Monday, January 13, 2014

Eating our way through Chicago

(Eating our way through Chicago)

Two days after the Polar Vortex

When we get invited out to eat by people we don't know, we often face the dilemma of when exactly do we tell them we don't eat meat - red, white or any other color. Or milk, cheese, eggs or anything that had a mother. (Fish included) We know there's something for us to eat at most all restaurants, except maybe Heart Attack Grill. The last thing we want is people apologizing all night because we ordered a potato and salad. It's the company that counts and we really do love salads and baked potatoes.

After arriving last Wednesday in Chicago, we quickly changed clothes to have dinner with some friends we met briefly in New Jersey in 2012. Viorica picked us up after work and we got to experience a snow clogged Windy City traffic jam. After finally getting to their house, we went with her family to the Romanian meeting. Chicagoans are a resilient lot, and not only was the meeting full, everyone was dressed warmly and so very chic - a combo I have yet to master. After the meeting, our hosts were ready to take us to dinner. At 9:00 pm. Thankfully it was only 7:00 California time, because we never eat that late. But we had to fess up then and tell them the no food that had a mother rule. No problem, their adorable daughter Lorena is a vegetarian. Whew! That was easy. They took us to a charming Greek restaurant that had several choices for us. It was a warm, cozy, loud and happy place where the owner greeted us and let Titus bring in his own Romanian brandy. Great food, great atmosphere and vegan choices. Joy.

Titus, Viorica, Lorena and me

Chicago then went from super cold with snow underfoot... raining cats and dogs and small rodents.

Friday night after a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, we wanted to treat the person who got us in free to pizza. Chicago should be crawling with deep dish pizza places, right? We got some really bad directions, some more really bad directions and tried smart phoning it. The skies were dumping water, the snow was melting and made crossing the streets a miserable experience - we were drenched and cold and hungry and dripping and did I mention cold? I finally decided I was going to ask a doorman, they are full of information. Well, he wasn't a doorman. He was just a guy standing in a doorway, but he ended up sending us to the most perfect place to warm up, dry off and chow down. We were so wet and sad when we walked in, the owner hugged me and said it was all going to be OK. It was warm and loud and fun and we ate Italian food. Ernst ordered a gigantic no cheese, no meat deep-dish pizza and he was in heaven. I ordered a salad and red wine and was pretty happy myself. While freezing once again waiting for a taxi, Ernst and Myra shared their leftovers with a homeless man - he even agreed that vegan pizza is not too shabby!

That's me, not the homeless man.
After a long day of work on Saturday, the Romanian family wanted to take us out again. That's always a good sign that we weren't too annoying the first time. Although all I wanted to do was crash into bed, I agreed to go. They picked us up with their daughter and another couple. They announced they were all in the mood for steak and had made reservations at a really great steak house. No problem, we said, we can have a baked potato and a salad. John said we could get chives on our potato to liven it up. Good idea, chives on a potato always are good. 

We pulled up to the restaurant. It didn't look like a steak house. It looked really minimalist and chic. They were all still talking about having their steaks. We walked in. It didn't smell like meat. On the shelf by the register was a book for sale, Soak Your Nuts. Then I knew where we were. I turned to them and said, This a raw vegan restaurant, isn't it? Those little sneaks with all their talk of steaks took us to non-hog heaven. It turned out there was cooked food there, but it was all vegan all the way. I could hardly concentrate on the menu just knowing nothing had meat in it, nothing. I decided to go all out and order from the R GF SF menu: raw, gluten-free and soy-free. Live dangerously, I thought. The food at Karyn's on Green was so good it was hard to wrap my head around it. So I wrapped my mouth around it.

Raw broccoli soup. 
Raw vegan tamales.
Raw key lime pie.
Ernst's dessert - cranberry cheesecake. He was a happy man.

So much for the steak house! Our hosts were adorable to surprise us with this restaurant, we know it would have been their last choice. When we got back in the van, Titus joked, So are we going to go have dinner now? We'll be back to Chicago in the summer and hope to try Karyn's two other places. Chicago, it really is our kind of town.