I’ve been in my current relationship for over two years now. He’s so great. We’ve done multiple trips together and have begun to settle into whatever this “adult life” means. He even helped during this holiday season to navigate not one, but two, Thanksgiving meals (one with friends, one with family) to make sure the food being served was safe.
During this time, our dates have shifted from the one-off nice dinner to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or the occasional night out with the other spending time watching a show or hanging around inside to consistent outings. It helps to have a salary instead of piecing together scholarship money in college! One consistent feature of these outings has been trying new hip restaurants around town. As Denver has come into its own as a city, new restaurants have popped up all around the city. They’ve overtaken old warehouse buildings, commercial space in new apartment buildings, and even an old ice building.
It’s not a given, but many of these are some kind of fusion food. With the exception of one amazing Italian restaurant we enjoyed that’s sadly now closed down, every “hip” restaurant we’ve visited fuses together flavors from different cultures or countries. Some of it is more tame –– like a now-defunct Hispanic kitchen that fused Cuban and Meso-American flavors –– while others are a lot more bold in its attempts. Just last night, we visited The Wolf’s Tailor, one of Bon Appetit’s Best 10 New Restaurants of 2019. It’s delicious food and a fusion between Japanese and Italian flavors.
As some of you may know, I’m risk averse to any Asian cuisine. It’s just… hard for me to manage. Being allergic to all nuts, sesame, shellfish and fish tends to knock off every dish at an Asian restaurant –– and if not, it certainly seems impossible to avoid cross contact. The sneakiest tends to be soups, as some Korean and Japanese soups will use a fish base and not mention it. I just don’t do it. I have plenty of other delicious food options that are easily accessible, delicious, and safe. So, no Thai curries or Chinese noodles for me! (My favorite is when I mention this to someone in a group wanting to eat a sushi restaurant, and in an attempt to be generous, they say something along the lines of “well you could have the steak, right?” (I can only laugh, since it’s out of good intention.)
Fusion food then presents a problem: what elements of the cuisine are they using to impart flavor? I’ve run into this problem before at another fusion place in Denver called SuperMegaBien. They throw a party of fusion in all their dishes –– and sometimes, the fused cuisine used nuts or sesame to achieve that effect. In a deep twist of irony, the mole sauce was safe. Mole is a traditional sauce used in some Mexican cooking and often uses nuts to thicken the chili sauce. I was surprised that the mole was safe, but their twist on a marinara wasn’t! So, fusion food represents a minefield: sometimes the most unsuspecting dishes can be safe while the usual suspects may have an unsafe element.
To me, the best way to prepare is just to become more educated about food. Over the past couple of years, I’ve read up more and cooked more to understand different cuisines. I must admit, I had lumped miso paste/sauce into the off-limits Asian bucket before even understanding what it was (fermented soybeans with salt and koji). A favorite stand-by of mine is Salt Fat Acid Heat, a cookbook by the wonderful Samin Nosrat. It’s both a reference book and a recipe book, and I’ve learned so much about food from that book. There’s also a Netflix show she produced under the same name.
To be able to walk into The Wolf’s Tailor with that knowledge helped me read the menu better. Usually, at these new “hip” restaurants, dishes are both seasonal and intensely flavored. A quick trick I usually use at more standard restaurants is to find a dish with seemingly safe ingredients (as they usually list out what the dish has in it). Anxiety sets in if there’s a restaurant where they just have the names of the dishes without any information. In either scenario, of course, I still tell the staff about my food allergies and make sure the chosen dish is safe. Since fusion food often has hidden elements to impart flavor, there’s no guarantee that the food chosen –– even if it lists out dish elements –– is safe. Often those dish elements are incomplete and they use additional food behind the scenes to create flavor. Still, I understood what a miso-honey glaze would be like on a pork rib, whether a chicory salad would be safe, and whether taleggio is a cheese or a vegetable (it’s a cheese).
I’m super emphatic at these restaurants about my food allergies, and gratefully the staff have been understanding and accommodating. The Wolf’s Tailor had to prepare their take on a vadouvan sauce differently (something new I learned about last night!) since there could be some issues with nuts. Amazing accommodation and understanding. Same with the numerous other restaurants I’ve visited. Unless my allergy is embedded within a sauce or stock they’re preparing ahead of time, it seems that many of these restaurants can safely accommodate my allergies.
I also believe fusion food is the future. With globalization and this increasing mish-mash of culture, especially in the United States, there’s more and more experimental restaurants popping up. Sometimes, it’s even fusion food trucks who are trying new combinations of flavor. I love it all! Still, fusion food can be hard to navigate if you don’t understand some of the building blocks they’re using to create food. (Highly recommend some of Bon Appetit’s YouTube series like It’s Alive with Brad. I’ve learned a lot and they’re fun to watch!)
Of course, it helps to have an understanding partner in all of this. Quinn is amazing and accommodating — he searched the menu with me for safe dishes and was happy to enjoy the same exact things I was. Quinn will usually go far enough to not order a cocktail that has gin in it (famous for sometimes containing tree nuts) to make sure that everything is safe. I hope you find someone as accommodating as he is, and I hope you have fun on your food adventures! Try something new and safe: you’ll never know what you’ll find.