April 1, 2011

Gluten-Free Food, and only Gluten-Free Food, Available at Suki Thai Noodle House in Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

When we walked into Suki Thai Noodle House this afternoon in Boulder in search of gluten-free Thai food, one of the first things we noticed was a yellow sign placed on the ordering side of the counter. In so many words, it said, “All menu items gluten-free, and we don’t charge you extra like those other guys.” The words “all” and “other” are underlined.

Now this is the type of sign we like to see when ordering at a restaurant. No need for explanations about celiac disease; no need to cross-examine the poor employees about the ingredients of certain menu items. With the reassurance of that small yellow sign, we had the whole menu before us to choose from.

After reveling in the many different options available to us, we decided to try what appeared to be the main dish: a noodle bowl that you add your own ingredients to, not unlike the bowls served at Black Pepper Pho. First you select a type of protein, with options ranging from marinated steak to calamari to tofu, and then you select a kind of broth, of which there are three – the Traditional, the Tom Yum, and the Coconut and Red Curry. For our protein, we decided to go with the shrimp-calamari combo, and thereafter we asked for the spiciest broth, which we learned are the Tom Yum and the Coconut and Red Curry. The Tom Yum sounded more exotic – it is made with ingredients like galangal (also known as blue ginger) and kaffir lime leaves, as well as Thai chili peppers and Thai chili paste – so we decided to go with that. A slew of different vegetables and a healthy portion of rice noodles were added to the broth and seafood, and then this is all heated together in a pot on a stove.

For a side, we ordered a Thai spring roll made with pork and shitake mushrooms. The roll, which is encapsulated in a thin rice paper, is also packed with rice noodles, along with a smaller amount of other ingredients, including chopped lettuce, shredded carrots, Thai basil, cucumbers, bean sprouts, green onion, and cilantro.

As we moved down the ordering line, which is arranged in a Chipotle-like way in that you order food at one end of the counter, watch it being prepared as you shuffle right with other customers, and then pay at the opposite end, we were taken by the size of the restaurant. It struck us as rather large, with lots of places to sit, including three tables that run down the center of the room that look like large picnic tables, and also about a dozen or so two-person tables that line both sides. The interior is largely green – green carpet, green walls, and green menus – and there are several large ceiling lights that look like inflated cloth balloons. All of these hang in a line above the main row of large tables.

When we were given our food, which was prepared with startlingly quickness, we selected a table and sat down. We began with the spring roll, served cold. The roll was really large, at least relative to other spring rolls we’ve had, and packed with a number of ingredients. A long slice of cucumber provided nice texture, and the many rice noodles made the dish substantial. The spring roll came with one of three sides – Thai peanut sauce, spicy lime-chili sauce, or mild lime-chili sauce – and given our penchant for spice, we went with the spicy lime-chili sauce. The sauce went excellently with the roll and really made the dish. The spicy lime-chili sauce tasted like, well, spicy lime-chili sauce, and to get any more specific than that is probably not very profitable for anyone, ourselves and readers alike. Of course, spring rolls are commonly served cold, but we tend to like them steamed or fried, and as a consequence the roll wasn’t our favorite part of the meal. Even so, it was tasty, and we’re sure anyone who likes spring rolls, especially when served cold, would enjoy them very much.

As concerns the noodle bowl, we have nothing but good things to say. It was, as promised, deliciously spicy, and the spice infused every bite we took. There were several different vegetables in the soup – by our count, at least seven – which included celery, baby tomatoes, spinach, shredded carrots, and even a small section of corn on the cob. We found the baby tomatoes especially delicious: every time we bit into one, an expulsion of flavor overwhelms the palate and dissipates slowly as the tomato melts. We also enjoyed the plump shrimp and the calamari mixed into the soup, especially when dipped in the suki sauce, which is sweet and spicy, very much like Mae Ploy’s popular sweet chili sauce, and available at the condiment bar. (Note: There are two types of suki sauce, one of which has gluten, so make sure to use the one with the “gluten-free” label on it. Since the suki sauce is part of the condiment bar, it really isn’t a menu item, so all the food on the menu is in fact gluten-free.) The calamari was chewy, but not overly so, and for this reason it went well with a bite of noodles and vegetables, as it added a nice texture to the combination. Moreover, it was nice to eat calamari as part of a larger dish. Often, calamari is served only as an appetizer, and while these starters are good, it’s easy to forget that calamari can also compliment other flavors and ingredients.

As a concluding note, it should be added that Suki Thai is fairly cheap (the noodle bowls are around $7.00) and staffed with knowledgeable employees. (We heard one young man describe seemingly everything about every dish to a woman who “ain’t seen nothing like this before.”) The cheap prices probably draw in plenty of college students who live in the Williams Village CU dorms (more commonly known as “Will Ville”) across the street, although the fact that Suki Thai closes at 9:00 pm may counteract this attraction. But perhaps this is wise: to cater to the late-night college crowd is to take a calculated risk, and it certainly wouldn’t be unreasonable if the owners of Suki Thai aren’t willing to take it.

Anyhow, here is a link to the Suki Thai menu for further investigation:
http://www.sukithai.com/menu.html

(Don’t mind the part of the menu that implies that only one of the broths – the Traditional – can be made gluten-free for a dollar charge. This is inaccurate in two respects: all of the broths are gluten-free, and you don’t have to pay extra.)

Suki Thai’s address:
675 E. 30th Avenue
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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