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Rudi's rolls out new gluten-free bread at Root Down dinner

If you're not familiar with Rudi's Organic Bakery, a Boulder-based bread company, then you should really make its acquaintance -- particularly if you are gluten-intolerant. Rudi's hasn't used artificial chemicals or preservatives in its breads since the bakery's founding in 1976, and started baking organic bread in 1990, before the federal guidelines for organic food were even developed. Point being: Rudi's makes good bread that's also good for you.

But despite demand from consumers, it didn't make a gluten-free bread -- until now. To celebrate its new line of gluten-free products, Rudi's threw a dinner party this week at Root Down, 1600 West 33rd Avenue.

The dinner was a four-course affair, starting with a short speech from Root Down chef Daniel Asher, who's been creating gluten-free plates for six or seven years and endorsed the Rudi's line, saying it was "the best gluten-free bread I've ever had."

Then came the first course: Rocky Mountain Ford cantaloupe and tomato gazpacho, garnished with lime crema and fig balsamic, and served with a tomato-jam grilled cheese on Rudi's gluten-free bread (pictured above). In keeping with Root Down's sustainable philosophy, the soup bowl was placed atop a coaster cut from a previous Root Down menu.

The cold soup was an ideal mixture of sweet and savory, beautiful to look at and even better to taste. The tomato jam made the grilled-cheese sandwich taste like a classic grilled-cheese-with-tomato, but added a hint of sugar to the mix. And the bread? Well, if it didn't say "gluten-free" right there on the menu, nobody would ever know it was modified.

By the way: the gazpacho is available on Root Down's Harvest Week menu, which ends tomorrow, so hurry if you want to try it. Also, both Rudi's and Root Down will be at the fourth annual Incredible Edible Gluten-Free Food Fair from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds; representatives will be serving up the tomato-jam grilled-cheese sandwich and giving away free loaves of bread to everyone who stops by.

There was supposed to be a choice of second courses: Madras curried corn and tempura asparagus with organic arugula, organic avocado, basil and harissa vinaigrette; or sweet potato "falafel" with lemon-tahini yogurt, Israeli salad, sesame seeds and serrano oil. However, some kind of fatal accident in the kitchen had befallen the falafel dish, so guests who'd ordered it were offered the curried corn or a choice between two salads. To tide them over, Root Down servers brought out sweet-potato fries.

Sweet but salty and cooked to a crisp, these fries probably would have been gone in a matter of minutes had there not been three more courses to come. When the small-plate course was finally delivered, the asparagus was still crunchy inside the flaky tempura crust, the curried corn left a memory of heat on the lips, the arugula added a faint bitter taste, and the smooth, rich avocado dusted with cracked pepper balanced out all the flavors. There was also a choice of entree: Rocky Mountain "Never Ever" bistro beef tender with corn and fava succotash, mashed parsnip, parsnip chips and a Worcestershire-date molasses glaze; pan-seared, line-caught halibut (shipped overnight from Alaska) with organic black quinoa salad, heirloom tomato-fennel confit and grilled organic corn wtih sambal cream cheese; or country-fried, spice-battered organic tofu served with smashed agave yams and organic braised greens. This being the Veggie Girl column, that's the tofu you see above.

And this is where it became apparent that Rudi's had struck gold in partnering with Root Down on this menu. The tofu was breaded with rice "panko" crumbs, which held together better than ordinary rice flour and created a crispy breading on the creamy tofu. Denver's a wonderful city for vegetarians, and there are a lot of stand-out people working in the kitchens to make it that way, but it would be hard to beat what Root down ownerJustin Cucci and his chef created here. The just-as-good-as-fried-chicken tofu, mixed with the extra-sweet mashed yams and the slightly bitter braised greens, was like something my comfort-food-cooking grandma might have thrown together had she been raised on an organic vegetarian farm on the West Coast instead of in the meat-and-potatoes heartland.

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Finally, it was time for the last of the spread: Dessert.

Cucci created bread pudding from the Rudi's gluten-free line, topped with sour-cream ice cream and swimming in a Stranahan's whiskey-butter sauce, and garnished with a bloom from Root Down's garden. The bread pudding (which Asher described in his opening spiel as "soon-to-be-famous") was served along with these long plates of macaroons, also garnished with flowers from the garden.

It was a lovely end to an unbelievable meal: soft chunks of bread soaking up the whiskey, and the slight sourness and chill of the ice cream balancing the warm pudding.

All of the dishes were made using the Rudi's "Original" line of gluten-free breads; Rudi's also offers multigrain and cinnamon-raisin gluten-free bread. Find out more about the line at www.rudisbakery.com/gluten-free.

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