Thursday, March 08, 2007

Vegas-safe eating

The allergic diner was sent the following by a non-allergic friend in Las Vegas. This article appeared on a "Vegas Question of the Day" Website. Thought it might be helpful to allergic families/consumers considering travel out there...

I have recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, which means that I
must follow a gluten-free diet (no wheat). My husband and I will be
vacationing in Las Vegas this year and I was wondering if there are any
restaurants in the area that offer gluten-free items.


We confess that we weren't entirely sure what celiac disease was or
what its full implications were dietary-wise, so we did some research and
here's what we found.
Turns out celiac disease is one of the most under-diagnosed common
diseases in the U.S., affecting at least one in every 133 people. It's a
congenital and chronic disease that basically consists of a permanent
intolerance to a component of wheat protein and related alcohol-soluble
proteins (called prolamines) found in rye and barley. In genetically
susceptible individuals who eat these proteins, the condition leads to an
autoimmune disease, whereby the body's immune system starts attacking
normal tissue and continues as long as these foods remain in the diet.
Symptoms of the disease typically can include anemia, diarrhea, lactose
intolerance, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and osteoporosis.

Having either a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance doesn't necessarily
mean you have celiac disease, but both still require a gluten-free diet
to avoid nasty side-effects, such as rashes, gassiness, wheezing,
abdominal pains, and worse.

The under-diagnosis and lack of common knowledge about all these
conditions have made dining out a difficult and often hazardous activity for
those with an intolerance to gluten. While researching this answer, we
came across a horror story from a sufferer whose honeymoon was ruined
by eating a (gourmet) Las Vegas restaurant meal that he was assured was
gluten-free, but wasn't at all and rendered him sick for days. He
recounted all kinds of other tales of fish absent-mindedly coated in flour,
barley lurking in the bottom of bowls of soup, and non-gluten-free
seasoning on steak.

Having experienced such trouble communicating the seriousness of his
dietary requirements to various kitchens, this sufferer has produced a
series of information cards, in numerous languages, that you can give to
your server to pass to the chef, explaining exactly what you can't eat.
The cards are free to anyone to print, but if possible, he asks that
you make a small donation ($5), just to cover the costs of running his
site. If you'd like to print yourself off some of these cards, visit

As covered in a previous QoD (09/13/2006), Las Vegas is not especially
vegetarian-friendly, so we weren't too hopeful of finding gluten-free
dining spots. However, it's getting better, and we were pleasantly
surprised with what we found -- with the help of the Las Vegas Celiac
Support Group. The following is what we hope is a useful list.

Fleming's Steakhouse (8721 W. Charleston Blvd., 702/838-4774): This
national chain of steakhouses offers a full (two-page) gluten-free menu
prepared by registered dieticians, with advice on how to amend regular
menu dishes to make them gluten-free. For example, appetizers include
tenderloin carpaccio (order without croutons), shrimp and lobster (order
as is), and seared ahi tuna (order without spicy mustard -- substitute
with caper Creole mustard). All salad dressings are gluten-free; just
make sure you ask to have yours mixed in a clean bowl. All the meat and
seafood entrées are safe to order, with the exception of the beef
Flemington and the almond-cilantro-crusted shrimp, plus there are loads of
sides to choose from and several deserts. (Note: The kitchen is not
gluten-free, so be sure to inform your server that you're ordering
gluten-free, so they can do their utmost to avoid cross-contamination.)

Celebrity-chef Wolfgang Puck's Las Vegas restaurants are a good bet for
celiacs. Chinois (Forum Shops at Caesars) has a gluten-free menu and a
knowledgeable staff and Spago (also in the Forum Shops) can also
accommodate celiacs -- just inform your hostess and your server when you
arrive. Postrio in the Canal Shoppes at the Venetian will happily cater to
your diet, provided you give them 24-hours notice, and Trattoria del
Lupo at Mandalay Bay assured us that they could customize their menu to
accommodate you. Similarly, the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand
checked with the chef and confirmed that they can also cater to celiacs,
provided you identify yourself as such to your server upon arrival.

PF Chang's China Bistro: With four locations in Las Vegas/Henderson,
including one in the Aladdin/Planet Hollywood and another by the Hard
Rock on Paradise, this is another good option for those on a gluten-free
diet. Chang's offers a customized menu of suitable dishes, including
chicken in lettuce wraps, shrimp with lobster sauce, Chang's lemon
scallops, wild Alaskan sockeye salmon steamed with ginger, moo goo gai pan,
stir-fried spinach with garlic, Buddha's Feast (mixed steamed
vegetables), and Singapore street noodles (shrimp, chicken and rice noodles
stir-fried in a special gluten-free sauce), plus a flourless chocolate dome
for dessert.

Owned by the same company as PF Chang's, Pei Wei Asian Diner is another
good choice for anyone suffering from gluten intolerance. They have a
specialized menu, available for lunch, dinner, and take-out, including
dishes such as Vietnamese chicken salad rolls (order without the Thai
peanut sauce) and Pei Wei sweet and sour (choice of non-battered chicken,
shrimp, or scallops). There are currently two locations in Las Vegas
and two in Henderson. Visit their Web site here for details of addresses
and phone numbers.

Outback Steakhouse is another big chain with branches across town that
offers a full and extensive gluten-free menu. Choose from appetizers
including coral-reef crab dip, grilled shrimp, and seared ahi tuna, with
a wealth of entrées including numerous steaks, grilled and/or barbecued
lamb, chicken, pork, fish, and seafood dishes, burgers and sandwiches
(either ask for no bread, or call in advance and ask if they'll permit
you to bring your own gluten-free bread and build your own at the
table.) Click here for a full list of locations and phone numbers.

Chili's offers a suggested menu for those with gluten/wheat allergies.
Their menu carries a disclaimer, explaining that their normal kitchen
operations involve shared cooking/prep areas and common fryer oil, so
they can't guarantee that your order won't come into contact with wheat
or gluten products and recommend that you avoid all of their fried
foods. Items on their special menu include bunless burgers, steaks, baked
potato soup, baby back ribs, Guiltless salmon, grilled margarita chicken
(hold the tortilla chips), salads, sides, and chocolate shake dessert
(ask the manager if it's prepared in a dedicated mixer). Click here for
a list of all their Las Vegas locations.

Maggiano's Little Italy in the Fashion Show Mall (featured in a past
LVA for its great happy-hour appetizer play) will happily accommodate
those with wheat/gluten allergies/intolerance with their gluten-free
pasta. You must speak to the chef in person prior ordering so you can make
him aware of all your dietary needs -- it probably wouldn't hurt to call
in advance and give them a heads-up. 702/732-2550.

Another Italian option is Carraba's Italian Grill, which, in
cooperation with the Gluten Intolerance Group, is now providing a gluten-free
menu, including antipasti, soups, salads, chicken and beef dishes, and
dessert. Locations are in Summerlin at 8771 W. Charleston Blvd.,
(702/304-2345) and Henderson at 10160 South Eastern Ave. (702/990-0650).
We're sure this is far from an exhaustive list and we'd love to hear
from anyone who's discovered other gluten-free-friendly restaurants in
town, but we hope this will at least prevent any celiacs from starving
during their Vegas vacation.

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