About a year ago my best friend became a vegetarian. A fact I always forget, until I see her quietly removing the pepperoni from her pizza. When I asked her what the hardest part was about becoming a herbivore, she didn’t have too many complaints. Having moved to San Diego right around the time she made the switch, she said there are so many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in her area that she hasn’t faced too many challenges. However, in Chicago where hot dogs, meat-topped pizzas and steakhouses reign supreme, I imagine eating out would have been slightly more difficult.
While many restaurants in Chicago make an effort to accommodate vegetarians, ordering can become a game of detecting and dodging meat. Green Zebra offers vegetarian diners something different. Located in the eclectic West Town neighborhood, on Chicago and Ashland Avenues, this bright and contemporary space is chic yet inviting.
WHAT TO ORDER
Green Zebra only uses fresh, seasonal ingredients and their menu is constantly evolving. Each season, in addition to their regular menu, Chef Shawn McClain curates a chef’s tasting menu around one ingredient. While some staples do remain, don’t be surprised if you venture in, and the menu has shifted.
Schiacciata con L’uva
A non-traditional Tuscan focaccia, this rich bread is topped with succulent Concord grapes. While making the bread, the baker flattens the dough with his or her fingers to create grooves that house flakes of sea salt and rosemary olive oil. It’s an accessible and delicious take on an Italian favorite.
Fermented Beet Tartare
Tartare is typically made with raw fish and raw meat, but at Green Zebra the beet tartare is so convincing, it’s hard to believe it only contains fruits, nuts and veggies. The hearty beets are finely chopped, formed, and sit atop a creamy borscht yogurt. They are then adorned with candied pistachios, dill pollen and a dusting of raspberry powder. Who needs meat when there are beets?
Hen of the Woods Mushroom Pâté
The hen of the woods mushroom pâté is another mystifying dish that defies all logic. It gives its traditional foie gras and chicken liver counterparts some serious competition with its salty and savory notes. Served with raspberry mostarda (an Italian candied fruit and mustard condiment), shaved watermelon radishes and freshly baked bread, it’s a decadent way for diners to test the waters when feeling apprehensive about meatless dishes.
The Main Course
Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi
Sheep’s milk ricotta is folded into delicious little pillow-like dumplings to create this exquisite gnudi dish. Topped with Burgundy truffles, it has a delicate flavor that is highlighted by the accompanying Brussels sprouts, cranberries and a generous heap of shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese. One bite and this dish will be etched in your memory forever.
Spence Farm Poached Duck Egg
A Green Zebra staple, the Spence Farm poached duck egg is as beautiful as it is well balanced. A creative reinvention of eggs and toast, a perfectly poached duck egg is served inside a fort of golden brown, buttery toasted sourdough bread. Underneath the poached egg is a velvety smoked potato puree with sprigs of parsley. Try to resist the urge to lick the bowl.
Roasted Maitake Mushrooms
The “meatiest” of the courses, the roasted Maitake mushrooms are folded into layers of thick homemade soba noodles. Embracing their Japanese origin, they are dressed in lemon drop pepper, mushroom soy and shio kombu. The elegant ginger broth completes the dish. Its heartiness could make the most carnivorous of eaters question their palate.
The Sweet Stuff
Vietnamese Cinnamon Infused Fuji Apples
Sweet rye cake is at the base of this multifaceted dessert. Surrounded by cinnamon infused apples and topped with lychee sorbet and coconut pudding, the crunchy little clumps of toasted rolled oats add a rustic component. It’s light but filling and you won’t wish your pants had an elastic waistband because you over indulged.
Dark Chocolate Cake
A slightly heavier option, the dark chocolate cake is sumptuous. A crisp caramel pear sits on top and as if that wasn’t enough, it’s also served with a generous scoop of fruity cassis sorbet.
1460 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642
Featured Photo by Jeff Knauck