It was a sunny afternoon when I first stepped into Senza Gluten, an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, and I instantly knew that I must soon return one evening for dinner. The rustic Italian feel, the dark tables that were dressed with wine glasses and fresh carnations in small mason jars – I could only imagine how classic and romantic it would look in the evening when the lights were dimmed and candles were lit. The diner next to me was served a bowl of soup, and the most exquisite and enticing aroma permeated the air. I could hardly wait to try the food myself.
Senza Gluten is a rare restaurant in that it is 100% gluten free and focuses on serving their Celiac/gluten intolerant customers classic Italian dishes that were once thought to be off limits. It is a place that stresses the importance of safety, comfort, community and the joy of good food.
After my interview with Chef Jemiko L Solo (which you can find here), I was thrilled to sit down with his business partner, Teona Khaindrada, to talk more and sample several of their dishes. She told me how everyone in the restaurant works together to create a wonderful dining experience. The kitchen is a place of laughter and camaraderie where Chef Jemiko encourages and guides new cooks who show great potential. And the wait staff is so kind and just the loveliest people to have a conversation with. When I left later that evening, I couldn’t help but feel like I made a whole host of new friends.
In terms of the food, I was blown away – some of the most delicious dishes that I have ever eaten. The thing that struck me the most about all of the dishes (besides how stunningly gorgeous they were to look at) was how perfectly balanced the flavors were. It was almost as if you could taste just how many attempts it took Chef Jemiko to finally create that one perfect bite. You could taste the passion that he has for his food and the care and love he puts into catering to the gluten free community. No wonder Senza Gluten is developing such a loyal following.
Onto the food…
Bruschetta Originale – fresh tomato, garlic, basil and olive oil
Bruschetta Ai Funghi – mushrooms, shaved parmesan and truffle oil
As I mentioned earlier, everything was perfectly balanced. Thin slices of bread toasted to perfection, with just the right amount of toppings and drizzles of olive oil.
Rotolo Di Melanzana Con Spinaci E Ricotta – eggplant rolatini with spinach, ricotta, and parmesan cheese baked in tomato sauce
I’m normally not an eggplant fan, but this dish won me over. This is a restaurant where you should take chances on a new dish – whatever they cook, they cook it well.
Cavolfiore Alla Parmigiana – breaded, fried and baked cauliflower with buffalo mozzarella and parmesan in a fresh tomato sauce
The chef told me an amusing story about how he was accidentally sent a crate full of cauliflower. Instead of sending it back, he decided to experiment. We should thank whoever made that shipping mistake. I had never tasted cauliflower this way. Very inventive and a must try.
Classic Lasagna – with layers of bolognese sauce and cheese
It’s easy to see why this is a customer favorite. It’s simple and classic. You half expect your grandmother to stroll out of the kitchen in her apron and join you.
Pollo Alla Parmigiana – breaded, fried and baked chicken breast with buffalo mozzarella and parmesan in a fresh tomato sauce served with arugula salad and shaved parmesan.
Before going gluten free, my aunt took me to an Italian restaurant that she had worked at when she was my age. Together we shared a breaded chicken dish. When I went gluten free, I thought that I’d never be able to have it again, and yet here it was! It tasted just as it should, and I didn’t miss gluten at all.
Gnocchi Di Patate Ai Quattro Formaggi Fatti in Casa Con Spinaci – home made spinach gnocchi with 4 cheeses (mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, and taleggio)
This was one of my favorite dishes. The sauce was simply sublime. You could taste how much love and care the chef put into getting the flavor combinations just right.
Tiramisu – layers of mascarpone cream and home made savoiardi biscuits
I am always on the lookout for the best desserts in the city, and this one zoomed right to the top of the list! It was so soft; my fork slid through the cake effortlessly. And the flavor! It blew me away. I also love the fact that the chef makes all of the desserts in house. My favorite dish of the day.
Biscotti e Cioccolato – apricot and pistachio biscotti drizzled with warm chocolate sauce
I have never had homemade biscotti before, so this was a delightful treat. The chocolate drizzle created a very fun and playful experience.
You’ll find many more options on the menu for a variety of tastes and preferences – asparagus soup, risotto with shrimp and saffron, filet mignon, wild snapper. I’ll admit that since I began writing this review I have gone back to Senza Gluten and am making my way through the dessert menu. The molten chocolate cake and espresso crème brulee are to die for. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite dessert (though maybe I should try them all again to decide…).
I must also add that eating here felt so normal. Sometimes when I go out with friends, there is an exhausting amount of talk about “Is the fryer safe?” – “Your fork can’t touch my food” – and “Shoot, we just contaminated the butter dish.” As a Celiac, you always have to be on your guard. But this felt so blissfully easy and lovely. I sincerely hope that other chefs and restaurant owners will be inspired by Chef Jemiko so that we may see more restaurants that are 100% safe for the Celiac and gluten free community.
It is clear that you will be in for a beautiful and delicious culinary experience at Senza Gluten. The chef truly cares about everyone who walks in the door as well as every dish and every bite. It’s that place where Chef Jemiko and Teona will greet you at the door and ask how your kids are. They will sit down with you at your table and ask if you have a suggestion for a new dish. The chef will remember what you ordered and will welcome you back on your next visit. You may come for the food (and you will not be disappointed), but you leave as a part of their family.
You can learn more information about Senza Gluten at www.SenzaGlutenNYC.com.
Visit the restaurant in person at 206 Sullivan Street in Manhattan off the A/B/C/D/E/F/M trains.
Disclaimer: I was invited to sample some of the wonderful food at Senza Gluten, but I was not paid to write this review.