Sunday, October 16, 2011


After a long work week, I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner. Earlier in the month, I bought a groupon for a Japanese restaurant in my former neighborhood (I recently moved five blocks away - nothing major.) Making my way to the restaurant, I noticed how many places that were very accommodating to the gluten and dairy free diet - Italian, Indian, Mexican, and even the little grocery store where I was once asked where I was since I hadn't been in there for a month. One of the only restaurants left to try was a Japanese one.

The trick when dining out is having confidence. (More of my tricks are here.) I was going to be eating alone, which required confidence in myself on a different level. At home and work, I was used to eating in front of a computer. Now, I was going to be detached from the glare of a computer screen (my eyes were thankful) and instead enjoy good food with the company of a good magazine. After I was seated, I handed my waitress my Thai dining card from Triumph Dining and said that I was allergic to gluten (often I will say "allergic" rather than "intolerant" to place a little more weight on my requests). Apologizing that I did not have a Japanese card (I somehow lost it), the waitress thankfully said that she
was Thai so the card was perfect for the situation. She was able to read the information in Thai and took it back to the kitchen. Many of the sushi rolls also contained cream cheese so I was left to explain my dairy intolerance (no cheese, milk, butter, dairy but yes to coconut milk). They used imitation crab meat in the rolls I wanted, so that was going to be left out from my order. In the end, I ordered endamame (my absolute favorite - the saltiness of the hot vegetable sliding through my teeth is heavenly), rainbow rolls, shrimp rolls and asparagus rolls. I noticed the elegant wood chopsticks and had to politely ask for disposable chopsticks (the "cross contamination is everywhere" paranoia was kicking in and I was not taking any chances). This was a great confidence boost for me - I was able to accurately and effectively express my needs and have a safe, delicious, and very filling meal. I even tried new things (one of my first times consciously eating shrimp - I'm not a fan) and enjoyed treating myself to a dinner out. (Another secret to dining out gluten free with sushi? San-J soy sauce travel packs - I've seen them at Dominick's.)

Today after church, a friend and I wanted to catch up over lunch. He parked near Argyle and we were headed towards a tried and true restaurant where I had great service in the past. A brand new Thai noodle place caught our eye (there can be a lot of restaurant turnover in the area) and we decided to check it out. An empty restaurant translated into less stress over explaining my needs as our server was not juggling me and dozens of other guests. Before even opening my menu, I showed the server my card and she took it back to the kitchen. The curry dish seemed appetizing and it is my go-to when dining out Thai style - the coconut milk sauce is deliciously dairy-free and curry typically does not have soy sauce or noodles (in my experience). After taking my order back to the kitchen, the server reappeared and said that they could not guarantee that my food was gluten free. For some things, they did not know what ingredients went in them. That was a huge disappointment because there is a Thai grocery store in almost every other building that are loaded with fresh vegetables, packaged spices, and cans of coconut milk. This was not going to be as effortless as my sushi the night before. I asked if they could just cook some vegetables in oil and place on top of rice for me. The waitress (bless her heart), must have gone from our table to the kitchen half a dozen times before I was given a piece of paper that said "Dear Miss, Can you please write down what you can have. Can you have salt?" I wrote down rice, a list of vegetables cooked in oil, beef cooked in oil, and yes to the salt. Keep it simple. My order finally came out - a generous mound of rice with a large helping of broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, peas, carrots, and corn sauteed in oil on the side. I took a San-J soy sauce packet from my purse and called it a meal. Was it the best thing I ever ate? Hardly. Was I bummed that the kitchen didn't just create a dish like previous chefs have? Yes. Did I still tip well? Of course. Ultimately, this time the point of going out was to enjoy time with a friend and we accomplished just that.

This weekend marked three years since my appendectomy, when my dairy and gluten food intolerances were "turned on". At that time, did I picture that I would be quizzing waitresses on their sauces or be mindful of cross contamination and what touched wheat and then touched my food? Never. But I also never pictured that I would even have the confidence to be trying shrimp while eating sushi at a restaurant alone. I'm thankful that my food intolerances have shaped me into a more adventurous (but still cautious) diner.


  1. just stumbled across your blog and i want to say THANK YOU!! i am living a gluten-free, limited diary lifestyle and being new to chicago this blog will definitely come in handy!

  2. Thank you - and Welcome!!! There are a lot of great options for dining well with food restrictions in Chicago - plus plenty of amazing grocery stores to let you buy specialty products and fresh produce cheaply!