I can think of other times in my life when the sight of a hotel lobby welcome table overflowing with pastries would have been the source of either tremendous glee (Yippee!) or gripping terror (Lord, please grant me the strength to keep walk…wait, are those marble chocolate brownies..?!?).
But this past weekend, when I checked in to the Chicago Sheraton for the much-anticipated BlogHer ’13 annual conference, I barely glanced sideways at it on my way to the elevator. For as soon as I dumped my luggage off in my room, I was off to explore the area around the Magnificent Mile for my first gluten-free test run outside the comfort of my East Coast hometown, and newly-pimped-out GF refrigerator.
Huh, I thought, about a mile into my trek. Chicagoans must eat a boatload of subs and sandwiches. Not one, not two, but three coexisting on a single block, virtually side-by side…
When I glanced down the next street to see more of the same, I started to wonder whether I’d turned down the wrong block. Maybe I should head back. My stomach, which had long blown through the fresh fruit, trail mix and protein bar I’d packed for my early AM breakfast and snack aboard the plane, was starting to grumble. I checked the time on my phone. It was, by now, what me and my daughters refer to as the fuzzy linner hour. Too late for lunch, but also way too early for dinner, at least for anyone under 70.
But I wasn’t worried. By now a seasoned pro at sniffing out a gluten-free oasis in even the most barren of food landscapes, I knew I’d luck up on something soon if I kept my eyes peeled.
And then, like a bubbling spring in the desert, there it was: Arami-Go, a fast-casual Japanese restaurant wedged in between all the sandwich shops on East Ohio Street, which I almost walked past. (A little sign verbiage would have been helpful, but whatever; see pic above.) My mood immediately brightened, as anytime I see the words Japanese and bento on a restaurant storefront, I know I’m going to be able to make it work, and delectably so.
Sure enough, it was as simple as asking: “Hey, how can I make any of these bento boxes gluten free?” Many Asian entrees are rice-based and adaptable, even if not specifically marked, so I didn’t let the absence of “GF” anywhere on the menu faze me. In the case of the salmon bento meal, all I had to do, explained the server, was order it without the house tare sauce (which contained a wheat-based soy sauce). Plus, sushi-lover that I am, I never travel without my own gluten-free soy sauce…
…so I was covered either way. (How adorable – not to mention convenient – is the little fish container with reusable cap? No waste!)
In the end, I wound up with an absolutely scrumptious meal, complete with perfectly cooked brown rice, deliciously sweet house pickles, a fresh plum vinaigrette, and a spicy tofu salad that was to die for. Not to mention the grilled salmon so tender and flaky I could barely get it to stay on the fork. (Note that even without the salmon, though, this would have made a perfectly filling and satisfying vegan meal with the addition of a few more choice veggies like sweet potato, baby bok choy or asparagus atop the rice.)
So forget everything you’ve heard about deprivation and lack. This, my friends, is the face of today’s gluten-free lifestyle:
The place probably had excellent sushi, too, but I never got that far. (How did THAT happen?) I was so smitten with this particular bento box meal, I kept going back for more throughout my entire stay. So who knows what other fabulous GF-friendly neighborhood eateries I may have missed out on?
No worries. I’ll be back to find out. (Next mission: finding the best gluten-free, deep dish pizza the Windy City has to offer. If you know where one is, please share!)
Thank you, Chicago!