Yes, my name ends in a vowel and I was pretty much raised on pasta before my Celiac diagnosis and I rarely go to Italian restaurants because, well, as an Italian it’s not something we really do – because our mothers all make the best pasta and sauce and who can really compare with mom? Well, I think that might have all changed for me last night but shhhh, don’t tell my mother.
Last night I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to a gluten-free dinner at Tommy Lasagna here in New York City with other great gluten-free bloggers from NYC. The dinner was organized by the gluten-free hostess with the mostess, Erin Smith of Gluten Free Fun, Gluten Free Globetrotter, and (as if that was not enough) organizer of the NYC Gluten-Free Meet-Up group. I have known Erin for a few years now and I am still amazed that she was diagnosed with Celiac as a child and has been living gluten-free for 30+ years. We joked that it was funny to finally all be in the same room at the same time. We all go to similar events covering the gluten-free beat but go for long stretches where we could be somewhere and not even bump into each other. So who else was at the table? Well, I am glad you asked. There was Anya, Candice, Carolyn, Judith, Katie, Kristen, and Molly. Alas, being the lone male at the table reads like Michael and his gluten-free angels or something — hey, I’d watch it.
Now, you are probably wondering why on earth a group of (mostly, there was one non-GF food writer in there for good measure) gluten-free bloggers would decide to converge on a palace of pasta and gluten-filled indulgence? Well, that’s just it. The owner, Thomas Mosera (a.k.a. Mr. Tommy Lasagna himself) gets gluten-free dining – no, REALLY gets it. Erin had already conducted the gluten-free inquisition prior to setting up the dinner and seemed confident that this would be a suitable option to test out. In full disclosure we knew that this was a shared kitchen and they do make regular pasta in addition to what in my book is simply the most amazing fresh gluten-free pasta you will ever find. So, we took the proverbial leap of faith but in the end really need not have worried because Chef Mosera explained in detail the lengths that he and his staff (all of them) go through to ensure the safest possible experience for gluten-free guests. Cue the backstory…
Chef Mosera told us how his pasta muse was his business partner’s wife who while pregnant developed an intolerance to gluten. She was the one who loved his signature lasagna so much she said he should open a restaurant – and the rest is well history. Chef Mosera noted that when his muse could no longer eat the inspiration for the restaurant he had to come up with a gluten-free option for her – and boy, am I glad he did.
Throughout the evening Chef Mosera explained the evolution of their gluten-free menu development. The restaurant opened in 2011 and while they pretty much always had a gluten-free option or two they never had a gluten-free menu – until now, well, Friday November 8th to be precise. He stressed how he wanted to start small so that the entire staff could fully understand that gluten-free meant so much more than just being another menu option. It was serious and they needed to grasp the importance (and challenges) associated with serving gluten-free diners (whatever their reason for being gluten-free but most importantly those who are gluten-free out of necessity).
Chef Mosera went on to explain the lengths that the kitchen goes through in order to not only prepare the gluten-free items but the care that goes into the actual manufacture of their truly amazing fresh gluten-free pastas. There is a formal system in place when it comes to making the gluten-free pasta. Dedicated machines, dedicated tools, dedicated timing (before any regular pasta production begins) and most importantly dedicated staff. He also mentioned how the food was carefully prepped and, what is perhaps the music to every Celiac’s ears, the dedicated boiling pots <cue angels singing>. He also had, what I think is a foolproof solution to menu confusion — don’t call anything on the gluten-free menu the same thing as something on the main menu so it is its own dish vs. a regular menu item with “GF” in front of it for the kitchen and servers.
Before I get into the food itself, I want to make it clear that Chef Mosera is not a chef doing gluten-free for the sake of doing gluten-free. He’s is personally committed to offering a safe dining experience to gluten-free diners that stemmed, as often is the case, out of necessity for someone he cared about – and he’s not messing around. For a non-Celiac he clearly did his homework (years of it) and you could actually hear his personal commitment and passion to providing safe gluten-free dining options as he would describe each dish that arrived at the table. Oh, and for the record he and his staff were able to accommodate all of the additional allergies that Celiacs often bring with them. Let’s see, there was three shellfish (me included) and one peanut along with a vegetarian as well. Without skipping a beat, Chef Mosera quickly tweaked some of the courses so that everyone was able to eat without worry. Best of all it was not a chore but rather his pleasure to make sure that everyone was so very well taken care of.
Mangiamo! Chef Mosera really outdid himself and presented us with an amazing six-course tasting. The evening started, as any good evening should, with a selection a wines, gluten-free beers, and a signature cocktail. I must also point out that we were briefed on wines that were aged in stainless steel vs. wood barrels due the possibility (however slight) of wheat paste being used to seal the barrel. Now I am not a huge wine person and prefer drinks of the spirit variety but it was extremely reassuring to know that Chef Mosera and his team went to great lengths to ensure every aspect of the meal was in fact gluten-free. The signature cocktail was the most amazing blend of Aperol, Tito’s Vodka, and grapefruit – twist my arm why don’t you?
The amuse bouche if you will was a house-made focaccia served with olives and olive oil. The focaccia was likely the finest I have had since going gluten-free. Chef Mosera noted that they are constantly experimenting with different flours and combinations to get the desired results. While delicious, I am glad I did not fill up on bread because it was just a taste of things to come.
My first course was an delicious Mozzarella Caprese made with their own house-made mozzarella and topped with ripe tomatoes, roasted peppers and fresh basil. Those without a shellfish allergy received the Mango Shrimp – pan seared with mango salsa and served atop a fennel slaw and a Ceviche of assorted seafood in a lemon marinade and topped with popcorn (à la Lima-style).
Next came a Pear and Pine Nut Salad. Spicy baby arugula was paired with sweet Asian pears, tart goat cheese and finished with toasted pine nuts. It was tossed in a light and refreshing lemon vinaigrette that helped elevate the tartness that was perfectly balanced by the sweet pears.
Moving on with the bacchanal, we progressed to a lasagna sampling. Yes, TWO of their signature lasagnas on one plate – Bolognese and Green Market varieties. The Green market was (as is all of their pastas made with their fresh house-made pasta) and was filled with fresh vegetables from the Union Square Market, Grana Padano, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses and topped with Chef Mosera’s signature tomato sauce. The Bolognese was exactly as a Bolognese should be – full of rich meaty flavor but complemented by wonderfully fresh and milky cheeses and the chef’s signature sauce.
As if I was not full enough – next came the house-made Papperdelle prepared TWO ways: Bolognese and with vodka sauce. The fresh pasta makes all the difference and the texture and consistency of the Papperdelle was, in a word, perfection. Perfectly al dente and was truly one of those “Are you sure this is gluten-free” moments. Seriously – it is just that good – no, not good – utter perfection. The Bolognese was the same as on the lasagna (delicious) but the vodka sauce was a new favorite. Its flavor was magnified by the subtle delicate saltiness of prosciutto which really added a nice new dimension to this classic sauce.
Still hungry? Well, at this point I was entering food Nirvana and was truly stuffed but Chef Mosera kept the food coming. Those without a shellfish allergy indulged in Cioppino served over risotto and Veal Involtini – which was stuffed with spinach, asparagus, and fresh mozzarella. It looked delicious and I am definitely trying that when I go back. My main course was the most delicious half of crispy chicken that had quite possible the best basil hash browns I have ever had in my life underneath and was paired with shaved (just the way I make them at home) Brussels sprouts.
Let’s pause here for a second because A) I am completely full at this point but B) that last statement truly sums up the Tommy Lasagna experience. You feel like you are at home. The food is really a modern take on some very classic staples that I grew-up with. You feel welcome and like one of the family.
Last, but certainly not least was dessert. We were presented with a slice of gluten-free cheesecake that was so light and airy it should technically be illegal in most states and a decadent, rich, and moist flourless chocolate cake.
As I rolled myself down the street and into a cab three hours from the start of the dinner, I truly could not stop thinking about the food. Despite being on the verge of exploding I was still thinking about the food. This happens with only a handful of restaurants that I have been to.
Head on over to Tommy Lasagna’s Web site to learn more about the restaurant and check out their gluten-free offerings. The also offer pasta and mozzarella making classes and are working on hosting a gluten-free version of the pasta class in the future so stay-tuned. Most importantly the new gluten-free menu goes live on Friday so if you are in the area anytime soon I would highly recommend stopping-by. You will definitely not regret it.
Many “Italian” restaurants have attempted gluten-free here in the City but few get it right. Tommy Lasagna get’s it beyond right. You just cannot argue with fresh. My sincere thanks to Chef Mosera and his amazing staff who made a group of gluten-free/food allergic diners feel completely at ease and like one of the family for an evening. I am already looking forward to my next delicious visit. Just please…don’t tell my mother.