Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sizzle and Spice at Veda Modern Indian Bistro

By Sara Blank

Veda, the two-year-old upscale Indian bistro in Rittenhouse Square (1920 Chestnut St., 267-519-2001), falls seamlessly into step with a slew of Philadelphia-area restaurants that combine predominantly gluten-free cuisine and reputations as safe havens for gluten-free diners.

Goan Shimp Curry (left) and Paneer Palak are two of the many
gluten-free entree options at Veda
With guidance from our knowledgeable server, my dinner companion and I opted for the Tandoori Mirch Murg Tikka, Paneer Palak and Goan Shrimp Curry. We were impressed with each dish, which were fresh-tasting, maintained a fine balance of spices and multiple flavors without being overwhelming, and were filling without being heavy. We ended the meal with Saffron Kheer (rice pudding) and Rasmalai, a dumpling which our server aptly described as similar to a spongy cheesecake. These were excellent complements to the appetizer and entrees - sweet and flavorful without being saccharine. (All but one of the desserts are gluten free.) The craft cocktails - Mumbai Mule and Maharaja Tonic - were original, delicious, and paired with the food perfectly. The warm, comforting vibe of the restaurant was reflective of the meal itself, making it an ideal occasion for a cold-weather night out.

The Mirch Murg Tikka appetizer at Rittenhouse Square's Veda
While the food itself was excellent, I found the experience as a gluten-free guest even more impressive. Generally, I tend to fear dining at family-style restaurants; I feel as though I am walking in with a "high maintenance" stamp across my forehead. In these scenarios, I am often bombarded with well-meaning, if exhausting, questions from non-gluten-free friends like,“What can you eat?” and “Why don’t you pick?” or “Do you think you’ll have enough to eat?” While I am grateful to not be at all a fussy eater, I am discerning in these situations, when I neither want to be difficult nor end up hungry.

I immediately felt at ease when I surveyed Veda's menu, which had clearly-labeled notations for gluten-free dishes. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available, but excited that I was able to choose from so much on the menu.

I told our server that while I am well-versed in dining gluten free, I could not say the same about Indian cuisine. She helped me navigate the menu, describing the flavors and textures of different types of dishes and how they could be altered to suit different spice or heat preferences. I asked whether dishes were naturally gluten free or needed to be altered, and she quickly explained that modifications are rarely needed. This is because Indian food is traditionally cooked in rice flour, rendering most of it gluten free from the get-go. The only variation, she explained, was that while there is gluten present in the kitchen, there is a dedicated gluten-free fryer as well as separate work stations.

All but one of the desserts at Veda - including the Rasmalai (top)
and Saffron Kheer - are gluten free
I enjoyed my experience at Veda because I felt that my dietary restriction had no impact on the quality of my meal. The most significant part about dining at Veda (among other restaurants that have placed similar emphasis on their gluten-free guests) is the normalization and integration throughout the meal. To become complete, I would love to see Veda include gluten-free beers and ciders on the drink menu, add the same gluten-free notations that are on the main menu to the dessert menu, and have the option of gluten-free naan, even if it is made off-premises. Beyond this wish list, though, I found myself extremely impressed by the inclusive experience of dining at Veda.

Anyone who has maintained a gluten-free diet over the last decade knows that among chefs and servers, familiarity of the diet ranges from nonexistent to vague awareness to intrigued curiosity to general accommodation to adamant necessity. Veda is a fine example of a restaurant at the positive end of the spectrum - one that other restaurants should look to as a model.

Sara Blank is a 26-year-old agency copywriter living in Center City Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at age 18, right when "gluten free" entered the zeitgeist. Follow her on Instagram at @SarBlank

DISCLOSURE: Veda provided the writer with a complimentary meal. However, the opinions expressed in this review are those of the writer and were not influenced in any way by the compensation.