September 20, 2011

Entire Lunch Buffet is Gluten-Free at Ras Kassa’s in Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

On a recent afternoon at Ras Kassa’s, a Boulder restaurant situated near the corner of 30th and Pearl, we were introduced to a rare culinary experience: an Ethiopian, all-you-can-eat buffet that is entirely composed of gluten-free food (besides the injera bread, but they offer gluten-free injera upon request!). You might expect to come across a gluten-free buffet at one point or another, and the same is true of an Ethiopian buffet, but both at the same time? As it turns out, though, this isn’t all that extraordinary, as Ethiopian food is largely gluten-free without even trying to be. As a kind employee of Ras Kassa’s explained, flour (and sugar, too) isn’t added to many Ethiopian dishes, so the gluten-free diet and Ethiopian cuisine are natural allies.

In addition to being generally gluten-free, Ethiopian food is also quite good. We tried several dishes from Ras Kassa’s buffet, offered Monday – Friday from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and we found every one not only tasty, but highly unique. We’ll work our way down the buffet line, describing the food in the order in which it is presented at the restaurant.

At the start of the buffet, which lines a wall in the dining room, is a small salad bar with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and chopped radish. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the salad, but the vegetables were fresh, and that’s about all we ever look for in a salad anyway.

Next in line was sweet potato stew. It was one of our favorite foods in the buffet, and this is noteworthy because we don’t particularly like sweet potatoes, mostly because there is something of an incongruity between what sweet potatoes are – namely, a type of potato – and the dominate flavor of sweet potatoes – namely, sweetness. A potato just isn’t the type of thing that is supposed to be sweet. However, in the stew, the sweet potatoes weren’t overly sweet, perhaps because there were other flavors in the stew, like onion, garlic, and ginger, that dulled the taste of the sweet potatoes. Besides this, the stew had clearly been simmering for a long time, as the sweet potatoes had a nice soft texture that rendered chewing an option rather than a requirement.

The next dish was called “mild African rice with spice,” and it was basically just yellow rice. Being simpletons, we rather liked the rice as a stand alone dish (if nothing else it had more flavor than plain white rice), but it was especially good when mixed with other foods in the buffet, like the sweet potato stew or the spicy red lentils, the latter of which came next in the buffet line. The lentils essentially seemed like a soup, not necessarily because the dish had a soup-like consistency, but rather because the lentils were quite soft, as if, like the potatoes, they had been simmering for a long time. It was definitely good, but not very spicy, despite the dish’s name. Indeed, this seemed to be a theme of the buffet: food was labeled as spicy, even though it really wasn’t that spicy. (Of course, this is merely a function of differing standards of spice across cultures, so we hasten to add that a relative lack of spice by our lights is no mark against Ras Kassa’s.)

Another theme of the buffet was that everything was basically a stew or thick soup, including the next three dishes of the buffet. First, there was an excellent yellow split pea soup. Given that green peas and yellow peas are very similar, the soup tasted like split pea soup made with green peas, although it didn’t have carrots or ham in it, as some green split pea soups are known to feature. The next two dishes in the line were both stews, one made with lamb and the other made with chicken. The former was made with turmeric sauce and generous portions of lamb, mostly finely chopped, although there were some larger pieces as well. Overall it was good, but it was definitely fairly salty, and since by habit we don’t use much salt, it was a little intense for us. The spicy chicken stew (or, rather, the “spicy” chicken stew) was very good, although we’re not entirely sure what made it a stew. (Then again, we’re not quite sure what makes a stew a stew anyway.) The dish, which is the national dish of Ethiopia called “doro wot,” was mostly chicken with a bit of red pepper sauce (or at least this is how Ras Kassa’s makes the dish), but this was fine with us because the chicken was very good. It was extremely tender – when you took a bite, the chicken fell off the bone. You could even cut the chicken off the bone with a fork if you’re inclined to use a fork at all.

The last thing in the buffet line was a shorba, or a stew or soup that is found primarily in Eurasia. The shorba at Ras Kassa’s was a vegan vegetable soup, and a good one at that. It had the consistency that we customarily associate with soup, meaning it wasn’t nearly as thick as the stews in the buffet. It was made with potatoes, carrots, red peppers, and mushrooms, and along with the salad, it was a welcomed light dish among the various rich stews.

Our meal, with its many components, was delicious and satisfying, and of course we left as full as we wanted to be considering that the buffet is all-you-can-eat.

Before ending, we would remiss if we didn’t mention Ras Kassa’s awesome patio. A small river runs right beside it, and there is a large fence that effectively blocks 30th street from the patio. There is also a wealth of green vegetation that surrounds the patio, so overall the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. It is, in short, a great place to eat an Ethiopian meal of as many courses as you desire.

If you go to Ras Kassa’s on a day that isn’t good for sitting on the patio, don’t fret because the inside looks like an interesting place to eat too. Their decoration scheme is (what we assume to be) Ethiopian, with short benches and stools surrounding short tables, so eating inside is a cultural experience onto itself.

And finally, lest we imply otherwise, Ras Kassa’s is open nightly for dinner from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The buffet isn’t available, but lots of other delicious-sounding dishes are.

Here is a link to Ras Kassa’s website:

http://www.raskassas.com/

Ras Kassa’s is located at:

2111 30th St.
Boulder, CO 80301

Note: Many of the places we visit merely offer gluten-free options, and hence are not necessarily 100% gluten-free facilities, so if proximal cross-contamination is an issue, call ahead. If you would like us to review a particular restaurant with gluten-free options, send an email to info@glutenfreeinboulder.com. We’ll try our best to check it out!

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