Even though this is the second restaurant I've had the chance to review, this is my first blog post. I was invited to Chicago Diner with very high hopes and I must say that it delivered on all fronts.
It would be a good idea to mention now that I'm not vegetarian nor vegan. I generally don't eat meat, but I would not put myself in the same category as a true vegetarian, and I love my cheese and dairy. With this in mind, I'll try to rate things two fold: how the food compares to its meat or dairy-based counterpart and how it compares with other vegan entrees based on my experience. On to the food.
I ordered a Rueben with sweet potato fries, a cup of chamomile citrus tea to drink and a piece of cocoa mousse cake for dessert. Oh, and we started with the mozzarella sticks.
The mozzarella sticks were out of the kitchen before we had ordered our sandwiches. Piping hot, they had excellent flavor, not at all greasy and, I must add, had a wonderful cheese-y ("cheese-y" since it was non-dairy) texture that your average mozzarella stick lacks. As a bar food staple, fried cheese sticks are generally pre-frozen and deep fried to order and therefore are usually bland, greasy, and kind of rubbery on the inside. Until I have a lightly fried home-made fresh mozzarella stick, I will hands down always pick vegan.
Upon first glance at the menu, I noticed that many if not most of the dishes contained more ingredients than their bar-food counterparts, or at least listed more in their descriptions. In seeing this, my impression was that to disguise the taste of seitan or tofu, or perhaps compensate for the lack of meat, extra flavor is added to other parts of the dish. Perhaps that's true, but after tasting the Rueben, it didn't really matter. As a meat eater, and have eaten excellent ruebens in the not-so-distant past, I had no idea that a vegan rueben could be so good. To me, and please if anyone out there who knows more about reubens than I do correct me, it seems that these sandwiches rely on their simplicity. Sometimes this can mean a kind of restaurant cop-out, where it's simplicity justifies a lack of effort on the kitchen's part, but, a truly great reuben contains the best corned beef and swiss around, really good rye bread, excellent sauerkraut and home-made thousand island. With a pickle spear on the side, no less. Compared to its meaty cousin, the Chicago Diner's version soars, and, for the most part, you don't miss the corned-beef. Despite this classic's simplicity, the diner's creativity produced one hell of a sandwich. The seitan was excellent and the dressings around it equally so (never had a reuben with green peppers though...). Had this sandwich contained corned-beef, perhaps the meat would have been crowded out by the complementing flavors bursting at the seams, but this composition worked perfectly. The sweet potato fries were delectable as well.
The cake was quite good and looked beautiful. Compared to other vegan baked goods, it was the best I've had to date. I haven't eaten much vegan cake, however. The frosting tasted a little like flat diet coke, but overall the textures were spot on despite the lack of dairy, and the cake's strong chocolate flavor came through well, but hey, with no dairy, something's got to give.
Overall, I give the Chicago Diner a happy - elated bunny rating. This place is excellent for any kind of eater, I highly recommend it. And, a great beer selection.