Just before the Christmas holiday, Kelli, Marin and I were in Denver finishing up the last bits of our gift shopping. Dinner loomed, and with blood sugar levels plummeting, we headed to Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill, which Kelli knew had a gluten-free menu. (L&L currently has four locations – 2 in Colorado and 2 in Arizona.) I’ll admit, my expectations were high since comparisons with P.F. Chang’s (of which I’m a big fan) were inevitable.
Before I continue with the review – the menu, the quality of the food, etc. – I must digress. A funny thing happened between when we ate at L&L in late 2009 and now. The gluten-free menu changed. The old gluten-free menu included instructions for how to order an item (omit a marinade, request tamari wheat-free soy sauce). The new gluten-free menu simply lists each gluten-free dish with a description of the food, as you might find on the regular menu. Now you can simply say, “I’ll have the XYZ dish gluten-free, please.” It’s nice to be able to simply order, and for the waitstaff and kitchen staff to know how to get it done. But what caught my eye even more so is that the updated menu is smaller…as in, items that were on the old GF menu aren’t on the new GF menu. Notably, this includes the crispy calamari, which has a bearing on my story.
As we sat down at the table and perused the GF menu, I was impressed with the variety. Appetizers, chicken dishes, rice and noodle dishes, seafood, a selection of sides, and (just like P.F. Chang’s), a sole dessert: flourless chocolate cake. Kelli and I were both excited (and surprised) to see crispy calamari among the GF appetizers. This is a rarity for GF diners, and I double-checked with our server (twice, as I recall) to confirm that the dish was indeed gluten-free. She assured us that it was, and so we placed an order. The dish came out, along with a side of tamari wheat-free soy sauce. I’ll admit…ordering (and eating) the fried calamari, which was “breaded” in cornmeal, was a nice treat.
But what about L&L dropping crispy calamari from the GF menu? I can only include one of three possibilities: 1) something about the dish or its preparation changed, rendering it no longer gluten-free, 2) it was never gluten-free in the first place, and shouldn’t have been included on the GF menu, or 3) L&L discovered a possible source of cross-contamination that warranted removing it from the GF menu.
Given that L&L is an established restaurant with four locations, I’m willing to bet that the ingredients of their dishes and their methods of preparation are highly standardized, so possibility #1 seems unlikely. I know from personal experience that I didn’t get sick after eating that meal, so possibility #2 seems equally unlikely. Which leaves us with possibility #3…a cross-contamination concern. I’d wager that the smoking gun here is the fryer, which if shared with non-gluten-free foods would represent a cross-contamination concern for GF foods prepared in the same oil. So it looks like I dodged a bullet there.
For dinner, I ordered the Orange Peel Chicken. I’m failing to remember exactly what Kelli ordered, but suffice it to say that it was another stir-fry dish with meat and veggies. On the whole, I was quite pleased with the quality of the food at L&L. But I must also say that I was a bit disappointed – the crispy calamari, my orange peel chicken, and Kelli’s entree all came coated in the same heavy, dry cornmeal “crust.” For three very different dishes to all share that same cornmeal crust felt unnecessarily redundant to my taste buds.
In the end, though, it was positive experience with seemingly knowledgeable staff and quality food. The change in the GF menu did initially give me some retrospective pause, but I’m inclined to think that the new menu has worked out any kinks that remained in the old menu, and so you can likely eat at Ling & Louie’s with more confidence (and safety) now than ever before.