From Too Many Chefs -

April 18, 2005
Open Letter to the Chicago Diner

Dear Chicago Diner,

I've enjoyed your food for almost 15 of your 22 years. You've served up delicious vegetarian and vegan options ever since the opening of the place. The flavors and aromas and appearance of your food is wonderful, and I will probably continue to eat at your restaurant as long as I'm in Chicago.

However, there is one thing you just don't seem to understand. Temperature. I've noticed this in a lot of vegetarian restaurants. I understand that many veggies and meat substitute products don't retain heat the way a big hunk of cow will, but this is a restriction you've chosen to deal with. Without meat in the kitchen you get a much easier time of it as far as sanitation goes, so spend some of that time that extra sanitation chores would take up heating up your food.

Why do I raise this issue again? Well, I made a little bit of a stink about a year ago when my wife ordered a dish that had acorn squash in it. Turns out the frost was on the squash and the food she got had frozen acorn squash still in it, still in its frozen state. I figured it was an aberration, but it wasn't.

Last night, we ordered smoothies and my smoothie was about 60-70 degrees. It tasted fine, but the temperature was a little disturbing. OK, fine, it's a minor annoyance but nothing out of control. When my wife's entree arrived last night (a vegetable casserole/stew dish), it was just above body temperature as was the rice served with it. She sent the dish back to be warmed and after about fifteen minutes (during which she had some of my perfectly hot lentil loaf and mashed potatoes), it came back with the rice on the dish piping hot and the stew at exactly the same temperature as before. Maybe you like stews that are cooler than your morning shower, but most people don't.

This isn't an unsolvable problem. Not only top vegetarian friendly restaurants like Charlie Trotter's but the Heartland Cafe and Amitabul seem to have no problem keeping the hot dishes hot and the cold dishes cold. Why does the Chicago Diner have this issue?

You're a well respected national vegetarian restaurant and tremendously influential in the community. You have a cookbook I use frequently (and from which I make dishes that are both HOT and COLD). Check your heating lamps, get a microwave - do something! There's nothing worse than great food served at the wrong temperature.

I think next time, I'm ordering any food we get from you to go so we can take it home to heat or chill it to the proper temperature before eating.


P.S. We'd also love it if you bring back the Tempeh Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. That was a favorite of ours.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at April 18, 2005 8:48 AM | TrackBack

Zing! I'll be interested to see if they respond to you in a positive way. Some of the local establishments could use a gentle nudge like this, as well. I usually just say something, nicely, to the server since I waited tables for many years. I'm never sure that it really goes where it should go. Management and ownership.

At least you didn't have the Wendy's chili problems. That would be far more disturbing

Posted by Bryan on April 19, 2005 at 4:50 PM

Ah well said!

The only thing that concerns me is that they might decide to use their microwave too much. I think the microwave oven is the bane of the restaurant industry. Too many dishes have been destroyed by the microwave. (Crisps are made uncrisp; pastries are turned soggy...)


Posted by ejm on April 20, 2005 at 3:11 PM

Where is Chicago Diner anyway??

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 22, 2005 at 3:14 PM

It's on Halsted just north of Roscoe in the middle of "Boys Town". Ample parking available...

Posted by barrett on April 22, 2005 at 5:12 PM

Greetings and thanks for posting this feedback. I apologize we only recently became aware of this message posted in April.

Ensuring quality preparation & excellent service is always of the highest importance. While regrettable than any lapses should occur, we appreciate getting this kind of assistance from our customers, as it helps us focus our attention to specific areas of concern.

I've shared your comments with the entire management team & we are working with our kitchen & dining room staff to prevent future recurrences. Please check your email for a message from us; we would like to send you a gift certificate in the hope that you can be coaxed to give us another opportunity to serve you.

Finally, thank you for supporting vegetarian dining. We strive to offer a satisfying array of meat-free cuisine. It's committed individuals like you who have increasingly promoted awareness & acceptance of vegetarianism in an extremely meat biased society. Please check our website for our current menu, daily specials & vegan desserts that will truly shock & awe!

Del Nakamura
Marketing Director
Chicago Diner, Inc.

Posted by Del Nakamura on August 25, 2005 at 1:31 PM

Del, thank you so much for responding. It won't take much nudging to get me to go eat at the Diner. I'm a big fan.

I'll make a point of checking it out this month and posting a reconsideration of the open letter.

It's always encouraging when a favorite place considers the well-intentioned feedback from its cutomers. No need to send a gift certificate, I'll be back.

Posted by barrett on August 25, 2005 at 1:41 PM