Thursday, February 07, 2008

LILLI AND LOO: A META-REVIEW!

As you might already know, the Asian restaurant Lilli and Loo recently joined the roster of the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) on the advanced level, which means that the restaurant receives "intensive assistance in menu review by qualified nutrition experts" along with GFRAP's basic "complete packet of education and training materials, a review of the restaurant’s GF menus, and the assistance of a Resource Person to answer questions." So far Lilli and Loo is the only non-chain restaurant in Manhattan on that level, and I can say from my own experience that this eaterie is worth multiple visits.

When the restaurant first came up with its gluten-free menu, Maggie and her associates offered a banquet's share of diverse options, but since then the menu has expanded to include even more choices, including one of my favorite types of Asian cuisine.

Many items on the restaurant's evolving gluten-free menu have already been favorably received by A Gluten-Free Guide, CeliacChicks, Gluten-Free Fun, and Allergic Girl. Probably the stand-out item has been the cool and refreshing Saigon Spring Roll appetizer. A fun new addition is the Rock Shrimp Tempura. Not to be confused with classic tempura, which is known for the lightness of its batter, this appetizer is more like an outstanding version of popcorn shrimp, presenting the restaurant's whole tasty shrimp within a thick, crunchy coating enlivened by a drizzled mayonnaise sauce. Filling out the appetizer options are edamame (steamed salted soy beans) and Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps, which involve wrapping lettuce around a mix of chicken, pineapple, and vegetables.

In the early online coverage of Lilli and Loo, the glazed Borneo Orange Chicken came across as a favorite—and I like it too. But oh, how excited I was to find crispy Thai Fish added to the menu! As a longtime fan of various versions of Asian whole fish, I'm especially fond of the crispy variations. At Lilli and Loo, it's served in a two-way style, with numerous separated and boneless chunks atop the rest of the fish, which is still on the bone. So, if you're not used to eating this dish, you can enjoy the separated pieces and also learn to pull the rest of the tasty, moist meat away while leaving most or all of the bones behind. And don't be afraid to poke around the cheeks in the fish head for the tiny, subtly flavorful morsels you might find there. (Note that when ordering this type of dish, it can be helpful to talk with the waitperson about how many of you intend to share it, to make sure that you'll get the right size of fish.)

I'm still exploring the other items on the menu, looking for ways to mix-and-match cuisines or just commit to one type throughout. I've been pleased by the mild Asian Chicken Curry and Masaman Chicken Curry as well as the Pomegranate Teriyaki Grilled Chicken, although I was sorry to find that it wasn't glazed in the way I associate with teriyaki cooking. I also enjoyed the change-of-pace represented by the sweet Shrimp with Fresh Mango (again with tasty shrimp, right), which could function almost like a dessert in a meal shared by several people (an ideal way to enjoy the fare at Lilli and Loo).

And then there are the Happy Hours. It's been tough work, but for your sake, dear reader, I've been making my way through the Lilli and Loo cocktail menu. My favorite so far is the lychee martini.

As CeliacChick Kelly and Allergic Girl Sloane have noted, Maggie and the rest of the gang at Lilli and Loo are eager to please and willing to accommodate other dietary requests. Just try to give them a "heads up" to ease matters for everyone concerned. And, speaking of heads, I agree with Kelly that the loo at Lilli and Loo is worth a visit, too. (Thanks to Ben Cappel for coming up with the "loo" angle.)

Something else that's exciting about Lilli and Loo is that it is just one of the restaurants and food enterprises in which Vanessa Phillips and her family have a hand. From talking with Vanessa's father, I understand that the family hopes to serve gluten-free customers in various NYC locations, including the Upper West Side. Having GFRAP restaurants there would certainly help to complement the string along the Upper East Side. CeliacChick Kelly has been covering some of the most recent developments.

3 comments:

Bianca said...

So I was on vacation in Florida and I found an awesome restaurant with gluten free pizza, beer and brownies called Pizza Fusion. It appears like their building them everywhere, I'm crossing my fingers they open one in NY.

ByTheBay said...

Biance:

They are opening one up in Ridgewood NJ (very close to NYC) in the spring!

Erin S. said...

David, great review. Lilli and Loo has been working really hard on their gluten-free menu. I am glad that you enjoyed it and that you will make it to our NYC Celiac Disease Meetup on February 19th!