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Green Zebra

By Erin in Food on Nov 28, 2005 1:00PM

2005_11_greenzeb1.jpgWoe is the vegetarian in a city known for its meat.

It's not that you can't find good vegetarian fare here in Chicago; you can. But rarely, if ever, are you going to find a vegetarian restaurant on par with the city's more standout hotspots such as Blackbird, to say nothing of one that is either 1) not ethnic or 2) one your meat-eating compadres will agree to visit.

Enter Green Zebra.

2005_11_greenzeb.jpgAlong with partners Peter and Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky, Shawn McClain is at the helm of this year-old West Town gem. The former executive chef of Trio and current owner of Spring, the Bucktown spot with a focus on New American taste with Asian influence, is being lauded by everyone in town and beyond, earning rave reviews for his food from vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

We spent an evening at Green Zebra recently in the company of one of Chicagoist's favorite vegetarians, just to be on the safe side. Being the pro-meat faction of this eating duo, we thought it fair to enlist the services of someone for whom such a bacchanalia of vegetarian fare is a thing to behold.

[Though Chicagoist couldn't get a single meat eater on staff to join in on the evening. Someone was overheard to say that if he was "... going to spend [his] hard earned money on food there'd better be meat involved."]

Green Zebra was a treat and did not disappoint.

The space itself is, predictably it seems these days, clean and unfettered, which is just as well with only 50 seats in the house. The room is angular though surprisingly spacious when you're seated. Large, impressive fronds stand guard at various locations in the room, picking up the green and khaki coloring of the room, which compliments the veggie-focused food nicely. It's really like a spa but without the fluffy robes and massage tables.

[We're really not complaining but we have to say it was nice walking into Carnivale two weeks ago and experience all of that color and frou frou. Chicagoist is just tired of the clean aesthetic and we'll say no more.]

Chicagoist started out the evening with Green Zebra's take on the California Roll, a coconut-vegetable-wasabi concoction that was nice but rather on the bland side for our tastes. Plus, dipping the little suckers into the citrus-flavored sauce was impossible if we hoped to keep the rolls intact. They were, like everything else at Green Zebra, beautiful to behold just the same.

2005_11_greenzeb4.jpgOur favorites of these small-plate wonders? The warm blue cheese cake with plum wine-concord grape reduction and hazelnut tuile. Chicagoist has deep, abiding, almost sacred affection for cheese but this was unlike anything we'd ever experienced. We're going to go so far as to say that it was sublime. Not to be missed. We really wanted to order another one.

Other highlights included the Greengold Farms duck egg with smoked potato puree, parsley and country sourdough; the artichoke cassoulet, with haricot vert, tomatoes, brioche, lemon balm hollandaise as well as the crimson lentil cake, with spiced shallot & red pepper jam, preserved lemon.

We had little to complain about. The service was fantastic and the staff was incredibly knowledgable, which helped because Chicagoist, even with our vegetarian companion, flew blindly into this evening. Not every dish wowed us but it mattered little since we'd never had vegetarian-focused food served to us so creatively and deliciously before. While it's a small-plate restaurant, you can't beat the price -- as of right now, Green Zebra's most expensive item is $15. Chicagoist got out of there spending around $100 total for six small plates and two glasses of wine for two people.

As far as atmospheric conditions at Green Zebra they are, to use a nice word, a challenge. Don't plan on waiting at "the bar" if your friends are running late. Chicagoist was stuck there waiting for our dining companion and felt so incredibly in the way, despite the bartender's best efforts to make us feel at home. There are no stools and there is certainly no waiting area. We can't give you a definitive idea on what to wear either, which isn't a bad thing. The crowd ranges from your typical hipsters to your business-suit types and there doesn't seem to be a standard dress code though business-casual looks to be the rule. One half of Chicagoist wore dark jeans, stiletto boots and a sheer black shirt; the other an A-line skirt, sweater set and pearls. Both attires blended in with the crowd.

Green Zebra is surprisingly unassuming and quaint, a must for any foodie, veg or not.

Green Zebra, 1460 W. Chicago ave., (312) 243-7100