A long-lost acquaintance of mine got in touch with me a few months back. And I don’t know if there is a French name for phone-tag, or playing the game via e-mail, but we finally fixed a date once the long summer of vacations, closures, and hectic schedules of the rentrée (the annual September return to Paris) were all finally behind us.
Laurent, who runs Grom gelato in Paris, suggested we meet up at Noglu, a gluten-free restaurant that recently opened in the lovely Passage des Panoramas. As a performance cyclist, he avoids gluten for a variety of reasons. And as fans of food trucks, we invited Kristin, owner of the hugely popular Le Camion qui fume, the first hamburger truck in Paris, along for lunch as well. Like both of the places where they scoop and grill, respectively, the buzz at Noglu was obviously good because when we arrived, they were turning away a steady flow of walk-ins; the news had evidently traveled fast.
I was recently talking to someone about gluten-free baking and they’d mentioned how limiting it must be, noting that it’s a challenge to bake without flour. However I love all the beautiful grains and flours that aren’t wheat-based, and I like their flavors, so the idea appeals to me very much. Sure, you’re not going to get a perfect baguette or croissant, and I don’t think you should try to (it’s like trying to make an egg-free soufflé or a cup of coffee without using coffee beans), but there’s almond flour, buckwheat, and cornmeal, all of which I happily bake with myself.
It’s kind of irksome when people complain about other people’s food intolerances. And while I have some funny stories from my past, working in professional kitchens concerning certain customer requests (and man, have I heard some doozies!), for the most part, modifying certain dishes and meals is a chance to be a bit creative. I wrote a few articles for a “healthy cooking” magazine a while back and it was fun to create desserts that didn’t rely on icky artificial sweeteners, and used butter, chocolate, and eggs, but in moderate quantities. And I wrote about how to pull flavors from those ingredients, maximizing their flavor. It wasn’t limiting at all.
People certainly come in all flavors as well, and my gluten-free friends are grateful for the effort that people put into making the food. And while it’s easy to push away squid (ick) and roasted red peppers (ick) if you don’t like them, gluten is hard to avoid if food is being prepared in a kitchen where there are loaves of bread, sausages, soy sauce, or bottles of salad dressings, which are just some of the places where gluten can lurk.
I eat gluten, but am always interested in what’s cooking (and baking), no matter where I’m at. And shortly after the bread was brought out to us at Noglu, I started in on it. And it was quite good. I would not put it in the same category as a crusty loaf of pain au levain, but there was something compelling about the slightly dense bread with the soft mie (crumb), due to whatever the grain flour was used to make it. I think I had at least three slices of it – and if I wasn’t so bien élevé (well-raised), I probably would have hogged more of it.
Lunch started with haddock fumé “PDT” vitelottes, which were salty slices of smoked fish with round of blue potatoes and a few dollops of avocado sauce. (Because a lot of French words are long, things like pommes de terre, or PDT, often get shortened.) I like haddock, however it’s quite rich, so I was happy to share it with Kristin – while Laurent had the bread basket all to himself.
Because I was having dinner at someone’s apartment that night who has written books on fat, bones, and offal, I decided it best to continue with fish. I like Saint-Pierre (John Dory), which took the place of the cabaillaud (cod) on the menu, which came out with braised endive, served on a bed of lentils (replacing the quinoa, a grain which is very trendy in Paris right now) and it was also a bit salé, but I think that was the fish itself.
The two guys at the counter next to use were as stunned as I was when their enormous giant entrecôte steaks came out, which came with generous piles of potatoes écrassés and topped with a sautéed heap of wild mushrooms. (The owners have the nearby Racines restaurant, so the quality of ingredients at Noglu is similarly as high.) I didn’t taste it (because I’m not mal élevé, and would never ask someone at a neighboring table for a bite of their food), but just like the rest of the menu at Noglu, if it didn’t say so on the menu, you would never know you were eating in a gluten-free restaurant.
Gluten-free desserts doesn’t mean you have to use odd sweeteners or that everything is going to be gummy. Considering the most famous dessert in the last twenty-five years is the flourless chocolate cake, which no one ever complained was lacking anything, there are plenty of things that can be made without a speck of wheat flour, and no one would know the difference.
We didn’t order the warm chocolate cake, but we did have an outstanding polenta cake, flavored with almonds and orange, served with warm roasted plums. It was great.
Because Laurent lived in Italy for a while, he got excited that they had good, Italian coffee, as the coffee is from Gianni Frasi in Verona. As a lover of a good espresso whenever I can get one, as well, I took his advice and they brought us three correctly extracted cups of espresso, some of the best I’ve had in Paris.
We also had a few housemade madeleines alongside our coffee, which I noticed were disappearing fast from the glass showcase by the entrance. They were the perfect way to end a lunch before one of us sped off on his bicycle, another got ready to ride her truck, and I headed home on foot. Which was a good idea after polishing off perhaps more than my share of bread, cookies, and cakes, all gluten-free.
16, passage des Panoramas (2nd)
Tél: 01 40 26 41 24
Métro: Grands Boulevards
UPDATE: Noglu has opened a second location, focusing more on casual, coffee shop-style food at 15 rue Basfroi in the 11th).
Related Posts and Links
Noglu (Le Fooding, in French)
Les bons spots gluten-free à Paris (Glamour, in French)