Arenas Del Mar Review

As promised, I am ready to give a full review of Arenas Del Mar. As I explained in a past post, this wonderful resort in Costa Rica is making a tremendous effort to offer a wonderful gluten free vacation destination. They will be offering two special weeks this fall geared to cater a very special gluten free menu with celebrity chefs. In general, the resort is very gluten free knowledgeable and can adjust the normal menu at any time. I was asked to go down to the resort and help consult with the staff. I just returned from a week at the resort and I am excited to share my experience.

Costa Rica is a wonderful country with tons of activities, amazing people, rich history, outstanding biodiversity and beautiful beaches. This resort is located on the pacific coast near Manuel Antonio national park. The resort is placed on the side of a cliff offering outrageous ocean views, access to both a private beach and public beach while having the privacy of the rainforest and all the wildlife it has to offer. The staff will go out of the way to make sure you have everything you want and that you are happy. They will bring you lunch to your beach chair, arrange any activity such as taking you on a tour through the rainforest . Everyone will know your name within 24 hours which was helpful and the entire staff was aware of my gluten issues.

The resort itself is a blast with two beaches, two pools, two bars, two restaurants and much more. The spa has a large selection of treatment and only uses gluten free lotions and cosmetics. The staff will gladly shuttle you around with electric golf carts and take your anywhere you want to go. Free wi-fi and free international phone calls. The rooms are very special and with many options to choose. Our room had two rooms, two bathrooms, large porch with jacuzzi, tv and mini bar. Most impressively, the resort is unbelievably green and ecofriendly as evidenced by their use of solar power and extensive water management/conservation system (I had the treat of doing a bootcamp style workout at 6am with the staff on the roof of the water ionization tank).

Finally, the food!!!! This was officially the first week-long vacation I have been on without getting sick. They are very aware of cross contamination and gluten free foods. Breakfast is included in your nightly rate and is very special. Every morning breakfast included an exotic fruit tray, various fresh squeezed juice, Costa Rican coffee which we loved over ice and finally an entrée of your choice. From gluten free pancakes, gluten free oatmeal, traditional Costa Rican items or common items like omelets and yogurt with fruit. Lunch is served beach side with a fun menu. Appetizers range from ceviche, chips and guacamole to tropical salads. Then they have great wraps and sandwiches that they can prepare gluten free on corn tortillas. The best was the gluten free fish sticks and calamari. Yes, fried calamari!!! They have gluten free bread crumbs on hand and fry every thing separate in a pan with fresh oil. Dinner is very special. Everything is elegant, plated like your at a five star restaurant and filled with local fresh ingredients. The dinner menu is a wonderful combination of Costa Rican dishes along with American items all with flare. Appetizers included grilled octopus, tuna, ceviche and wonderful vegetarian options that all blew me away like watermelon gazpacho and grilled zucchini rolls stuffed with white sweet potato. Entrees are equally as fabulous including tuna steak over lentils, mahi mahi on top of a plantain and papaya salads, creole style seafood, other Costa Rican dishes like “Casado” and “Arroz Con Pollo” and “Chicharonnes” with other more traditional Continental vegetarian alternatives risotto or potato gratin. Many items are naturally gluten free. Fresh made gluten free bread served at the start of every meal. Dessert was different every night and all amazing. My favorite dessert was the gluten free cheese cake but I also enjoyed the flourless lava cake, coffee creme brûlée and gluten free crepes. Finally the drinks. As a wino, I was very happy with the extensive bottle list but the cocktail menu is something unique. I love my liquor but I don’t favor sugary cocktails. Every drink on the cocktail menu is extremely creative and made with real fruit and fresh ingredients. My piña colada made with fresh chunks of pineapple or margaritas with cilantro, ginger, mango, blackberry and thyme. My favorite drink on the resort is the ginger lemonaid made with fresh grated ginger, lime and local rum.

Traveling gluten free continues to be a challenge but finding resorts like Arenas del Mar that go out of the way to make a safe and enjoyable experience are worth it all. A resort great for everyone from families to lovers looking for a getaway, the adventure or someone looking to just relax in paradise. They have it all and more. If you interested in booking a vacation for one of the celiac weeks, please act fast as they are filling up quickly. Mention that you found the resort in my blog and they will give you the best available rate.

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Gluten Free Paradise

Arenas Del Mar- Celiac Week, Fall 2014

Beachfront and Rainforest Resort

I love to travel and find new and exotic places.  I feel that it’s important to share the places that I find that are gluten-free friendly.  Recently, Arenas Del Mar (based in Costa Rica) approached me to assist them in their mission in transforming their resort into a luxury gluten-free vacation destination.

The program director has a daughter recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. Since her diagnosis, traveling has became a challenge for her.  As a result, her father embarked on a journey to show people that a luxury vacation in an exotic country can be made safe and enjoyable for anyone with a dietary restriction.  He wishes to transform his resort to accommodate anyone living on a gluten free diet.

Avoiding consuming gluten when traveling can be very challenging.  To suffice for the lack of gluten-free food, it’s common to spend a lot of money on granola bars, trail mix and other items that can be eaten when gluten-free food is unattainable.  It’s hard when you want to go on a vacation to relax, but you find yourself constantly worrying about what is safe to eat and drink.

Arenas Del Mar has decided to host a few special weeks at the resort that will be entirely gluten-free.  In order to accommodate this, the resort will ensure all food and beverages and even the soaps and cosmetics provided in the rooms, bathrooms and spa

contain no traces of gluten.  They have invited guests that share the commonality of living with celiac disease and other gluten sensitivity issues to visit the resort during these week.  This time will undoubtedly serve as a wonderful place to share experiences and learn from each other.

In May, I will be traveling down to the resort to write a full review about Arenas Del Mar.  Iwill spend time examining the kitchen and advising the staff of the obvious and not-so-obvious means in which gluten appears in the kitchen.  I will be charged with the responsibility to help the staff prepare a kitchen that is sanitized sufficiently and contains no contamination.

Arenas Del Mar is situated in paradise on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  It is a boutique, luxurious, and lush 38-room hotel that is awe inspiring.  See it for yourself at:  www.ArenasDelMar.com.

  • The readers of Travel and Leisure magazine voted it the top family hotel in Central and South America in 2013.
  • The wedding planning website TheKnot.com listed it as one of the 50 most exotic honeymoon resorts in the world in 2013.
  • The Government of Costa Rica has annually awarded it 5 Stars for luxury and 5 Leaves for sustainability, the only hotel to win both awards.
  • The hotel has just been certified as being Carbon Neutral.

Situated in Manuel Antonio, it’s at the other end of a gorgeous tropical beach just minutes from Costa Rica’s most famous national park.  Wildlife abounds on the property, birds (157 species have been counted so far!), sloths, monkeys, frogs, iguanas….the list goes on!  I am counting down the seconds before I encounter the massages in the spa and margaritas under a palm tree on our own private beach.

Arenas del Mar is a bi-level hotel.  Half of the property is located on a 150-foot cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean while the other half is on a private beach. Views to the Northwest remind you of Big Sur and views to the Southeast are overlook a beautiful, curved, and long tropical beach that is ideal for walking.  The views, along with a cocktail at sunset, are listed in the famous book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

A Week for the Celiac Community

In support of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), Arenas Del Mar will host two weeks for the Celiac Community this year.  Both restaurants at Arenas Del Mar will go 100% gluten-free for their guests’ safety and comfort.

The first week, beginning September 13th 2014, will feature guest chef Monica Glass, who herself has celiac disease, accompanied by Chef Nicole Petrongolo. Monica has worked as a pastry chef at the acclaimed seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, 10 Arts in Philadelphia and now Clio in Boston.

The second week, beginning November 8th 2014, will feature Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, the owners and chefs of the highly rated Zahav in Philadelphia. This restaurant was named best restaurant in Philadelphia by Philadelphia Magazine.

All the kitchen staff at Arenas Del Mar will also have completed the NFCA’s Great Kitchens training program which is accredited by the American Culinary Foundation.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit the NFCA.

For further details please contact: www.ArenasDelMar.com

or

Jeremy Allen, Program Director and hotel Partner by e-mail at AllenAllen@aol.com  or phone 610-407-9371.

If you plan to book, please let them know you found them from my blog to get the best rates.  Stay tuned for my full review in May!

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Tour Stop: Monroe New York

The tour continues, this time I am back to where it all started. Home to the town where I grew up and have been hearing about a huge gluten free movement starting. Monroe is a cute town in the Hudson Valley about an hour from the city. Tons of farms, shopping, outdoor sports and great vineyards. Both places I visited have great on-line stores and totally worth checking out.
First stop, was Katz bakery. It is a gluten free and kosher bakery. The stuff is great with all fresh and high quality ingredients. It is a small business that started in someone’s basement and has blown up in to a nationwide distributor. Everyone that runs the place is super nice ad believe in what they do. It’s funny that a a great gluten free bakery would open up in the town I grew up in. They make the best gluten free donuts I have ever tried and they are only 180 calories. They also make a traditional Jewish dessert called rugelech that is like a flaky dough similar to philo dough with a sweet cinnamon or chocolate filling. When I was deployed in Iraq my mom sent me a huge box of her homemade ones and it is one of the many things I was worried I would never have again. Katz has a great on-line store and you can even get a free sample box shipped to you. Check the out at http://www.katzglutenfree.com/Katz_Assorted_Gluten_Free_Sample_Pack_p/kasp.htm
The next stop, I made was a tradition Italian specialty shop that I grew up on named Little Italy. My small home town does not have the Italian Market like we do here in the city but this is the best next thing. A family run shop making all the homemade Italian dished, salads, mozzarella cheese and much more. They even do some great catering and community work. Over the years two of the owners sons had friends that were gluten free so they started to sell gluten free product in the store. It became a hit and now they have one of the two five door fridge’s dedicated to gluten free products. They sell gluten free breads, pizza, pasta, chicken nuggets, homemade gluten free mozzarella sticks, eggplant parm and much more! They offer fresh made gluten free sandwiches using Boars Head Meat and homemade roast turkey and ham. I tried the ham and cheese which was wonderful. It’s hard to find quick gluten free eats in town so this place is truly a gem. This family cares about what they do and the community they are apart of. It shows in a everything they do and how they treat every customer. The best part is that they have an on-line store selling all the gluten free goodies. It is something special because they only sell the gluten free products that they approve and think are good. They recognize that gluten free food is always more expensive and they try hard to provide all product at a reasonable price which is hard to find on-line. Check it out at http://www.bestoflittleitaly.com/categories/Gluten-Free-Products/

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Tour Stop: Los Angeles

Tour Stop: Los Angeles

Next stop on the Guilt Free Foodie Cutie Tour was Los Angeles CA. This was my first time to California and it was well worth the trip. I always think of Philly as the most unique laid back city but LA was just as great. The culture, the people and of course, the food. I only had pre-planed one stop before hand because I was unsure of my plans but with a little research while I was in town I found some great spots.

The first place I visited was Addiction Bistro. I had found some great stuff on line about this spot and after a long conversation with one of the owners over the phone it was my first stop. Both owners are gluten free them selves so no need to worry here. Practically everything on the menu has a gluten free alternative from gluten free buns, pasta and dessert. They are even making homemade sauce, hot dogs and sausage so you really have no need to worry. The menu includes a large variation of burgers, hot dogs, sausage, chili and Italian dishes. The owners take a lot of pride in what they do and it shows. I arrived before the doors opened and they had people already waiting outside to get some chili. My favorite thing on the menu was the Thai dog which is a homemade chicken hot dog with bacon, peanut sauce and slaw. Our table tried a whole bunch of stuff and the photo’s are all below. Soon they will be making the gluten free buns in house which would make this place over the top. Check them out and make sure to leave room for the gluten free desserts and homemade ice cream. Website: http://www.theaddictionbistro.com

Next stop, was Cafe Buna a great cafe of that likes to be called “Del Rey’s Best Kept Secret”. This place was packed and with good reason. The menu is huge and creative. They even had gluten free pancakes and corn bread french toast which was like a hidden treasure for me. The choice of breakfast sides alone are something to talk about including things like plantains, applewood bacon, chicken apple or chicken tequila sausage, wings, soyrizo (tofu, tomatoes and onions), lox, collard greens, ostrich patty and the list goes on. The meals are just as creative. I had to try the cornbread french toast because I have not had french toast since I have been gluten free. Jay had the burrito that was filled with eggs, rice, chicken and toped with mole sauce and avocado and it was the size of a small baby. Check them out at 3105 Washington Blvd Marina Del Rey, CA 90292. Phone 310-823-2430

Last stop, 26 Beach Restaurant for a big brunch before a 6 hour flight. This menu was the most unique and creative brunch list I had ever scene and along with decor of a partially covered out door patio it was really something special. The menu started with a list of like about fifteen french toast options including tiramisu, Reece’s and some that they actually made with croissant toast. They may have not been gluten free french toast but had to be noted. The two other sections of this brunch list included pasta scrambles which were different egg dished mixed with pasta and fun toppings like bolognese or chili. Best on the list was what they called “The Royals” which are unique eggs dishes over rice inherently a creative brunch dish that is gluten free. I had the egg Diablo which is scrambled eggs over brown rice and beans topped with corn, peas, onion and served with amazing homemade salsa. They also made a crab royal which had avocado, cheese and crab mixed in the scramble and served over brown rice. I took a peek at the lunch menu and they had a ton of creative salads with fried goat cheese or even a rack of lamb along burgers toppings I have never seen like one with peanut butter and jelly. Website: http://www.26beach.com

LA is a great city and totally worth a trip. If your looking for your next beach vacation I cant think of any place better.

Next stop on the tour is back to my roots with a trip to Upstate New York to make a fun fall weekend something for anyone to enjoy.

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Tour Stop: Iberostar Grand in Riviera Maya, Mexico

Mexican Hotel Review

The first stop on my tour was to Riviera Maya, Mexico. A treat to say the least. The hotel was something out a dream. I have stayed at many 4 and 5 star All Inclusive Resorts in Mexico but this resort blew my mind. The food, service, entertainment and all the outstanding amenities, every single detail of our trip was perfect. The resort complex is made up of 5 resorts all on different levels. The higher the level, the more access to the complex. We were upgraded to the highest level which is named the Iberostar Grand. It gave us access to all the restaurants, pools, spas, shows and activities.
The building and the grounds where outstanding. A quiet pool to relax and read, an indoor spa pool with hot tubs and pressured streams of water that line the walls and then the infinity pool. The infinity pool is salt water and was magnificent, with views of the ocean, swim up bar, hot tubs and plenty of areas to lounge. You could dream up any drink and the pool bartender would create it like magic. Just float around and sip on a frozen mojito, a dirty monkey or just about anything with every liquor you could ever want.
The building itself is very different then any other resort I have seen. It was elegant with a grand entrance that resembles a jungle with details that constantly made my head spin. From the lobby to the room and then restaurant it is all enclosed in with glass and marble with painted domed ceilings. This creates a unique level of comfort and elegance. Staff always available to assist from concierge to our own personal butler. The room was spectacular and included a jacuzzi, rainfall shower, king bed with a selection of pillows, lounge area, fully stocked mini bar included in the room and balcony with a private couch and with a hanging swing chair.
The activities offered gave us no reason to think of leaving the resort. The entertainment staff take pride in what they do and truly enjoy meeting new people. They organized great exercise classes like cycling, bike tours, volleyball and yoga that were really hard core. Fun pool and beach games like a crazy water balloon fight with guest throwing balloons at staff in the pool while they wore super hero outfits and floated on a trampoline. In the evening the staff would transform into excellent party hosts. They would greet us into the shows. The shows were much better then any of the other shows I have seen in Mexico. The theater was indoor’s and the set up was like a night club you find in the city with stadium seating, top notch bar and service. The shows are different every night including a magic show, Mexican dances, Broadway musicals and best of all a real Rock show. If shows are not your thing they have a sports lounge, cigar lounge, live music at the main bar or you can ask a bell boy to give you a ride to the two level all inclusive night club that is on the resort grounds and very safe.
The best part of the resort was the food! Being gluten free is often difficult to travel. Very few places understand that gluten is not just the bread but can also be in sauces and the preparation. I informed the general manager before I came, that I was gluten free but never expected anyone to make adjustments. It started with a notice that was on my bed at check in. The note was for me to take to the restaurant’s at night to notify them once I arrived, to advise the kitchen staff. Restaurant’s included Italian, Surf and Turf, Japanese and French. Each meal is a la-carte, gourmet and perfect on all levels. The wait staff is knowledgeable about both the food and wine and the little details they add make the dining experience something to remember. Each night I was given my own fresh baked gluten free bread and advised on any changes they would make to the menu if I selected specific options. At every single meal, I had lobster prepared in a different way. We visited the Surf and Turf twice because everything about the meal was fabulous. The gluten free crab soup and cold seafood appetizer that was a huge plate of lobster, mussels and crab. The main dishes included old fashion Surf and Turf with Lobster Tail and Filet Mignon, many seafood dishes or cuts of steaks I have only seen at expensive places in the city. Dessert included this gluten free chocolate bacon dish and a gluten free cheese cake. At the Japanese restaurant I was surprised by the staff knowledge of sauces and ingredients containing gluten. The sushi was fantastic and each item we tried was spot on. The Saki they offered was outrageous and I still wish I would have gotten the brand name to buy at home. Lunch, is served both a la-carte and buffet or both. The selections change every day but always included some seafood dishes being grilled outside, another indoor grill that you could choose any fish you could imagine, all different Mexican selections, different Ceviches and cold Seafood options, Salad bar, Ice cream and Dessert that were all top notch. Breakfast was similar with both a la-carte and buffet options. The breakfast included a Fruit bar with all types of Tropical fruit even Star fruit, Figs and Passion fruit. Bread station that had both gluten free and regular options and a huge assortment of accompaniments with home made jams, butters and large selection of cheese. The egg station was manned by a chef, homemade donut stations, crepe station and curered meat station where you can watch them gently carve slices of prosciutto. My favorite breakfast item is lox, which they not only had an endless supply but all marinated salmon and like ten other smoked fish options along with various Caviar and Pate to choose from. At the end of it, was a juice bar with freshly squeezed juices like papaya, Watermelon, Grapefruit, Spinach and Cactus, mixed veggie and more. If the juice selection was not grand enough you could head to the health bar and pick anything you wanted them to juice like my favorite combination of Carrot Apple Juice.
The resort knew I would be doing a review, and provided me with a full tour of the kitchen and a meeting with the executive chef. The kitchen is immaculate from floor to ceiling. Each room is temperature controlled depending on what is being made. Desserts and Seafood are prepared in cold rooms. The veggies are cleaned and sanitized daily and all examined by an doctor to insure they are safe. The Chef informed me that they continue to have about a 10% population of guests with gluten and wheat allergies. He explained to me that by September all sauces used in the resort will be reformulated to be gluten free. Being able to see how this massive kitchen was run during dinner service was an amazing sight to see. I have never seen any kitchen run that smoothly and efficiently. I was truly impressed.

Iberostar Grand is a resort that has something for everyone. They will clearly go above and beyond to make your trip perfect and truly something to remember. If you are living gluten free and have been scared that an all inclusive resort wouldn’t be enjoyable, think again. Simply stated, a perfect vacation.

Thanks again to all the staff and Chef’s at the Iberostar Grand for making my vacation something very special. Please visit the links below and to check out the resort and plan your trip.

I booked my trip here:

http://www.cheapcaribbean.com/deals/iberostar-grand-hotel-paraiso-deals.html

Or go to the resort directly:

http://www.iberostar.com/en

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