April 14, 2011

Gluten-Free Dishes Available at Centro, One of Boulder’s Most Acclaimed Restaurants

By Evan Sandsmark -  

Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace, located on the west end of Pearl Street in Boulder, has garnered plenty of praise, as a quick look at the numerous positive reviews posted on its website reveals. Westword proclaimed it one of the five best restaurants in Boulder, and 5280 Magazine ranked Centro among the ten best new restaurants in Denver (even though it’s in Boulder – evidently, they conceive of Denver city limits liberally). We can do nothing but echo these positive sentiments – and mention that they have some gluten-free menu items – after our excellent meal there this afternoon.

While Centro doesn’t have a ton of gluten-free offerings, it has enough available to ensure that those with a gluten intolerance can enjoy the restaurant’s superb Latin cuisine. Moreover, if your service is anything like ours this afternoon, you’ll have no trouble identify which dishes are gluten-free. Our server was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and took us through all the items that are made without gluten, explaining which dishes he likes the best and why.

Following the server’s strong endorsement, we decided to order the chicken enchiladas, a dish made with smoked red pepper and goat cheese cream, achiote rice, and black bean refritos. All of the tacos, being made with corn tortillas, were also available to us, so we could have had garlicky griddled shrimp or habanero rotisserie pork tacos, or delicious-sounding vegetarian tacos made with roasted pumpkin, jicama, and zucchini.

The grilled wahoo and watercress salad – made with caramelized yams, pineapple, charred pepper and guacamole – is also gluten-free, and we struggled mightily between this dish and the enchiladas (not that we have any regrets about our decision). Finally, there is a gluten-free soup available called the Azteca, which is made with pulled rotisserie chicken, crispy tortillas, avocado, and radish. Those are most of the gluten-free items on the menu, but don’t feel like you need to take notes because, again, your server should be able to give you the GF rundown when you’re there.

It should be noted that the dishes just described could have trace amounts of gluten in them because the chefs flash fry a few ingredients, notably the corn tortillas, as this makes them less brittle. This is essentially a restating of a basic principle that gluten-free eaters have come to expect: in restaurants that aren’t exclusively gluten-free, cross-contamination is always possible. However, it’s worth bringing up in the present context because a shared fryer presumably makes cross-contamination more likely. If you are potentially affected by trace amounts of gluten, be sure to ask your server whether any item in your choice is flash-fried and ask to have them omit that step. Of course, if you are sensitive to even trace amounts of gluten, then you probably are going to refrain from visiting restaurants that aren’t entirely gluten-free like Centro anyway, so as to avoid the potential for any cross-contamination.

As we waited for our enchiladas, we studied the lively interior of the restaurant. All over the orange and red walls are photographs, many of which are black and white, and all (at least from our vantage point) involved people or places in Latin America. Another notable feature about the interior is the impressive variety of tables to sit at, and by this we mean there are not only lots of tables (especially if you include the very nice patio outside), but lots of different styles of tables. There are standard booths, booths that are placed on a foot-tall platform, and half booths (one side is a bench, the other chairs), as well as regular tables, high tables, and stools at the bar. Even the most twisted seating preferences can probably be accommodated, or, in any event, Centro is better suited than most to fulfill your table-centered desires.

When our food arrived, we were immediately taken by its presentation. Two tightly-wrapped enchiladas lie across a bed of achiote rice and refried black beans. The top of the enchiladas are laced with melted cheese and covered in smoked red pepper and goat cheese cream, which flows onto the rice and beans. Atop all this is a small pile of pico de gallo and a dollop of sour cream.

This arrangement, in addition to its aesthetic appeal, also serves a practical function: when you cut into the dish, you get a bit of everything, and the enchiladas are maximally delicious when all of the ingredients are combined. The different flavors work together in splendid harmony, as if the chef was attempting to create a Utopian society populated by Latin flavors. Of particular note is the smoked red pepper and goat cheese cream, which was not only delicious, but basically unlike any sauce we’ve ever tried. You can taste the red pepper, but it doesn’t taste like red pepper – that’s way too pedestrian of a flavor. It had a rich smoothness to it, if you’ll allows us to take refuge in indistinct language, that enveloped the entire dish. It enhanced the soft corn tortillas, the chicken, the rice, the beans, and everything else.

In case this isn’t painfully clear by now, the enchiladas were absolutely delicious, certainly among the best we’ve had in a long time, and we can only imagine that Centro’s other offerings are similarly tasty. If you’re gluten intolerant and live anywhere near Boulder, check out Centro.

Here is a link to Centro’s menus:

Centro is located at:
950 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302

Note: This is the fifteenth article in a new series presented by GlutenFreeInBoulder.com. On a (roughly) weekly basis, we will visit a restaurant, try a thing or two, and write about our experience. We will, of course, be sampling exclusively gluten-free food so we can report back to our readers about the items worth having. However, 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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