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