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I’ll have bread – Hold the wheat

by Archives September 8, 2009

There are no signs or images that would give-away Zero8’s true purpose. Modernly furnished and candlelit, the Latin Quarter restaurant looks just like any other trendy Montreal eatery. However, appearances can be deceiving. Zero8 is the only restaurant in Montreal that doesn’t use the eight top food allergens in its cooking: fish and seafood, peanuts, nuts, sesame seeds, milk, soya, eggs and grains containing gluten, such as wheat. Having struggled with various food allergies his whole life, co-owner Dominique Dion said he wanted to create a restaurant with a menu and an ambiance that would please people with or without dietary restrictions. Two years ago Dion discovered that he had celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by intolerance to the gluten protein. "Going out to restaurants was hard, especially since no one understood the concept of the disease." Drawing from his own dining experiences, Dion and his partners opened the allergen-specific restaurant last February. At Zero8, the allergens are no joke, even the bathroom soap is allergen-free. When it comes to food, the menu is quite eclectic: Zero8 mixes Italian, Brazilian and Thai cuisine. There’s a lot of choice, especially for timid first-timers like myself. The appetizer was a classic Italian bruschetta: sweet tomatoes and basil lightly seasoned with herbs and oil on top of grilled bread. But this was no ordinary bread: made with chickpeas and arrowroot, it had a nutty quality that was only slightly bread-like, but delicious nonetheless. Next: venison pasta. It was smooth and thick – a fettuccini-type noodle that tasted as if it were made of egg (although it was really corn-based). With a rich, beautifully textured sauce, this pasta dish could be placed in any Italian restaurant and not be recognized as gluten-free. The restaurant has been open only seven months, yet has already attracted loyal followers. Dion says that some of his friends have begun eating allergy-free simply because they feel better afterwards. "Some people drink the gluten-free beer we serve here," he said, "and they don’t feel weighed down like they would with normal beer." For Dion, the gluten-free diet is especially important – it is the only treatment for celiac disease. If left untreated the condition causes damage to the intestines and can cause other physical symptoms, such as eczema. Whether there are health benefits for people without allergies is debatable, but there is no doubt that Zero8 is a restaurant worth visiting, if only for the experience. My only regret is that I didn’t stay for desert.

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