April 23, 2012

Fine Gluten-Free Italian Food at Carelli’s of Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

We’ve been hearing good things about Carelli’s of Boulder for some time, so when we recently learned they have a menu entirely dedicated to their gluten-free options – Italian food like gluten-free pizza and gluten-free pasta – we knew it was time to give them a try. It’s a little expensive (especially for the gluten-free items), at least relative to many of the other restaurants we’ve reviewed, but Carelli’s is a classy place with great food, which we can now say based on (an) experience, so the higher prices are for the most part to be expected. If you’re looking for a nice place to take someone to lunch or dinner, one that also has plenty of gluten-free options to choose from, Carelli’s fits the bill perfectly.

While not exactly fine dining, Carelli’s is, as we have implied, a high-end restaurant, the type of place where tables are set with white tablecloths and wine glasses – where servers are dressed in nice clothes and all the water comes with a lemon wedge. The interior is very well put together and not particularly big, so Carelli’s has what might be called an intimate feel, making it a good place for a date. Wood plays a prominent role in the decoration scheme of the dining room, which is off to the right when you enter, and the same is true of the bar, which is off to left and is shaped like a horseshoe; it can probably accommodate a dozen or so thirsty patrons. Speaking of thirsty patrons, the back wall of Carelli’s is loaded with wine bottles, and thus serves as the physical manifestation of the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Plenty of booze is within arms reach, which should come as welcome news to both wine enthusiasts and enthusiastic winos.

Carelli’s is located right next to Williams Village, a CU housing area consisting of several large dorm buildings that house thousands of students. The restaurant is therefore ironically situated: there is a huge pool of potential customers to pull from, but most of them are college students who can’t easily afford to dine at a place like Carelli’s. It does, however, serve as an excellent place for parents visiting the campus to take their children for a nice meal. Carelli’s serves food that is approximately infinitely better than the dorm food we remember having when we lived in Williams Village several years ago, no offense to CU – ok, a little offense to CU (some of your dorm food is less than stellar).

Once we were seated and given our lemon-enhanced water, we looked at the gluten-free menu in earnest. (You have to ask for this menu, as it’s totally separate from – and very different from, as we shall see – the regular menu.) We certainly commend Carelli’s for taking the time to come up with an entire gluten-free menu, but if you want to know the full range of options available, it really needs to be seen in conjunction with the regular menu. This is probably something our server should know, but didn’t (because she immediately took the regular menu when she gave us the gluten-free menu), so we ended up thinking we had fewer options than we actually did.

There are a lot of good options on the GF menu itself – there are seven appetizers and fourteen entrees listed – but these tend to be rather pricey. If we had had the regular menu, the note at the bottom of the gluten-free menu that says that GF bread is available for sandwiches would have actually made sense, as there are sandwiches listed on the regular menu, but not the GF menu. We thought that the restaurant was willing to take special requests for sandwiches using their gluten-free bread or something strange like that; in fact, sandwiches are simply part of the menu, as we now know. So, it would have been nice to know all this when ordering, but it might not have changed our selection because we were pretty set on trying some sort of gluten-free pasta.

Although we considered getting a pizza with gluten-free crust for some time, we’ve tried several pizzas around town (at Proto’s, Naked Pizza, and Z Pizza, and just the other day at The Rex), so we decided to go with the ravioli, in part because we’re impressed that Carelli’s even has a pasta like ravioli available in gluten-free form. (Often, a restaurant only has one type of pasta available as its GF substitute, meaning dishes with cheese-filled ravioli couldn’t be made gluten-free because of the special preparation required to make ravioli). Other options include delicious-sounding entrees like the Pollo del Vesuvio – “single breasted chicken grilled rosemary
garlic au jus served with potato spears,” to use the menu’s grammatically troubled wording (what’s an adjective and what’s a noun?) – or the Diver Sea Scallops, served over risotto puttanesca and accompanied by sautéed spinach. There are also a number of dishes made with Carelli’s gluten-free fettuccine, and many of these plates sound extremely appealing. If you’re a vegetarian and gluten intolerant, you still have several options, at least for entrees (there aren’t many vegetarian appetizers). Any pizza made without a meat topping is obviously vegetarian, and several pasta dishes do not come with meat.

As we ordered our ravioli, the server asked as she was walking away if we wanted some gluten-free bread, and of course we said “yes.” We were thinking, “how nice! Our server is bringing us bread to keep us occupied while we wait for our food, just like many restaurant’s do with regular bread. One of the annoying things about being gluten intolerant is that we don’t get to capitalize on restaurants that give out baskets of free bread, so it’s nice Carelli’s is showing us a little love!” This was essentially an accurate chain of thought, except that Carelli’s charged us for the bread – $3.75, in fact, which isn’t exactly a nominal fee for a small loaf of bread, and it would have been nice if the server mentioned the charge before offering it to us in passing. That said, the bread was good, especially when dipped in the olive oil and vinegar with which it was served. It was soft, moist, and warm, but it was a little on the chewy side, which is a common feature of gluten-free bread. The crust also had a somewhat overpowering taste, reminding me why some kids prefer their sandwiches with the crust cut off. Again, though, it was tasty bread, and we liked that it was served as an entire loaf, which allowed us to start our meal by literally breaking bread.

The ravioli, as we expected, was fantastic. It was served in a large white dish – half bowl and half plate – and the server sprinkled freshly grated parmesan cheese on top, and over this we added a dusting of pepper. The raviolis, which were stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheese, were delicious and perfectly cooked. They were firm, as ravioli should be, because there is nothing worse than overcooked and soggy pasta. The raviolis were sandwiched between a layer of golden-brown cheese on top and a layer of marinara sauce on the bottom. We found this mildly counter-intuitive (normally the sauce goes on top of the pasta), but the arrangement actually made the dish easier to cut up and eat. You could use a fork to cut straight through the cheese and ravioli, and then when you slide your fork under the piece, you pick up along with it the sauce, which was made with chunks of tomato, onion, and mushroom. The sauce was superb, and indeed so was the whole meal; we wish we had some leftovers so that we could relive some of the flavors.

We spent more at Carelli’s than we have at any other place we’ve eaten at for Gluten Free in Boulder, but we can’t say we regret our decision to try the place. Our meal was excellent and Carelli’s has a great dining environment, so we wouldn’t hesitate to go again if an occasion called for it.

The gluten-free menu, which is a PDF, can be found here:

Carelli’s Gluten-Free Menu

And here are the regular menus (also PDFs) for lunch and dinner, which we include lest we be labeled hypocrites:

Carelli’s Lunch Menu

Carelli’s Dinner Menu

Carelli’s itself is located here:

645 30th Street
Boulder, CO 80303

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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