have food allergies. And the thing about food allergies is THEY SUCK. In a big way. I've learned to deal with my lactose intolerance but my real problem is that I'm deadly (literally, I've almost died twice) allergic to fish. To make matters worse, unlike most normal people, I'm not allergic to shellfish, but swimming fishies with scales and fins. I'll be honest, it has its perks; I can get away with ordering the $60 lobster tail at family dinner while my brothers opt for the sensible $25 Mahi Mahi. But I know I'm still missing out. I'm the girl who eats California rolls at sushi restaurants while all of her friends are enjoying fresh ahi tuna and salmon. IT SUCKS.
So I was pretty stoked when I heard about Lisa Williams, my new local hero who has devoted her time and energy to creating a foodie life for us allergenistas. A few years ago, Lisa was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and set out on a quest to help others "live the good life with food allergies." Her website, www.lisacooksallergenfree.com, is a godsend to people with food allergies. She posts awesome recipes, local allergen friendly grocers, allergen friendly restaurants, a food allergy restaurant safety sheet, and more. The best part of her enterprise is that she hosts a series of "Safe and Sound" dinners at some of the city's hottest restaurants. Lisa challenges chefs to create menu items free of the major food allergens: wheat, soy, dairy, gluten, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts, fish and shellfish.
Most recently, Lisa's Safe and Sound dinner was at Landmark Grill & Lounge (1633 N. Halsted), sister restaurant to Boka (where she has already hosted a dinner) and Perennial (the location for May's Safe & Sound dinner). Honestly, it was the best $50 I've ever spent (and that includes some pretty fabulous shoes). The price included the amazing culinary stylings of Executive Chef Kurt Guzowski; the hip atmosphere of one of the city's trendiest restaurants; portions that could easily feed a family of 8; sinful dessert from Swirlz Cupcakes; and a goody bag filled to the brim with allergen free foods and information!
For our first course, Chef Kurt dazzled us with a Lamb Rillette with date puree and a Roasted Beet Salad with Balsamic Emulsion, served with gluten-free crackers cooked with pork fat that we couldn't get enough of. Next, we enjoyed tender, juicy wood-roasted chicken and mushrooms in a natural jus and perfectly pink grilled flank steak with cipollini onions. The steak was so delicious I thought I would eat the entire plate, and then they brought our sides of smoked brussel sprouts with bacon and herb roasted fingerling potatoes with truffles. I'm drooling just remembering it.
Despite how pleasantly surprised I was by the elaborate, tasty dinner dishes, I was still incredibly nervous about dessert, which they announced was vegan and gluten free. So, really, can you blame me for freaking out a little bit? And then a plate full of double chocolate, coconut stuffed cupcakes with German chocolate frosting landed in front of me. Seriously, these cupcakes were good. Impossibly good. Lick the inside of the cupcake wrapper, stick-your- tongue-between-the-tines-of-the-fork-to-get-the-last-bit-of-frosting good. Now I'm drooling again (AND I just realized I have a leftover cupcake in my fridge- SCORE!).
Kudos to Chef Kurt for rising to the challenge and creating such a decadent meal free of major food allergens. Many thanks for graciously taking our suggestions to add the gluten free crackers to the menu and I hope to one day see an allergen free pizza become a Landmark staple*. Special thanks to Chef James and Swirlz Cupcakes for such a rockin' dessert (that I can't wait to enjoy again tonight!). Most of all, my deepest gratitude to Lisa for sticking up for us foodies with allergies and for providing us with so many awesome dining options despite our many restrictions. You go, girl!
*If you have food allergies and would like to dine at Landmark, please call in a few days in advance so Chef Kurt can make sure he has enough ingredients to make you a special meal.