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April 21, 2008 at 7:15 AM

Where to eat with food allergies?

Jeff Parker wants to know: Where should he and his family dine out, given their various food allergies and intolerances? Here’s his story:

Jeff’s teenage son is gluten/lactose/casein intolerant, and while gluten is the main problem, he can tolerate some milk. Jeff and his wife are both lactose intolerant (they, too, can handle a little milk) and also allergic to eggs — though when baked in a recipe rather than scrambled or in omelet form, they can digest them. To add to the difficulties finding a restaurant the entire family can enjoy, Jeff wrote, “My son is a bit tired of always ordering breakfast food (eggs and ham are safe) when he goes out to eat, and he hates all vegetables.”

My suggestion is to consult the Seattle-based Innate Health Foundation, whose website lists many local restaurants (Cafe Flora, Lombardi’s, Restaurant Zoe) and national chains (Buca di Beppo, Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s) that cater to customers with allergies and food-intolerances.

That said, these days, with so many restaurants offering fresh foods cooked to order, I’ve found that most place worth spending your money at are willing — and able — to oblige customers with special dietary needs. I’d encourage the Parkers, and anyone else with dietary restrictions, to call ahead to any restaurant that sounds appealing and ask whether accommodations can be made.

I’d would definitely send the Parkers to Madison Valley’s elegant little Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe — where the entire seasonal menu is cooked to order and gluten-free — but unfortunately the place is 21-and-over so they’d have to leave their son at home. Speaking of Impromptu, there’s a reason the place is so sensitive to the needs of gluten-intolerant diners. Chef Dan Ahern’s wife, Shauna James Ahern, has Celiac Disease and has written a terrific memoir (complete with recipes) about her food-focused life. “Gluten-Free Girl” is a book (and a blog) that speaks eloquently about shopping for, cooking with and seeking out the best possible ingredients. I think the book — which warmly celebrates eating well and healthfully — should be required reading for any fledgling cook or new food-adventurer looking to learn more about enjoying a wider world of foods.

So, back to Jeff’s question. I’d appreciate it if any of you familiar with the difficulties of dealing with food allergies and other dietary restrictions could lend your expertise on the subject. Which restaurants do you find most appealing and accomodating?

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