July 20, 2012

Excellent Gluten-Free Italian Food at Pastavino in Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

A little over two months ago, Pastavino, an excellent Italian restaurant with lots of gluten-free options, opened on Pearl Street in Boulder. We like Italian food and we need gluten-free food, so we knew it was only a matter of time before we visited Pastaivo. It was, as predicted, only a matter of time, as we ate at Pastavino on a recent afternoon. It’s an excellent restaurant with great service, so we recommend readers give Pastavino a try if they are ever looking for gluten-free Italian food in Boulder.

Pastavino is on the west end of Pearl Street, just a little beyond where the pedestrian segment paved with brick ends, right across the street from the building that formerly housed the Daily Camera. On our visit, we decided to sit at one of the two outdoor tables – a misguided choice, given how hot is was – so we didn’t get the clearest view of inside of the restaurant. We could partially see through the window from our table outside, however, so we can report that the interior appears elegant and nice, with high ceilings, red brick walls, and a long bar that stretches half the length of the dining room.

Since we were outside, we couldn’t order any alcohol (because the tables aren’t partitioned off from the rest of the sidewalk), but we ate in the early afternoon, so it wasn’t our intention to order a drink. Plus, Pastavino brings you water in a repurposed wine bottle with a glass, allowing you to go through the rituals of drinking without actually consuming any alcohol. You might be inclined to get something on your visit, however – they do have an extensive drink list, including a gluten-free beer and two gluten-free ciders, along with an assortment of wines – so keep in mind that you’ll have to sit inside if you want any sort of alcoholic beverage.

After quenching our thirst, we closely examined our gluten-free options, which are vast, as is the menu (actually, menus). Pastavino has a weekly menu of lunch specials that are available from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM (there is also a weekly menu of dinner specials), and the main menu has a separate section for the daily specials, with an exclusive set of three dishes for each day of the week (with the exception of Sunday, which has its own distinct menu). All of these specials are of course in addition to the regular menu items that are always available. The menu that listed the lunch specials declares “we offer Boulder’s best gluten-free pizzas and pastas,” as if the menu knew that we were on the hunt for the restaurant’s finest gluten-free offerings.

In light of the menu’s promise, we looked at the pizzas and pastas with particular care, and decided on the Cassonetto alle Verdure, which is technically a pizza, but a very unorthodox one. The crust is folded over on itself, wrapping up grilled vegetables (asparagus and sliced cucumbers) and salad (lettuce, baby tomatoes, broccoli, and black olives), as well as pecorino cheese and balsamic dressing. Because we ordered the dish with gluten-free pizza crust, which tends to be a little more brittle than its regular counterpart, our server warned the crust would crack when folded in half. This was fine with us, although it did end up making the dish somewhat difficult to eat, and we appreciated that the server called this to our attention.

It is no secret that Italian food in its traditional form is not particularly gluten-free friendly. The chief staples of Italian cuisine – pizza and pasta – both contain a not insignificant amount of gluten. However, you wouldn’t get this impression at Pastavino because at least 75 percent of the menus is or can be made gluten-free. Unlike some of the places we have visited, the menu makes this beautifully clear. A small “gf” is listed next to the items that are by default gluten-free, and “GFO” is listed next to dishes that can be made gluten-free by substituting, say, regular pizza crust with gluten-free pizza crust, or regular pasta with gluten-free pasta. (Both of these substitutions cost $3.00, for the record.) Because of this, not a single section of the menu is without gluten-free options. There are gluten-free salads, soups, antipasti, paninis, pizzas, pastas, and a few other dishes that don’t fit into any one of this categories. There are also a lot of vegetarian options, indicated with a “v” next to the dish’s listing on the menu, and many of these dishes are also gluten-free.

Of course, having a lot of gluten-free food is important, but only if it is good, and based on the dish we ordered, we can confidently say that Pastavino is delicious. Our food arrived on an enormous plate, befitting the enormous meal we evidently ordered. The pizza was folded over, and just as our server warned, the crust was broken into two large pieces. It was basically a salad sandwiched between two pieces of gluten-free crust, making it a calzone of sorts, but the ingredients were more exposed. Because our pizza was so unusual, it is hard to declare it the best gluten-free pizza in Boulder (we’ve also had some excellent gluten-free pizzas around Boulder), but we can say that gluten-free crust is among the best we have ever had. It was crispy all over, but the interior was a little bit softer, making it easier to cut with a knife. (We did, however, have to request a sharper knife). The pile of vegetables and the small cubes of cheese that were inside the crust were also excellent; we especially liked the grilled asparagus and the large pieces of broccoli, and the balsamic dressing was the perfect complement to all of the ingredients, including the gluten-free crust.

Our one complaint, if you can even call it a complaint, is that our dish wasn’t the easiest to eat because the gluten-free crust was so crispy. We love crispy crust and we think our food was prepared exactly as it should have been, but it was a little unruly. It was borderline taxing to eat with a fork and knife, and it definitely wouldn’t have been feasible to eat it with our hands. The GF crust is better suited for a standard pizza, one that isn’t folded over, but we don’t regret our decision at all. It was perhaps not the best gluten-free dish of the many available just because it was a little cumbersome to eat, but it was still a delicious, healthy meal, and if we had to work a little bit to cut it into manageable pieces, so be it.

Before concluding, it is worth mentioning that Pastavino is the creation of the Italian chef Fabio Flagiello. His menu draws on the “traditions of healthy Italian cuisine,” according to the menu, and for this reason his dishes incorporate organic, locally-sourced ingredients, along with an assortment of food imported directly from Italy. It’s a superb restaurant, one that just so happens to be gluten-free friendly, so we highly recommend our reader’s check it out. We would be sincerely surprised if you are disappointed.

Pastavino’s menus, both regular and special, can be found here:

The menus of Pastavino

And you can find the restaurant itself here:

1043 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302

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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