A yellowtail dish from Sushi Roku, which has a new gluten-free menu. (Claire Thomas )
In the last two or three years, more and more Sushi Roku diners have asked for gluten-free food, so the restaurant company decided to develop a menu for people avoiding wheat, barley and rye.
Customers at sushi restaurants have always had the option to eat sushi or sashimi, as long as they avoided soy sauce, which often contains wheat. But soy sauce isn’t just in a bottle on tables; it’s often an ingredient in other sauces.
When a diner asks about gluten, it can take 10 or 15 minutes for a waiter to go through a menu and discuss alterations that would suit the diner, says Tom Cardenas, vice president of operations.
“So we decided, wouldn’t it be simpler if we have a gluten-free menu?” he says. It took a few months of developing and testing sauces before the menu was ready for a restaurant.
“After a positive response” at the company’s West Hollywood restaurant, Chi Lin, the menu was installed a couple of weeks ago at all the Sushi Roku restaurants, says says Lee Maen, partner at Innovative Dining Group, which owns the Sushi Roku restaurants. The restaurants are in Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Las Vegas, and Scottsdale, Ariz.
The new menu includes seared albacore sashimi with ponzu sauce; tofu three ways with truffle oil, caviar and lemon oil, and scallions and sesame oil; octopus sashimi “Kyoto Style” with herb vinaigrette; filet mignon-wrapped asparagus with soy mirin sauce and sashimi salad with frisee and soy ginger.
The idea was for customers who avoid gluten to be able to order the same dish, say tuna carpaccio, that other diners order. Previously, their option might have been to have the tuna without a sauce.
Ponzu and other sauces also have been reformulated for the gluten-free menu, Cardenas says.
Why not just go gluten-free for everyone? Cardenas says that tasted side-by-side, there’s still a slightly different flavor between the soy sauces. And, he said, the gluten-free version is three times as expensive.
He notes that Sushi Roku now has a gluten-free menu, but its kitchens are not gluten-free. That might be an issue for the most sensitive diners, who worry about cross-contamination. For many people, however, gluten-free dining is a choice.
Taste of gluten-free donuts
And a gluten-free blue corn muffin
A cook talks about cooking without gluten at home
@mmacvean on Twitter