Friday, September 12, 2008

Beleza - an almost gluten free restaurant in Atlanta

Beleza opened quite a while ago in downtown Atlanta. Their concept was unique to say the least. They don't have an oven and don't use processed sugar and had only one item that contains gluten. You would think I would have been their first customer but my husband is not really into Tapas and that's what this place offers. They offer the best quality ingredients of any such place around to be sure, but still they are Tapas - or small plates. Either term fits and hence my problem with the husband. I even read a Trip Advisor review that said 'the only problem with this place is that men won't like it'. Great.

Finally last weekend, over a year after they opened, I made it to Beleza. They are on their second Chef but they are still not using sugar or an oven and the only gluten dish is a side of Farro which is an ancient form of wheat. We made it a girls night out (if one can call a 6 pm dinner on a Saturday night that) and headed down from the burbs for a gourmet gluten free meal. Two in our party were even glutenoids so props to them for agreeing to join our gluten free adventure!

On arrival I realized that employees outnumbered the customers but I get the feeling that Beleza doesn't even pretend to get cranking until after 9 pm. The menu has more drinks listed than food selections. I ordered a cocktail I thought I'd enjoy and loved it. It tasted like tequila to me but was supposed to be infused rum...whatever. For only $8 it's the best deal on a cocktail I've had downtown in a while. Not everyone in our party liked their drink choices but they were able to swap drinks with each other and live with them.

Since the glutenoids in our party didn't care about having Farro, we were all able to share everything we ordered with each other. We had the lobster salad, shrimp and scallop Ceviche and the dip appetizer to start. Two of the three dips were good enough make me feel like not sharing but I was nice and of course shared with the other ladies. The term onion dip seems boring but this one was far from it. The cheese dip was killer as well. The one thing I tried only one bite of and thought it didn't live up to everything else was the black eyed pea dip. Two of us agreed on this and the other two loved it. One criticism of this appetizer was that we had to ask for extra Cassava chips and celery sticks to scoop the dips with. Clearly a place like this knows we are going to share with each other and the table next to us got a lot more 'dippers' than we did for the same dish.

For my entree I had the Lobster Salad (shown below the dip plate) as did another in our party. Others tried a fish of the day (above top) and the cooked shrimp (in the bowl). Both loved their selections, though the fish special actually needed salt. To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever had such fresh tasting ingredients at any restaurant in Atlanta. One would think the lobster traps were pulled out of the water a few feet from the place. The fruit that is part of this dish seemed as if someone pulled it off a tree or off a stalk that day.

When you are gluten free, you're used to leaving without dessert when dining out. Personally, I can take only so much creme brulee or chocolate mousse and I don't care for ice cream. I could have left without dessert at Beleza and been totally satisfied. But a dinner club member told me about the chocolate tart there - she is gluten free, dairy free, soy free and even more things free. She can almost never have dessert when dining out. When she described this decadent treat to me I knew I could not pass it up. The chocolate tart is a small slice of chocolate something with pink rock salt on top. It really doesn't look remarkable at all, though the flower adorning the plate made for a nice presentation. But the taste was not to be believed. I don't think I can accurately describe it because I've never had anything remotely like it. The pink rock salt took it over the top for me - a 'salt-aholic' who shockingly did not add any salt to my dishes at Beleza.

The carmelized banana and coconut milk chocolate sorbet was nothing special according to the ladies that ordered it but I actually took some of my dessert home and savored it for four days. The only way I can explain how I was able to do this is that when something is that amazing, you don't truly need that much of it to be satisfied. And that is what the owner of Beleza is trying to accomplish with this resaurant. In an interview I read shortly after the restaurant opened he said something to the effect of 'people think they need to feel uncomfortably full when they leave a restaurant and that is very bad for their health'. He has a point and that is why many nutitionists suggest we eat six small meals a day instead of three larger ones. I did leave Beleza feeling full but not in an uncomfortable way.

The decor at Beleza might remind you of LA, as will the slight attitude of the staff. But I find the latter is true at some places here that offer mediocre food at best. At least Beleza has earned their attitude. Now I just have to figure out how to get my husband down there with me. Once you try Beleza you'll have to go back if you really appreciate the 'best of the best' ingredients prepared in most unexpected ways. When I asked the server how they made the chocolate tart without an oven she said it was magic - and that's exactly what it tasted like to me!


  1. Sounds great! I'll have to try it out! Have you had a chance to order a gluten-free cake from Metrotainment Bakery on 14th Street in Atlanta yet? I absolutely LOVE their chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

  2. The two times I tried their chocolate cake it was very dry. They had to credit me for the chocolate cake I bought as it was that bad last summer. Aftter that I tried a slice from Garrison's (back when they offered gf cake) and again it was very dry. Great icing - bad cake. However, their coconut and carrot guten free cakes were TO DIE FOR!!! I served them to glutenoids and no one could believe they were gluten free! Once the head baker Barb left Metrotainment, they stopped offering those cakes so I stopped ordering from them. They don't seem to really care much about our market now. I'm not willing to buy a cake that isn't as good as what I can make from a mix.

    Hope you enjoy Beleza!


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