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Be Careful At Zao Noodle Bar! (seattle)

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After I went on gluten-free diet, I kept eating at Zao Noodle Bar at University Village, because (1) they were mentioned in Triumph Dining Guide, (2) they were nearby, and (3) they had a "no gluten" menu. But I also kept having a hard time ordering and sometimes got sick. Some servers knew about the menu but others didn't, and when I tried to order off the menu, I would often get something I had to send back. (For example, the menu would say "Pad Thai -- no tofu," so I'd order it that way, and the plate would come with straggler tofu pieces. I mostly attribute this to the poor training of the kitchen staff and communication issues between them and servers, since chefs don't seem to speak much English.)

So I finally contacted them through their customer feedback form on their website. I went back and forth a couple of times to clarify some things, but ultimately it sounds like they were never meant to have a gluten-free menu and can't commit to avoid cross contamination. It's ironic that the rep says their "execution is fast and furious," since I always seemed to wait as long for the food as any other sit-down restaurant, if not more for having to send the food back. To their credit, they do seem to be sending me a gift card :P

Anyway, wanted to give a heads-up to those of you in the area.

Happy gluten-free holidays,


Here's the response I got:

Again, thank you for taking the time to write and follow up on these issues.

I'd like to go back to the beggining and clarify our gluten-free menu.

As the Director of Quality Control for ZAO I would have never allowed a gluten-free menu to be developed and instructed to the staff. This was the product of a renegade Manager (Whom is no longer at ZAO) with the best of intentions, but with a lack of understanding as to the sensitivity and liability of having a gluten-free menu. When I found out about awhile back I removed it, so therefore many members of the staff aren't aware of it.

We simply cannot guarantee a gluten-free menu. Our execution is to fast and furious. Many of our cooks use English as a second language. Tongs are used on many pans at the same time. Our Grill,pans and cutting boards cannot be 100% sanitized between dishes etc.

We use many products from Asia that have Asian characters on the description and whose quality and packaging differ from cases to case.

ZAO is in the process of developing a nutritional Database for our menu items, but have hit a stumbling block because of our Asian Products. Our Nutritionalist won't endorse them.

Therefore at this point, ZAO cannot offer a gluten-free menu to our guests in good faith.

This menu was only introduced at the U-Village unit, but I have made all GM's of ZAO aware of the complications that it has caused us.

Below is a clarification on the questions from your last e-mail:

* Tofu is NOT marinated in Soy, but IS Flashed fried in our fryer which constantly fries items which may/do contain soy. You can ask your server for fresh/raw tofu out of the package.

* Salmon is marinated in soy, but you can ask your server for an unmarinated piece.

I will be sending you a Comp card to your address this coming week in the hopes of your returning to ZAO soon.

Again, my sincerest apologies.

Thanks again for your concern and time,

Giancarlo Maranghi

Director of Quality Control

ZAO Noodle Bar

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True (about food coming from China)... I kind of took offense when he grouped all "Asian" ingredients rolled into one, because I'm Japanese and I know Japanese food manufacturers typically have high quality control standards. I used to work at a Japanese restaurant, too, and if you carefully work with a good supplier you get consistent quality ingredients. I think the bottom line is that they are aiming for lower cost by cutting corners.

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Just so it's known... the manager who said he would send me a comp gift certificate never sent me one. I guess he figured he scared me away. Still it could've been used by my family/friends -- how rude not to keep his words!

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