The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Chicagoist, NYT: We Love Green Zebra

By Margaret Lyons in Food on Aug 4, 2004 2:36PM

2004_08_04.zebra.gifWhoa, crazy brainphone between Chicagoist and the New York Times—both of us are all about Green Zebra today. Chicagoist was there last night, and lookie lookie who's got a review of it today. Crazygonuts.

Green Zebra is the latest endeavor from Spring's Shawn McClain, and the mostly vegetarian fare is, in a word, spectacular. Chicagoist is over the moon for this fancypants veggie and vegan-friendly menu, which is on the expensive side of affordable but the cheap side of four-star.

The tasting menu is organized in three sections, which our extremely knowledgeable and helpful server explained patiently and thoroughly, and diners are theoretically supposed to pick one dish from each section. McClain designed a three-course menu, but the dishes are substantial enough that two are more than enough. The selection emphasizes seasonal, organic, and regionally-grown items, but "Green Zebra makes neither political nor health claims, which is refreshing."

2004_08_04.starter.JPGGreen Zebra is upscale and classy but also very simple. Much in the way Spring is exquisitely minimalist, the Zeebs is also streamlined, if less pretentiously so. Everyone's meal begins with four tiny starters: white popcorn tossed in garam masala, shucked edamame beans, Moroccan-spiced peanuts, and pickled wax beans. Those four set the tone for the rest of the meal—they're delicious, vaguely familiar, fresh, elegantly presented, but also kind of irreverent and fun. (Sorry for the shitty pics, but we didn't want to be those douchebags using a flash in an otherwise pretty dim restaurant.)

2004_08_04.avocado.JPG2004_08_04.soup.JPGWe started with the avocado panna cotta, with tomato gelee, creme fraiche and sweet corn chips ($9), which appears to be a press favorite, and for good reason. Its unique, delicate texture paired and its potent, earthy tastes were totally unexpected, but maybe that's just because we eat Rice-A-Roni like, every day. We also had the chilled cauliflower soup, with purple cauliflower and creme fraiche ($9), which, let it be known right now, we want to be buried in. The presentation alone knocked our socks off—we were served a shallow bowl with a clump of purple cauliflower and a dollop of creme fraiche in the middle, and then our server, armed with a white teapot, filled the bowl with the chilled soup. Squee! Presentation points! Both of these first-section dishes were fantastic; complex and delicately executed, flavorful but unpretentious.
(more tasty treats after the jump)

2004_08_04.creme.JPGAfter the first course, we hit the slow roasted shiitake mushrooms in crispy potato with savoy cabbage ($12) and fennel risotto cake, crisp parmesan, preserved lemon and syrah reduction ($11), which were both surrounded by foam. In a good way. The syrah reduction was incredibly subtle, and the mushrooms were wrapped in salty goodness. At this point, Chicagoist was most definitely hitting the chowtime rumble-strips, and we can eat like champs, so trust your server when they tell you that each dish is approximately half an entrée. Two courses leaves room for dessert, too, which we availed ourselves of: little creme brulees? We are so there.

We counted two other tables with birthday candles in their desserts and a handful of other groups were toasting/taking photos, etc., and that air of celebration seemed appropriate. Green Zebra's not going to be our new everyday stop; even if we could afford it, there's a limit to how often you can eat pickled wax beans. But that's the whole point of the restaurant, its menu, its décor, its premise: it's unusual, and might be best appreciated as such.