Eating out is a scary maneuver for people with celiac disease. Just a touch of cross contamination from the food cooked on the grill or pan just before my steak or seafood can make me feel pretty sick. Or a careless chef with flour on their hand gets just a few specks on my plate. Or gf pasta cooked in the same water as regular pasta. That is all it takes to get glutened. But, I love to try new places so occasionally I brave my fears and dine out. A few weekends ago we ate at Bravo at the Lehigh Valley Mall. Their staff was really friendly and welcoming. The place was hopping on a Saturday night at 6 pm. We had reservations but still waited about ten minutes for a table. Families were all around us chowing down on good looking pasta. I was hopeful.
There were no appetizers that were marked gluten free. Bummer. But I had an okay chopped salad with a decent dressing, the iceberg lettuce had some lumps of saggy pale lettuce but other than that it was tasty. After a bit of a wait, our entrees were served. Mine was shrimp scampi with a white wine sauce and rotini gf pasta. There were tiny squares of pallid tomato on top and a few microscopic flecks of fresh parsley. The nice waitress piled on the freshly grated cheese, anything to improve the looks of this sad dish was my thought in that moment. Diving in, I couldn’t even taste any garlic. None, nadda. The shrimp were on the small side and pretty much flavorless. The pasta wasn’t half bad even though I have never seen rotini served hot with an entrée: it is mostly used in pasta salads. The sauce was mildly enjoyable but totally unmemorable. What the flecks of sad tomato were doing there is anyone’s guess. Maybe a touch of color?
I see this dish as one of those gold standards that every Italian restaurant should be able to knock out of the park. I make it myself, mine has fleck of fresh rosemary, lemon zest and bread crumbs (gf of course) and I tend to serve it with steaming hot rice. My guy is always enthusiastic when this is what’s for supper. The scampi at Bravo was nothing like homemade. It was pale, extremely mild in flavor and as bland as you would never want. Shrimp scampi should have bold flavors of garlic and butter that announce themselves on the first bite. The shrimp should be large and plentiful, firm and full of flavor; they are the star of the dish after all! Sadly, this dish had nothing going for it other than the pasta was not overcooked.
My guy had a lasagna bolognese which was similarly dull in flavor but fairly edible. Same rule applied to the Italian wedding soup which was his appetizer. Nothing special.
Dessert was the highlight of our visit; a Crème Brulee which was perfectly constructed with a creamy rich custard and a true hard crack brown sugar crust. There were some pieces of fresh fruit on top. Naturally gluten free and quite yummy! I wish I had taken a picture of its perfection!
The gluten free menu choices are very bland looking; this was the most exciting thing on the list as far as I could tell. We folks with celiac love good food just like anyone else. We don’t want dull mildly flavored meals that could be fed to a toddler. I wanted true Italian zing and that was totally lacking in the food I was served. This nationwide chain should be ashamed of itself. I did call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager, identifying myself as a food blogger. No response was ever given. If you want bland gluten free; then this is your place. We won’t be going back. Still searching for anything even half as good as Bella’s in Hellertown.