Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Traveling with Celiac Disease – Part 2

Lilli and Loo's General Tsu's Tofu
After 36 hours of meat, the company let me loose on New York City at 3pm. I immediately hopped on the N to 61st and Lexington to Lilli and Loo, a Chinese restaurant with a gluten free menu.

Chinese food is often made with soy sauce and Hoisin sauce. Both of these are almost never gluten free. In Seattle, I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant that can accommodate me. I haven’t had any Chinese in over six months, easily the longest I’ve ever gone in a life filled with fantastic Chinese food.

Lilli and Loo also had a dish that I haven’t had in years: General Tsu’s Tofu. My local Chinese place stopped making it for me because it was too hard to keep the tofu intact. I begged and begged, but after more than two years of making it for me they stopped. Then, celiac. Lilli and Loo’s GTT was sweet and a little spicy. The tofu was medium-firm and a little crunchy. The sauce was thin, but dark. I was wonderful. I ate it all, even though I had just crammed three plates of crappy salads down my gullet at the hotel lunch buffet. I ate alone, and the restaurant was empty except for two Japanese students picking at an appetizer.

After that, I headed up to Harlem to meet Regina at her house. She had planned dinner at ___, a Risotto-centric tiny restaurant. It turns out that they are a Mecca for celiacs. They have four different gluten free beers, all their desserts are gluten free, all their bread is gluten free, nearly all their risottos are gluten free (gorgonzola is not gluten free), nearly all their appetizers are gluten free, and everything is labeled on the main menu. Moments after we arrived and said yes to the 30 minute wait, a couple came in behind us. The man was visibly excited about the prospect of gluten-free beer; when the hostess began to tell him about the menu and desserts, his enthusiasm grew almost feverish. This was a guy who clearly hadn’t been expecting much. I know the feeling.

This was the first time I encountered another celiac in public. We didn’t exchange conversation at all, but I felt so much better. Look, here’s a tall, hunk of a man getting giddy over gluten free cookies and weak beer. I am not alone. We sat down and I couldn’t help but overhear “celiac” and “gluten free” from table after table. I looked around and saw at least six gluten free beers (there’s only nine two-person tables in the whole restaurant). The table came with two gluten free breadsticks. Then they brought more. I didn’t cry but I could have.

The risotto was good. It was filling and warm and flavorful and cheesy. Quincy will love it. But the atmosphere was a real treat. I felt normal and welcome, not just tolerated and accommodated.

On my last day in NYC, Regina took me to Lili (not actually associated with Lilli and Loo, from what I can tell) on 57th near 7th. They also had a gluten free menu and General Tsu’s Tofu. I also ordered “rock shrimp tempura” because I hadn’t eaten tempura in 7 months either. Regina ordered a small flotilla of sushi. Our food was awesome. The appetizer was to die for (I almost ordered more). It had a coconut sauce and a little tangy spice. Oh, I miss it already. And the GTT was spicy, thick, a little too sweet and made with soft tofu perfectly fried, balancing moistness with flavor with crunchiness. Next to us, a fellow celiac ordered dumplings, a stir fry, and tea, double checking every order as he placed it and as he received it. The waiter prefaced, for me as well, every item with “your gluten free” so there was absolutely no chance of confusion. He also prefaced items just for Regina wish “and this is just for you” or “and this has gluten.” It’s small, but the shift from accommodating to fully accepting as a course of action is incredibly freeing. I got a little misty eyed again. Quincy would have cried, I’m sure of it. Unlike Lilli and Loo, our Lili waiter told me not to eat the fortune cookie.

In all, New York City obviously has a strong GF community. It inspired me to work on that in Seattle. I’m not sure how much effort I want to put into it, but I am going to at least start a dialog with the three Chinese restaurants in our neighborhood.

1 comment:

r said...

The restaurant was Risotteria. xo