The woman's lips spread into a big, wide smile as she holds the plate of cookies out to my 7-year-old son. He looks away from the cookies, then at me with those pleading eyes that say please, please make this moment disappear, Mama! “Thank you, but he can't eat wheat. It was nice of you to offer.”
“Oh. No wheat,” she says. “So you have to eat a lot of spelt?”
“No, we're actually totally gluten free, which means no wheat-related grains, including spelt, rye, barley, etc. And in our case even oats are a no-go. Basically the only grains we eat are rice, corn and quinoa.”
“Lots of soy substitutes, then?”
“No; he's allergic to soy.” Her eyes search mine, looking for the Way Out sign, and I begin to wish I hadn't mentioned it. “Soy, eggs and pinto beans.” Her eyes appear to go blank. There is a long pause, while I contemplate changing the subject.
“That doesn't leave much. What do you eat?”
“Oh we eat lots of things! Even bread! I just bake everything myself, and read every package. Soy is in pretty much everything. And we just don't eat out.”
The look of pity on her face is far harder to bear than our family's food-experience. This is our life. We're used to it! But sometimes we just want to feel normal. Sometimes I just want to walk into a restaurant empty-handed and buy my kids a sandwich. And I know we're far from the only family in our community that has this experience. So I've decided that things are going to change. And I'm going to document the adventure.
First adventure: MikSa on Bowen Island. We took the kids for dinner there... and brought along NO supplemental food! We challenged the restaurant with our needs, and they delivered. Let me tell you about our evening. It was dark and wet. I don't mean that in the way winter on Bowen is always dark and wet; I mean we came in drenched and dripping from a thick squall on Government Rd. We hung our coats in the back of the restaurant, and settled into a quiet table in the corner.
MikSa is like a gingham napkin folded into an elegant crane; it somehow manages to be both homely and exotic. Dim, romantic lighting falls on red diner stools; elegant-looking synthetic orchids smile innocently from the tables, as if unaware of their artifice, and glasses clink and sparkle pleasingly above the bar, reflecting the hockey game on TV. Pat Quinn's talking face flashes in ever-decreasing arcs of blue and peach. Serving gorgeous, creative dishes with a humble attitude, the restaurant's unpretentious feel makes the slightly-above-average prices seem reasonable. Nobody's pretending the flowers are real. But the food is good.
This is starting to sound like a sports bar, but that would not do it justice. MikSa inhabits the premises of Bowen's historic coffee-bar/grocery store, the BowMart, and somehow keeps a uniquely Bowen feel about it. The painted steps up to the porch are reminiscent of the building's beach-cabin history, and it's definitely a locals-restaurant. Oh. And chef Nagy wears a baseball cap with his chef's jacket.
I have to be straight up about this: any chef who comes out to personally discuss my kids' food requirements with me is going to have a return visit from us. Chef Michael Nagy did exactly that, and tailored the dishes he served us to suit all of our needs. As a busy mother with a list of no-can-do's in the food department, I really appreciate someone who will work hard to get it right for me. We had a great assortment of interesting and tasty foods. We loved the beautifully-arranged beef stew, and the giant salad, to share. But the absolute favourites all around were the chili-garlic prawns and the tuna tataki. No surprise, I guess; apparently chef Nagy specializes in Asian foods. And every meal we had was beautiful. As somebody who routinely destroys the layout of a not-quite-what-we-wanted restaurant meal by adding our own gluten/soy-free additions, I found it very nice to have a meal brought to me that needed no additions, was wholly edible for my children, and was presented with care and grace.
It's nice to feel looked after. Period. And that is the homeliness of MikSa, defined. While we were there, there was an adults-only birthday party going on, some quiet dinners-for-two, and our own sometimes-rambunctious family meal, complete with utensils on the floor and an under-the-table groaning sulk from the 5-year-old faction. And in this place we were attentively served, never rushed, and well-fed.
Thank you to chef Nagy at MikSa!
Just up the road from the ferry in Snug Cove, on Bowen Island.