Our recent camping trip over a long Labor Day Weekend took us to Mont Orford National Park in Quebec. From where we live in New York’s Hudson Valley, it’s about six hours of driving time and about eight hours door-to-door, when you factor in stopping to eat, refuel the car, etc. For our first night, we booked a hotel in nearby Sherbrooke, Quebec, since the national park campground was all booked the first night of the holiday weekend. We’d set up camp in the forest the next day.
We’d be cooking almost all of our food over the campfire, but for that first night, we set our sights on the restaurants of Sherbrooke. It looked like there were several exciting options nearby, but we also decided to ask for recommendations from the hotel front desk. A few stock phrases in French come in quite handy in situations like this (not to mention when you arrive at a restaurant or are speaking with a server):
Je ne peux pas manger gluten – I cannot eat gluten
sans gluten – without gluten or gluten-free
They did some quick sleuthing on their computer and recommended Pacini, which offered a gluten-free menu. That was encouraging, so we followed their recommendation.
Pacini turned out to be something of the Canadian answer to Olive Garden and the half-dozen other Italian-American franchise restaurants you’ll find across the country (or countries, as the case may be with Canada…).Their gluten-free menu offers a number of options, primarily a variety of salads and proteins cooked on the grill.
We have mixed feelings about such menus. On the one hand, it’s commendable for restaurants like Pacini to look through their standard menu – not very gluten-free friendly on the whole – and find options or modify dishes, and take steps to mitigate the cross-contamination risk during preparation. On the other hand, it’s disappointing when a gluten-free menu at a place such as Pacini doesn’t include at least one dish with gluten-free pasta. They’d basically need the pasta and dedicated boiling water in the kitchen. Is that asking or expecting too much? Maybe. But it’s hard to get excited about dining out at an Italian place and ordering the Caesar salad (again) or salmon. Which is exactly what we did.
Kelli ordered a grilled salmon, which was exceptionally fishy to the point that she couldn’t finish it. I ordered a grilled chicken Caesar salad. The chicken was nicely cooked if bland. The lettuce was drenched in an average Caesar dressing, and then the whole salad was topped with copious quantities of bacon bits … if those bacon bits were made from smoked fish. Strange.
Did we eat a safe, gluten-free meal at Pacini. Yes. Was it a good meal? Not so much. Next time, we’ll follow our instincts and hit up one of those fabulous looking independent local restaurants, and skip Pacini.