For those with celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, or autoimmune disorder, dining at a sushi bar can spell digestive disaster. Most soy sauces contain gluten and this soy sauce is often used for more than just dipping at the table. Surimi, the fake crab used in many sushi rolls, contains wheat protein. Many foods are breaded in white flour (made from wheat) or panko bread crumbs before frying. Finding a sushi bar that understands the needs of gluten-free (GF) diners would be a dream for many Asian food lovers.
Blue Wasabi Sushi & Martini Bar in Gilbert, AZ, is one such place that GF diners can safely eat. Their customers asked for it and they delivered. After extensive research and work with their vendors, they developed a special two-page menu full of goodness, sans gluten! The menu boasts 20 GF sushi rolls, 20 GF single fish sushi options, eight GF small plates, and one delectable GF dessert. You’ll find a mix of traditional sushi items and signature dishes.
Why did the Blue Wasabi staff create a gluten free menu?
Blue Wasabi was the first sushi and martini bar in the Valley, the first with blue wasabi, and the first to offer a gluten free menu. The Gilbert location opened five years ago and the Scottsdale location opened nine years ago. The latter may soon be closed for remodeling.
Several years ago the owner, Jim Moran, first noticed that people were asking gluten free soy sauce. He had regulars who loved the restaurant but needed gluten free options. It took a good three months of research to create the GF menu and to ensure the purity of the products. “To put together this menu, we contacted all of our vendors to investigate what ingredients contained gluten and what gluten-free options we had available,” says Moran. “Ultimately, we were able to put together a menu of Blue Wasabi goodness and we’re very happy that we will be able to serve our customers a gluten-free version of the delicious sushi on which we pride ourselves!”
When asked about the response to the GF menu, Moran says “it’s been positive at both locations with the menu being used on a very regular basis. Many people are very surprised when we tell them we have a gluten free menu. He acknowledges that some people may be uncomfortable dining in a restaurant that uses wheat flour and other items with gluten that they can’t eat and that may be airborne.
Moran wants to know what his customers think of their gluten-free offerings. He encourages people to comment on their Blue Wasabi Facebook page.
About cross contamination
Blue Wasabi staff keep a separate pot of oil on the stove, used exclusively for GF items. They keep separate colored cutting boards for GF items and use different bowls for bringing the ingredients from the kitchen to the sushi line. Additionally, they poke a bamboo skewer through GF menu items as an identifier to the servers.
A friend and I dined at Blue Wasabi in early January. We started with gluten-free Hot Wings served with honey, Genghis Kahn Beef, Spicy Garlic Edamame, and Cucumber Salad. I rarely eat soy but thought I’d try the edamame. The wings and edamame were way to spicy for me but my friend Sarara loved them!
I focused on the cucumber salad (refreshing, cooling, crisp) and the Genghis Kahn Beef, which consisted of lightly seasoned and seared thinly cut beef sautéed in a ginger, Chinese BBQ, garlic, and a very mild chili sauce. This was my favorite dish of the night! Presented with a garnish of wispy thin rice noodles, a few daikon radish slices, and a delicate sauce, the flavors sung to my tongue.
We also shared a Bada Bing sushi roll made from roasted sweet red bell pepper strips with asparagus, cream cheese, roasted garlic, white rice, and sushi nori. The roll was presented with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Really delicious! We also shared a rice-free roll called Dam Jumper, made from mildly spiced snow crab, avocado, and cucumber wrapped in fresh, paper thin slices of fresh salmon topped with a touch of sriracha sauce and GF ponzu sauce. We found the flavors fresh and inviting. The sauces were mild on the salt (a big plus) and the food was artfully presented.
About the owner
While we were eating, we chatted with the owner, a health enthusiast and athlete for most of his life. He’d experienced farm fresh vegetables and fruits as a child growing up in the Bronx, where his father grew cucumbers and tomatoes in pots out back. A purist when it comes to food, Moran knows about the hazards of typical high salt, high sugar Western diets. He aims to offer delicious, flavorful food that’s lighter on these ingredients than what you’d find in most other establishments. He really lets the flavor of the food shine through.
I learned that he had worked all facets of the restaurant industry, from washing dishes and waiting tables to bar back and bartender and from managing food and beverages to designing kitchens, so he knows what it takes to make a restaurant flow. He’s been involved as a partner in several restaurants over the past 13 years. Blue Wasabi is the first operation he’s been a soler owner in. He’s built a loyal following. In fact, Arizona Foothills.com and their readers designated his restaurant as a 2013 winner of “Best of Our Valley” for Best Cocktails and Best Asian Cuisine & Sushi in 2013.
While we were eating and chatting with Moran, we noticed him scanning the restaurant, attentive to the needs of diners at multiple tables. At one point he quickly rose from his seat and arrived at a nearby table with clean chopsticks for a diner who had dropped his. The same thing happened at our table, when I dropped my sticks. He was right there with another pair.
When comfortably full, we asked our waitress to bring two take away containers for the leftovers. Sarara took the edamame. I took the extra sushi slices. Moran asked our server to bring a side of GF Tempura Apples, a simple yet elegantly presented concoction made from apple slices dredged in potato starch and fried in designated oil in a designated pan, plated with a sauce made from brown sugar and heavy cream that reminded me of thickened apple cider and dusted ever so lightly with powdered sugar. The effect was exquisite! We loved the flavor and the texture contrast between the crisp-tender apples and their delicate thin crust against the juicy dipping sauce. Tthe dish was light on the sweetness, unlike so many desserts in restaurants that I find cloyingly sweet. I normally skip desserts when I’m out and avoid refined sugar because I prefer my own home made, lightly sweetened creations. This was well worth eating as a treat!
There are so many more dishes on the menu I would love to try. If you like breaded (starched in this case) chicken tenders or shrimp, you’ll find an assortment of such ingredients in the sushi roll section of the GF menu.
Frequent diner Mondays
Blue Wasabi rewards their guests by offering a special promotion. If you spend a minimum of $25 per person on your food and beverages on a Monday night, they will validate your receipt for the following Monday when you can come and enjoy 50% off your dinner. This offer does not include discounted items, such as happy hour, men’s night, or lady’s night.
Happy sushi hour
Tuesday through Saturday between 4 and 6 pm, Blue Wasabi will give you a 50% discount on selected menu items marked with a smiley face. (The same discount applies from 4:30 and 6:30 at their Scottsdale location.)
It’s a great place to dine. Consider sitting outside on the patio during warm weather. I hope you try it. Please let me know what you think of the menu.