This week, Harry Potter fans will line up around Seattle for miles in order to get into first showings of The Deathly Hallows ,


Food, Folklore, and the Gluten-Free Allure of Garlic at La Isla

This week, Harry Potter fans will line up around Seattle for miles in order to get into first showings of The Deathly Hallows, part 2. After which, Facebook will be overrun with talk of Harry Potter for about two weeks. Then there will be a pause of a month or so, and then someone will bring up the impending release of the next Twilight movie, and it will be months of discussing that instead.

There are many things about the Twilight Saga (and the subsequent television vampire craze) that I find disturbing. And not the least of these is, frankly, the lack of garlic. Folklore long predating Stephanie Meyer prescribes garlic as a means of warding off vampires, and yet in Meyer's town, beset on every side with vampires, there doesn't seem to be anyone wearing, using, or peddling garlic in any abnormal fashion. Of course, garlic isn't a very glamorous means of fending off vampires, since its effect is wrapped up in its ability to make a body stink to high heaven. And the Twilight-era vampires and vampire hunters are all about glamour. So we can't have that.

But it occurred to me this week that, realistically speaking (as realistically as folklore can speak), the entire excruciatingly drawn-out cinematic narrative of affectionately vacant stares between Bella and her vampire folk could have been mercifully and concisely wrapped up with one first date to a place like Ballard's La Isla, and a meal with one side of a sauce like ajilimojili.

La Isla's food is the stuff from which local legends spring. Mention the Puerto Rican restaurant's name and your audience's eyes become wistful, their voices hushed and awed. The establishment is no stranger to written reviews, but verbal reviews are most often delivered in short phrases such as, "So good" and, "You should go." In my few visits I've had opportunity to sample their Pernil Special (slow roasted pork), the Ropa Vieja (skirt steak with peppers), and Bacalao en Salsa Roja (seared cod in a Creole sauce), as well as a few of the appetizers, and I understand the sentiment of speechless wonder.

The flavors are phenomenal, and most of them come with a side of this magical stuff called ajilimojili--an intense, creamy, minced-garlic sauce that not only has vampire-shooing power, but also the ability to enchant its consumers into silence. Tables at La Isla that have not been served chat and laugh and drink; tables that have been served just eat.

Yep, it's a Twilight "save the date" throw pillow.
If you're curious how this review wound up in the "Allergic to Food" column, rest assured: it is not a mistake. La Isla's menu is low-risk for the gluten-intolerant. When I mentioned concern about gluten, the waitress simply waved my concerns away. Very little of their food is cooked with flour. "No-gluten is pretty easy to do here," she said. "Just tell me what you want, and I'll tell you if it works." Very few menu items are off-limits, and the staff knows the menu well enough to guide you through it. The last time I visited, it was with a friend who has fairly sensitive celiac disease, and the restaurant received her stamp of approval.

If you're curious how vampires found their way into this review, it is entirely the fault of the restaurant-defining garlic sauce . . . which I can only imagine, having eaten, could in small amounts protect an entire village. Vampires may not be an average, daily concern for most of us, but mosquito season is upon us, and garlic is also supposed to keep that kind of vampire away as well. But really, you don't need any point of added motivation to visit La Isla. The food itself is enough. Or, as all my friends keep saying, "So good. You should go."

La Isla is located at 2320 N.W. Market St, and is open daily from 11:30 am until 2:00 am.

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