Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Restaurant: The Chicago Diner

I spent this weekend in Chicago to watch the Chicago Cubs play their biggest rival, and one of my favorite teams, the Saint Louis Cardinals.

The clever billboard references the Saint Louis Arch both for the Cardinals and Budweiser. Although I don’t care for either beer, I like this better than suggesting you have to take off your skirt to enjoy a good beer. After the game, we headed across the street for a really good beer at Goose Island and tried a few varieties not available from our local grocer.

Before the game, we ate at The Chicago Diner, just a short walk from Wrigley. This restaurant was a top hit when I was searching for vegetarian food in Chicago. It’s popular and honored with many awards. I think the main reason we went was because Alex spotted their Reuben featured on the website. I just found out that he loves Reubens when he couldn’t get over the one he ate last weekend.

When we walked in late Sunday morning the place was packed with brunchers and lunchers. We stood by the door, awkwardly hovering over a table, trying not to be obtrusive, waiting to be seated, following the instructions on the sign. Reading reviews now, it sounds like others have commented on this as well, but there’s just no room to stand. It was a tight fit, but we were seated pretty quickly in a large booth with a view of the bar where they were making both milkshakes and cocktails. The whole place kept with the diner feel, both in appearance and menu, and I really dug it.

No surprise here: Alex ordered the Radical Reuben. This one is made with seitan sliced thin and made to look like corned beef. The diner says “while we don’t believe in serving meat, we do believe in great tasting food. The quoted words are a quick way to describe flavors & textures like mom used to make. There’s plenty of protein in grains/beans, even if described like ‘meat’ … it’s still veggie love.” They go on to define tofu and seitan.

Although they don’t say “corned beef” and I didn’t even know that’s what’s in a Reuben until Alex informed me, this sandwich has it piled high. It’s topped with sauerkraut, onions, peppers, and swiss cheeze, served on marbled rye bread with a side of vegan thousand island dressing. The seitan really made this special. There might have been a little too much of it for my taste (or more appropriately, for how wide I can open my mouth), but that’s not something worth complaining about when you can just take some off and enjoy it by the forkful.

The Radical Reuben, with a side of sweet potato fries.

When I look back over the menu now, there’s a dozen dishes I want to try, but when I was there I had my eye on the sweet potato quesadilla. This was good and was just what I wanted that morning, but it’s much more like something I can make at home. I had my choice, though, to get something more exciting… I guess I’ll have to go back. Either that, or try to mock up some of their dishes at home through nothing but the menu description!

My spinach tortilla was stuffed with mashed sweet potatoes, fresh spinach, seasoned black beans, marinated seitan, and vegan cheeze. It came with a side cup of salsa, and I opted to upgrade and get an additional cup of guacamole.

I’ve looked to see if I can find comments on their guacamole because it was really strange. At first I thought I got a bad batch, but it seems like they include a flavor I’ve never had in guacamole before. It was almost chemical, but Alex assured me he didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. After I ate more, I pinned this as a licorice flavor. I found other recipes for tarragon guacamole described as having a hint of licorice. That could be it – has anyone ever had anything like this? I should have asked about it.

Otherwise, my quesadilla was both humongous and delicious. I was hungry and I couldn’t finish it. The seitan was spongy like when I make it at home, but it was still well seasoned and very tasty. I think this dish would have been just as good without it, though. For all my talk of the guacamole, I should tell you that I ate most of it and nearly all my salsa. The salsa was especially good.

Although my photo doesn’t show it, I liked the colors in this dish: the orange sweet potato, the almost purple black beans, and the bright green spinach. This dish was a winner, and I can’t dismiss it just because I feel like I could make it at home. Maybe I should take that as a challenge!

Chicago Diner on Urbanspoon

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