Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Remember the Thai-tan

Rice     Spoons_FOUR

There is a small, inconspicuous Thai restaurant on 14th street that quietly chugs along while outside a tornado of new development and future competition engulfs the neighborhood. A product of Logan Circle’s first revival wave, Rice has been consistently cooking up high quality contemporary Thai cuisine for nearly a decade. The comfortable interior is chic and minimalist, with exposed brick and dark wood surfaces acting as a neutral backdrop for the colorful dishes prepared by Chef Lekki.

Lekki’s innovative menu distinguishes Rice from the monotony of Americanized Asian cuisine. She offers dishes in three categories: authentic Thai staples, lighter vegetarian medleys, and unusual specialties that flaunt her creative muscle. On my most recent trip to Rice, I was thrilled to discover that a new category has recently been implemented due to customer demand. Rice has composed a gluten-free menu with a generous sampling of soups, appetizers and entrees adapted from the regular menu. While Rice has been more versed in the gluten allergy than most Asian restaurants I frequent, the designated menu confirms their commitment to providing safe and delicious food free of soy sauce and other wheat products.

I eagerly scanned the many tempting offerings on the new g-free menu, items such as curries and soups that have been off-limits for years. Most Asian restaurants that accommodate gluten-free eating merely omit harmful ingredients, resulting in bland, sauteed whatevers. Rice goes well beyond the norm by preparing special sauces and dressings kept aside for us gluties.

I was excited to order Tom Yum Goong, shrimp lemongrass soup. The sizable bowl of broth with bobbing mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, parsley and large steamed shrimp was heavily seasoned with a day’s worth of salt and an abundance of lemon juice. It was fresh and satisfying nonetheless.

Tom Yum Goong (Shrimp Lemongrass Soup)

Tom Yum Goong (Shrimp Lemongrass Soup)

My soup was balanced with Rice’s famed brussels sprout salad, with spinach, walnuts and citrus soy dressing. Crispy brussels sprouts sit atop a bed of spinach, lightly dressed and sprinkled with slightly candied walnuts. Beet shreds and crispy rice flakes adorn the dish, adding a burst of color and crunch.

Brussels Sprout Salad

Brussels Sprout Salad

Rice’s pad thai puts all others’ to shame. The piping hot heap of noodles engulfs an abundance of tofu, chicken or shrimp, blanketed by a delicate sheet of egg and topped with sprouts, scallions and crushed peanuts. Each chewy bite delights the taste buds with a nutty, salty, sweet combination that makes this dish so universally loved.

Pad Thai with Tofu

Pad Thai with Tofu

Rice exceles not only in food quality, but in presentation as well, proving the kitchen’s attention to detail from start to finish. I often find myself peering at other diners’ selections, taking notes for next time. In a neighborhood of new and exciting distractions, Rice knows the value of keeping its patrons wanting more.

Rice, 1608 14th Street NW, Washington DC


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Melting-Bowl

ShopHouse     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Just when I was critical of Washington DC being steps behind New York in terms of  gluten-free innovations (see Time to BisTANGO), I found myself at ShopHouse Southeastern Asian Kitchen. The Dupont Circle location that opened in 2011 is the Chipotle chain’s first venture into eastern cuisine. They have plans to grow this year with new locations in Georgetown and Santa Monica, CA, but not yet New York. Culinary Manager, Nate Appleman, and Director of Concept Development, Tim Wildin, felt that opening first in NYC “would have been too easy”. To succeed in a market such as DC is a truer measure of success. I typically shy away from fast food vendors due to the fact that “fast” rarely co-exists with patience and care. But a rumor that turned out to be true brought me into ShopHouse: The entire menu is gluten-free! As the news settled in, aromas of crushed spices, coconut milk and jasmine rice filled my senses and I surveyed an open field of options.

ShopHouse is inspired by the multi-use buildings that line the streets of Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, with street-level restaurants and upstairs living quarters. Meals based in fresh vegetables, noodles, rice and spices are whipped up in minutes and served piping hot to hungry mouths. ShopHouse is far too American to resemble authentic Southeast Asian kitchens. Yet, the melding of various Asian flavors under one roof echos the multicultural cuisine in Singapore that has resulted from a melting pot of Southeast Asian settlers.

Diners start by picking the base for their bowl, either brown rice, jasmine rice, chilled rice noodles, or napa cabbage. Next one selects a protein: grilled chicken satay, pork and chicken meatballs, grilled steak laab, or Tofu. One vegetable is included with the bowl: broccoli, charred corn, eggplant or green beans. The dish is topped with a choice of green papaya slaw, pickles or fresh herbs, then one of three sauces categorized by heat levels, and finished with a sprinkle of toasted rice, crushed peanuts, or crispy garlic.

Assembly line at ShopHouse

Assembly line at ShopHouse

Each component is packed with flavor, making it easy to build combinations that confuse with too many leading ladies. Diners should resist the urge to pile on everything and try to keep it simple. As a first timer, with pressures from my server and the line forming behind me, I made some snap decisions that I might rethink next time, like adding both papaya slaw and pickles atop my eggplant and chicken lettuce bowl.

Salad bowl with chicken, eggplant, green papaya slaw, pickles, crushed peanuts, and green curry.

Salad bowl with chicken, eggplant, green papaya slaw, pickles, crushed peanuts, and green curry.

Mild palettes should beware. While the restaurant tweaked its ingredients to make the food less spicy, heat still abounds (in other words, Mr. Green Bean will never see the inside of ShopHouse). I do recommend getting your sauce on the side, as most dishes wont even need the extra flavor or the calories. This might be a practice makes perfect situation, but I would appreciate a bit more direction from the servers to strike it right every time.

Unusual for a restaurant of this genre, everything is made in-house, from intricate spice blends to complex curries. While management admits the food is hardly traditional Southeast Asian cuisine, recipes flirt with authenticity by using rice, as opposed to wheat, as the main grain for items like the meatballs and noodles. I admit that I feel a certain affinity for cultures whose cooking is based in grains like rice or corn, as if my DNA is more closely linked to those ethnicities. When I traveled throughout Southeast Asia years ago, I had no idea the cuisine suited me so well. Perhaps another voyage to across the globe post celiac diagnosis is in order.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, 1516 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC


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Fresh Catch at Kushi

Kushi     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Japanese restaurants in Washington DC tend to offer quiet spaces with modest interiors for enjoying mediocre raw fish rolled with overly sticky rice. Most often I get my sushi to go, passing on the humdrum atmosphere for the comfort of my sunken spot on the couch and the DVR. Kushi, a modern Japanese izakaya in Mt. Vernon Square, defies the norm and breaths new energy into the DC sushi scene. The restaurant honors the spirit of a traditional izakaya, a place to share food, enjoy drinks, be social and stay awhile. That is just what Mr. Green Bean, Mr. and Mrs. Muffin and I intended to do on a recent Friday night.

Entering Kushi is itself a transformative experience. After a set of doors, guests pass through a thick dark drape into a sleek, modern, upscale Asian tavern with an open grilling station in the center, a sushi bar and beverage bar to one side, and a casual dining room to the other side. The Aromas and heat from the grill envelope the rather spacious interior. Stools surrounding the grill offer an entertaining seating option for a party of two. But the Muffins are our entertainment for the evening and a four-top in the dining room served us well. A carafe of sake was soon on the table as I selected a porcelain cup from the basketful. Transport to a Japanese watering hole was now complete.

Kushi’s menu utilizes seasonal ingredients in a selection of small plates that change daily based on fresh offerings. I scanned through the listing of raw bar items, charcoal grilled skewers, wood grilled plates, and sushi to find many mouth watering options. The modern take on traditional Japanese cuisine lends itself to simple protein or vegetable based dishes, a la carte style. Yet, marinades and accouterments are still suspect for the glutie diner. Luckily, the servers at Kushi are prepared. Our energetic server couldn’t wait to bring me gluten-free tamari sauce. In broken up English he answered some of my questions and ran back and forth to the chef to double check several unknowns. A few of the menu items are gluten-free as they come, such as the Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp, the Japanese Eggplant, and of course much of the sushi. Most of the other dishes, like the meat and seafood skewers, can be made sans-sauce. The tough part is deciding which dishes are the tastiest naked, and Kushi staff will tell you honestly.

We started with the Peel n Eat Shrimp dredged in spicy shichimi spices that get under your fingernails as you strip the sizable pink meat from its shell. Wet towels are provided to wipe away the mess, making these flavorful critters worth the fuss.

Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp

Peel n Eat Shichimi Blue Shrimp

I ordered the Eringi Mushrooms, which, if I understood my waiter’s accent, are prepared normally without gluten. I love my mushrooms, especially when they’re wood grilled. However, the dish screamed for some seasoning, perhaps just a pinch of salt and garlic would have done it. What did benefit from mild flavor was the buttery salmon sashimi, three generous pieces to a plate and all superb quality.

Skuna Bay Prime Salmon Sashimi

Skuna Bay Prime Salmon Sashimi

My Spicy California roll with fresh lump crab meat & jalapeño was just as pleasing. I appreciated the use of actual crab meat (as opposed to gluten-containing fake crab) and jalapeño for the kick (rather than ambiguous “spicy sauce”). The server had the chef hold the tobiko for fear of some gluten containing marinade. Kushi’s rolls are perfectly bite-sized, not puffed-up with too much rice that falls apart at the touch of the chopsticks!

Spicy California with Fresh Lump Crab Meat & Jalapeño

Spicy California with Fresh Lump Crab Meat & Jalapeño

Mr. and Mrs. Muffin enjoyed sashimi-style cobb salads that would have been my pick were it not for the glutenous dressing. The men ordered some simply cooked chicken skewers. Mrs. Muffin and Mr. Green Bean both tried the Chicken Teriyaki roll with avocado mayo. Due to his hatred of avocado, Mr. GB ordered the roll without the necessary mayo which resulted in it being bland and dry (Aside: Sometimes I really think I should just feed my husband blindfolded and tell him what he’s eating later). I benefitted from Mr. Muffin’s over ordering and enjoyed most of his Japanese Wood Grilled Eggplant topped with a sweet plum sauce that was surprisingly gluten-free. Between the melt-in-your-mouth eggplant and the sugary sauce, the dish qualified as dessert.

Japanese Eggplant

Japanese Eggplant

Over another carafe of sake I concluded that the experience at Kushi is always a pleasant journey. The restaurant’s unique menu, high standards for quality ingredients and helpful service make up for some preparation missteps.

Kushi, 465 K Street NW, Washington DC


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Sushiko a Go-Go

Sushiko     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie recently came to town for a visit. At the end of a hectic weekend filled with lots of indulgent eating and exhausting activities, Ma and Pa, Sister Seitan and I were all in the mood for something low key, light and healthy. Sushi sounded perfect and I knew just the place. Washington DC has Sushiko to thank for leading the bandwagon of authentic Japanese cuisine in the District.  The restaurant opened its Georgetown doors in 1975 and expanded in 2008 to a second location in Chevy Chase, MD.  In a city of mediocre Americanized sushi and Asian Fusion confusion, Sushiko’s traditional simplicity and reliable quality is refreshing. Their mission is to honor Japanese culinary techniques, using care and precision in the preparation of exemplary food.

Despite Japanese cuisine’s minimalist characteristics, it is often a challenge for gluten-free diners to enjoy sushi worry-free. Between wheat-based components like soy sauce and tempura, and language barriers, gluten-free awareness can vary greatly between restaurants. Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Sushiko is once again ahead of the game with a gluten-free menu that includes dozens of tempting options. To start, Sushiko offers a couple of salad options dressed with oil and rice vinegar, a simple accommodation that should be offered at all Japanese establishments (I have no idea why it’s not). Items in the hot dishes category are stripped down to their bare bones, sans sauce. Chicken Teriyaki, Beef Tenderloin Kushi Yaki and Grilled Salmon Miso Yu-an are simply cooked with salt and pepper, healthy yet uninspiring. While I appreciate every effort made, I urge Sushiko to go one step further. Gluten-free tamari sauce is readily available to accompany the sushi; why not try cooking up a sauce with the tamari to dress up the hot dishes.

If you’re in the mood for more zest, the maki section of the menu offers a nice variety of options. For safety purposes in other Japanese restaurants, I typically stick to basic rolls comprised of some combination of salmon, tuna, yellowtail avocado and cucumber. While delicious, it gets boring! Luckily Sushiko provides some color. I was thrilled to see a Spicy Tuna roll listed, something I always avoid due to ambiguous spicy sauce recipes. Other exciting options include Rock Shrimp Cilantro maki with jalapeno and mayo, and the Soft Shell Crab maki, with gluten-free flour for the tempura.

Left: Asparagus–Red Pepper and Spicy Tuna Maki; Right: Yellowtail and Green Onion and Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Avocado

Left: Asparagus/Red Pepper Maki and Spicy Tuna Maki; Right: Yellowtail/Green Onion Maki, Smoked Salmon/Asparagus/Avocado Maki, and Akami Nigiri

Overall, Sushiko provides a stress-free environment to enjoy top grade raw fish and all the fixings. While the menu leaves room for improvement regarding gluten-free preparations, it aims to please more than just the g-free among us. Sister Seitan’s vegetarian palette was quite content, and Pa Glutie Foodie’s aversion to sushi proved inconsequential. But what pleased Pa the most were the reasonable prices, a relief after a long weekend of treating his girls.

Sushiko, 2309 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 
Sushiko, 5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD


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Masa Misses?

Masa 14     

I understand that fusion food is trendy. But mole and soy are two sauces I’d rather not mix. In my opinion sake and Tequila belong at very different meals. Chef and restauranteur Richard Sandoval disagrees and tries to prove me wrong at his Latin-Asian creation, Masa 14. Sandoval blends his Mexican roots with international flavor in 26 restaurants throughout the US, Dubai and Qatar. Melding such diverse and broad cultures as Latin and Asian into one cohesive dining concept is not an easy task, and I’m not an easy judge. So on a recent first-time visit to Masa 14 with our friends Bagel and Lox, this Logan Circle staple had a challenge on their hands.

Masa 14 plays the atmosphere just right, mixing minimalist feng shui and bamboo surfaces with tequileria red lighting and exposed brick. We arrived without a reservation knowing full well that would mean a long wait. Squeezing out a space along the bar, we settled in and studied the drink list. Whiskey, rum, tequila and sake are all players on this list of inventive concoctions. I opted for a glass of red sangria with bourbon, citrus, brown sugar and cinnamon, a safe and rather delicious way to loosen up my judgmental spirits.

Forty-five minutes later Mr. Green Bean, Bagel, Lox, and I were escorted to a cozy booth, and I was promptly handed the gluten-free menu. This was one of those rare times I found myself relieved by the pared down list of small plates after glancing at the jumble of words on the full menu. Lucky for me, the gluten-free options include some table pleasers, putting me in the game for sharing. We started with the spicy edamame for munching and a carafe of sake for sipping.

Spicy Edamame

After placing our order, the plates arrived at a leisurely pace, starting with Lox’s top choice, Salmon Tartar (of course), with roasted red pepper and green mango chimichurri. The dish was beautifully presented, with a molded heap of pink salmon and a swipe of green chimichurri on the side. Both elements had a mild flavor, appropriate for the raw fish, but unexpected and disappointing for the chimichurri.

Salmon Tartar with roasted pepper and green mango chimichurri

Next came the Crunchy Shrimp, sprinkled with sesame, scallions, masago, and a drizzle of chipotle aioli (teriyaki sauce omitted to make it g-free version). The restaurant claims to use a separate fryer to make this plate safe as can be. The dish won Mr. Green Bean over (he still talks about it today). Admittedly, anything with tempura has an unfair advantage. But the rich chipotle aioli adds flare to the perfectly battered shrimps. I did miss the sweet touch that teriyaki sauce would offer, but Crunchy Shrimp is still an unusual treat for those of us who have been deprived of tempura for years.

Crunchy Shrimp with chipotle aioli, sesame, scallions, and masago

Not worth the buck is the Roasted Beet Salad, with arugula, curried goat cheese, taro straws and oil and vinegar substituted for the soy-citrus vinaigrette. I’m going to guess it’s the dressing that makes this salad, because without it, it was uninspired. What did charm me were the Wok Stir-Fried Mussels with aji amarillo cream sauce, chorizo, cotija cheese and scallions. I had to keep from spooning the spicy broth for fear of nose-dripping, mouth-burning torture. While the flavor of the mussels was completely overwhelmed by the sauce, only a few shells remained closed, an indication of a fresh batch.

Wok Stir-Fried Mussels with aji amarillo cream sauce, chorizo, cotija and scallion

The manly Boneless Beef Shortrib that appeared next was selected by Mr. Green Bean and Bagel. Surprisingly g-free, I gave it a try. The meat was decent, yet covered with a heavy hand of something far too brown and flavorless to be peanut cocunut-milk sauce. While arriving too late to act as the accompaniment it is, the Fried Rice with kimchi, chile, poached egg, corn, and cilantro was a fresh take on the traditional grain, with Korean spices dominating.

Boneless Beef Shortrib with peanut coconut-milk sauce, and baby bok choy

We certainly could have stopped there but were collectively tempted by the Salted Caramel Chocolate Flan on the dessert menu. Thrilled to learn it is gluten-free without the crispy wafer (which tastes like paper anyway, so we were told by our server), we had to try it. The flan was perfectly creamy with mild chocolate and caramel flavor, but proved more American pudding than Spanish custard. The marshmallow blob on top and the pool of blood orange reduction on the bottom were unavoidable, rendering the dish too sweet to finish, even four ways.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Flan with housemade s’mores (minus the wafer) and blood orange reduction

Overall, Sandoval impresses with his colorful and unique menu, while some execution may be lacking, leaving my taste-buds slightly confused. The designated gluten-free menu enables a stress-free dining experience, which makes up for some disappointing dishes. I may be persuaded to return, but likely will stick to edamame and drinks on the establishments best feature, it’s rooftop.

Masa 14, 1825 14th Street NW, Washington DC