Friday, November 12, 2010

Dara Thai: Affordable, Authentic Thai Food

What can I say, I'm a sucker for Asian cuisine. I love the flavors, the regional differences between said flavors, and the versatility.

What I can't stand about Asian food in the US though, is how glutened up it tends to be.

That's why I love Thai food. It's sweet, spicy, and pretty much everything on the menu is gluten free in its own right, so I never have to bug the server about making something special for me. I just order my curry, and I'm a happy Hilary. I love Flagstaff's food scene, and one of the most surprising things to me is how much Thai food we have here. There are 4 Thai restaurants in the NAU campus area alone. I went to Dara Thai, my favorite and most frequented Thai place, with a friend for lunch yesterday.

Dara Thai has one of the best lunch specials I've ever seen. $6.95 gets you an entree with a side of rice, and a soup or salad. The service is the kind where they leave you alone after you order and you might not see them again until they bring the check, but they are very fast; I got my meal within about 5 minutes of ordering. I got an order of Pad Thai, which I get every time I eat Thai, and a curry. I usually swing for a Panang (a sweet red curry), but this time I stepped out of my comfort zone and ordered the Arizona Heatwave (Dara's spicier variation of Panang) with tofu:

To say the least, it was EXCELLENT. It's less sweet than the Panang, and it has a pretty hefty kick to it, which I love. I got it at spicy level 4 out of 5, and I'd have to say it was a good decision. I'm the kind of person who likes to either sweat or cry while eating hot food, and this accomplished a bit of both by the time I was done, so I can't imagine what a 5 would have been like. It had sweet notes to it as well; the coconut milk in the curry always adds mild creamy taste which helps to balance out the spice. I also got a bit of a buttery taste from the tofu, which brought the whole dish together perfectly. The portion size was great too. You get a lot of food for only 7 bucks, but even if you eat the whole thing, you don't feel like you're going to die from being so full.

Dara's Pad Thai is pretty standard. I made it more spicy than usual this time, getting a 4 out of 5 instead of my traditional 2 or 3. I was pleased with that decision too. Pad thai tends to be too sweet, but with the added spice it really balances it out. I like pad thai with lots of green onions and egg in it too, and Dara makes theirs just the way I like it. However, one thing I have to complain about is how they plate the peanuts and the cabbage. I feel like I end up neglecting the cabbage because its off to the side, and the way the peanuts are only on one corner of the noodles, I end up getting an overwhelming amount of peanut in one bite, and none the next. I know this can be solved by just stirring it, but presentation tends to be a bit pet peeve of mine.

Overall, I'd say that Dara Thai gets an A-
The good:
- They have a very extensive lunch and dinner menu at great prices
- Great for take-out
- The majority of their dishes are gluten free, and it's very easy to eat vegetarian
- Their flavors are always bold, and you can control how spicy your order is
- Even if you have a peanut allergy, there are still dishes you can enjoy that are peanut free

The Bad:
- The service isn't always great
- Presentation could be better on some dishes

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your food, no matter what restrictions you may have!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Introduction

Hey there!
I'm Hilary, and I'm gluten intolerant, if you didn't guess from the title of this blog. But don't just label me by my allergy! I'm also a Sophomore in college majoring in International Hospitality Management, addicted to netflix streaming, and most of all, a big time foodie.

Being gluten intolerant, I tend to get one common question from friends and strangers alike: "What do you eat?! I mean, you must be so deprived! When was the last time you've had a cookie?!" Well, dear reader, I had a cookie today, and it was delicious. People seem to forget that having a food allergy isn't really the end of the world. Yes, there have been some challenges, but for the most part, I'm enjoying food more now than I ever have before I knew about my "condition."

Here's a little back story for you:
I grew up being a very adventurous cook/eater. I had sushi for the first time at age 5, I was a huge fan of making homemade lasagna with my mom around age 7, and by age 10 anything in the kitchen was pretty much fair game (except for knives, because you know how moms get about the youngins with knives). I've been making meals for myself on a regular basis since that time. Despite how much I loved food though, food did not really share that love in return. I was a sick kid. At least once a month I got some wicked stomach bug, the flu at least once a year, and I was constantly dealing with a stomach ache. I missed probably 20-30 days of school in 5th grade because I was so sick all the time. Not to mention I had never been very "regular" and it would get to the point that I wouldn't go number 2 for as long as 3 weeks. Pretty terrible, and also pretty gross. It wasn't until I was 16 that I found out the reason I was so sick is because I have a mild case of Celiac Disease (a fancy way of saying gluten from wheat, barley, and rye is like death serum). Since going gluten free, I feel great. I rarely get sick anymore, I've lost 15 pounds, and I have fewer headaches and more energy. The range and increasing quality of gluten free products have slowly grown into something suitable for eating, and I'm starting to feel like I can eat pretty much the same things as other people eat, minus the gluten.

However, dining out is still the biggest obstacle. There's nothing worse than showing up to a restaurant where there's seriously nothing on the menu that I can eat (I'm looking at you, California Pizza Kitchen). That's why I've started this blog. I want to share the knowledge I have about various restaurants I frequent (or new places I try out too) and how their menus stack up with options that are allergen friendly, and even vegetarian and vegan friendly as well.

I hope you enjoy reading my reviews of restaurants and the dishes I order from them! I'm so excited to finally start this project that I've been working on over the past year.

Enjoy your food, no matter what limitations you may have!