Category Archives: Travel

Maui vacation, gluten-free

I have just returned from a wonderful vacation to Hawaii. We stayed almost the entire time at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort (formerly the Prince Hotel) on the south side of Maui. I had an excellent experience in dealing with this trip on a gluten-free diet, and most of that is thanks to Chef Marc McDowell, who is the new executive chef at Makena. Chef McDowell and the rest of his staff went way out of his way to ensure I had an easy and comfortable trip without worries about gluten issues.

When I was first planning out my trip to Maui, I did a little research on what to expect. I did find a blog post with some useful tidbits of information, especially in the comments section. Encouraged, I sent out an email to the concierge at Makena to see what they could do for me about gluten-free dining. I didn’t want to travel around much – my plan for this vacation was to spend as much time as possible by the beach and the pool, relaxing my ass off. (Mission accomplished, by the way…)

What I got in response a couple of days later was an email from Chef McDowell, saying I’d have nothing to worry about, and that he wanted to give me a call to go over some options. When we talked, Marc let me know he had extensive experience with handling food allergies and intolerances, and he was going to make sure I had whatever I wanted. I muttered something about burgers and pancakes with bacon, and he said we’d be good. Yes, every morning I had gluten-free pancakes with bacon, and on several occasions lunch consisted of a burger on a gluten-free bun with hand-cut and custom-prepared fries, poolside. Just look at this work of art:

Gluten free burger, in paradise

In ordering, I found it was easiest for me to let the wait staff to give my name to whomever the chef on duty. Chef McDowell made sure the kitchen staff were well advised of my situation and how to prepare gluten-free meals, and just about anything I wanted to eat they were able to customize to be gluten-free. Here I am with my two new best friends. Chef Lester on the left, Chef Marc McDowell on the right. I am the well-fed one in the middle:

Chefs at Makena

On the second day of our trip, we booked a tour to Hana and around the south side of Maui. This is a very remote part of the island, with a lot of windy dirt road to get through. Marc had asked if we were going on any excursions, and indeed this was just about the only one we had planned ahead of time. He insisted that they pack a lunch for us, and that morning at breakfast I went and picked up a cooler full of sandwich fixin’s, with the gluten-free parts clearly labeled. This was incredibly thoughtful and we had a great picnic in Hana with turkey wraps for my wife and kids, and a nice big gluten-free turkey club sandwich for myself.

Dinners were quite good. The special evening for us was dinner at Roku, which is the Japanese restaurant there at the resort. I brought my own gluten-free soy sauce (actually black bean sauce to be specific—tastes very similar) for the event. We decided to order some sashimi for appetizers and then a nice big pot of sukiyaki for the main course. We handed a small, travel-size bottle of the black bean sauce to the waitress and she said the chef would have no problem making a special batch of sukiyaki sauce for us.

Eventually we decided to rent a car and explore a bit outside the island. With a little Google research, I was able to find a pasta joint in Lahaina called Penne Pasta. They have rice pasta available for $2 extra per plate, and they assured me that the pasta was cooked separately and with all the appropriate precautions in place. I had some great bolognese and was quite full on our way back to the hotel.

That night we booked reservations at Mala Wailea at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort. Let me just start by saying I generally can’t stand the Marriott chain. There is something kind of corporate and unfriendly that I’ve experienced at every one I’ve stayed at. This place was no different. When asking for directions, the employee I asked looked as if she were thoroughly inconvenienced by my query, and then pointed it out with a rather snotty tone of voice. Once at Mala, things got much better. Very professional staff, and we had our meals served in record time. There was a bit of excitement over the fact that we were seated right near Alice Cooper, who is apparently a part owner of the restaurant – he looks way more friendly in person. Anyway, the menu has gluten-free items indicated right there, but it wasn’t very clear as they only marked appetizers and sides with gluten-free and didn’t mention anything about the entrees. Turns out many of the entrees could be modified or were already gluten free, so it was no big deal, but I couldn’t help but think if you’re going to print a menu like that then at least mark a few entree options. Anyway, the food was decent, although a bit too much on the sweet side overall.

On our last day, we did a road trip up to Wailuku and the Iao Valley. Along the way, we found Maui Tacos, which is a great little chain fast-food joint. On their website they state that everything not made with flour tortillas or enchilada sauce is gluten-free, so that means tacos and the burrito bowls are A-OK. I had a couple of hard tacos and half of my wife’s burrito bowl and they were quite tasty. Maui Taco franchises are found all over Hawaii and in a few locations on the mainland as well! I hope to see one in the Bay Area soon…

My recommendation to anyone traveling to Hawaii is: Stay at a nice place like the Makena resort, and get in touch with the head chef beforehand to make sure they can handle your needs and give them time to prepare. Makena was more than accommodating, and I was really appreciative of everything they did for me. This resort is in a transition under their new management, and I can clearly see these guys are committed to rebuilding this hotel with things like customer service and attention to detail at the forefront of the guest experience. You’d be in very good hands staying at the Makena and letting Chef McDowell and the rest of the great staff there take care of you. And if you do head down to Makena, tell them I said hello!

Condor

This is the second time I’ve seen a live California Condor. The first time I barely remember – I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and I had a fuzzy photo from the San Diego Zoo that I took myself. There were several in this part of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and this one was posin’ for the camera:

California Condor

These are amazing animals. Same level of awe as when I was a kid…

A gluten-free tourist in San Diego

I have had a couple of awesome trips as a gluten-free gastronaut into San Diego County this past year. San Diego has some excellent restaurants, and here are some things I experienced that should be of some interest to the celiac community at large when planning things:

First of all, the Gluten Free in SD website is a fantastic resource and should be your first stop when organizing your trip. There’s a ton of good resources pointed out on the website, and things are indicated with latest dates that things were confirmed. This was the site I used to look up restaurants with gluten-free options, and to know what to expect when walking into theme parks and other tourist attractions.

Last winter break we headed down for four nights at the Coronado Bay Resort. This is a good place to stay, because the restaurant there is excellent for handling gluten free options. The breakfast buffet had gluten free muffins every morning, which were great by the way, and the chef was able to explain what was safe to eat from the menu and cook things special order. We had dinner here several times on this trip, just because the restaurant was handling the gluten-free requirements so well. If you’re headed to the theme parks, eat a big breakfast here because the theme parks mostly don’t have much to offer.

Sea World, The San Diego Zoo, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park didn’t have many things to eat that were gluten-free, but there were fruit items, nuts, and chips to be found—enough to tide one over for the day if not staying too long, at least until dinner. The great exception to the theme park scene in San Diego for gluten free options was Legoland, which had gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns at most of the tray service food booths. When I had inquired about getting a hamburger with a gluten-free bun, the nice person taking my order clearly had been trained well in protocol for handling such requests, but she had also obviously never had such a request before. She was good about it and checked thoroughly, and she made sure I stayed at the window so I didn’t have to hang out on the side of the building for a long wait not knowing what was going on. The burger was terrible, just like everyone else’s. Mmmmm….

San Diego has a number of excellent restaurants with gluten-free menus or options. Our first stop in our December trip was to Del Mar Rendezvous, a chinese restaurant with a dedicated gluten-free menu and knowledgeable staff. We had the Beef Chow Fun and Kung Pao Chicken, both of which were excellent. The chow fun was done with flat fettuccine-like rice noodles that were quite wide and worked very well.

After our Legoland trip in December, we went to Claim Jumper in Carlsbad. Not bad, but they did bring my plate out with a big giant piece of bread on it when I had specified that I was ordering gluten-free from the menu and reminded them to ensure that no bread or whatnot was to come into contact with my food. Our waiter, who wasn’t the one returning with our food, was horrified and started making a scene when he left our table to go fix it, which was fun to watch. A freshly-prepared plate came back soon, sans gluten, and all was well.

This past weekend, we were down in San Diego again to help my aunt get some of her paintings appraised at the Antique Roadshow. The paintings weren’t worth a fortune or anything, but we found some more excellent restaurants to eat at:

Our first dinner stop was to Uno’s Chicago Grill. Uno’s was the scene of Yingwen’s and my first date together back when we were student’s at New England Conservatory, and we haven’t been to one since the last Uno’s locations left San Francisco several years ago. I knew they had a new gluten-free pizza on a dedicated menu, but by now I’m actually sick of gluten-free pizza. There’s plenty of it in the Bay Area now – and I still had half an unconsumed pizza left in my refrigerator back home! I tried the stuffed chicken instead, and ordered a Redbridge to go with it. Delicious, actually.

The following evening, after convincing my two aunts on this trip to watch our kids so Yingwen and I could have a date, we went to Ki’s Restaurant in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. This spot had a beautiful view overlooking the ocean and the setting sun, and we had prime seats. Ki’s sports a dedicated gluten-free menu that is quite extensive, and I ordered spring rolls as an appetizer and the Jidori chicken breast entree. The atmosphere here was clearly more laid back California style than your usual restaurant, which I appreciated, and the vegetables tasted as if they were picked within minutes—really fresh and delicious. Watching the sunset go down with a couple good glasses of Shiraz and Yingwen’s pint ‘o Mai Tai was a great way to spend the evening together.

We finished off our dining experience in San Diego at BJ’s Brewhouse, which has a good gluten-free menu. Of course they had a pizza option, and I gave in and ordered one since they have been getting rave reviews. They were out of Redbridge, but wine always works well in these situations and is actually the preferred choice these days. My pizza came ordered with pepperoni, bacon, sausage, artichoke hearts, green peppers, and mushrooms. Toppings-wise, local favorites such as Extreme Pizza and Pennini’s in Moraga win, but the crust was certainly pretty good.

Well that’s it for my San Diego roundup. I love this town!