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Green Zebra
September 23, 2004 | 1 Comments

Green Zebra is probably the most-reviewed, most written-about restaurant of the year. I decided to let some of the hype die down a bit before giving it a try. It was difficult for me to wait very long, since I am a huge fan of Spring, Shawn McClain's previous endeavor. I finally gave in to temptation.

The Green Zebra concept is ambitious: a neighborhood cafe serving mostly vegetarian fare in appetizer-size portions. In less capable hands, the concept would come-off as a gimmick, but McClain, along with chef de cuisine Michael Bulkowski, is showcasing his abilities again, creating a menu unlike any other I have seen. There is nothing gimmicky about this place.

The vegetarian aspect of the menu became an afterthought very early in my visit. The menu is dominated by potatoes, mushrooms, beets, corn, rices, breads, cheeses, and more. Everything immediately sounded interesting when I made my first read. Many of the items carry Asian-influences in their descriptions, continuing McClain's work at Spring. The menu contains two chicken dishes and one salmon dish, all of which I wound up avoiding. (Note: This is a seasonal menu and will change).

Every item on the menu is served in an appetizer portion, and the selections are divided up into three areas, guiding the guest through a progression of lighter to heavier fare. Everything is sharable, and our waiter recommended 4-6 items for two people. We went for five.

From the first section, chilled organic beets, with mascarpone and port wine vinaigrette. This was a very nice start, as I love beets. They were fresh, soft and beautiful to look at. Delicate, chilled flavors and very bright colors.

From the second section, two items: sweet potato and ginger dumplings with fresh water chestnuts and star anise broth. I was surprised at the delicate flavors in this dish. I expected ginger and star anise to dominate as they are both strong flavors, but they mingled together to create some very interesting dumplings. Also, slow-roasted shiitake mushrooms in crispy potato. This dish was a masterpiece, served in small round slices like sushi rolls. Buttery, crispy slices of potato on the outside and delicious roasted mushrooms inside, served with wilted cabbage.

From the third section, two more items: chantrelle mushroom galette, which was a bit of a disappointment. Nice mushrooms and fresh corn served in a pastry shell, but it was missing something, perhaps a sauce. Also, sweet corn mezza luna (half moon ravioli) with baby red cabbage. I was least excited for this dish, but it turned out to be my favorite. The corn puree that filled the ravioli was sweet and fresh. This was truly a treat.

Green Zebra has a nice wine list with half bottles and a few glass choices. We washed all of this down with a couple glasses of a pinot blanc.

Dessert offers another section of interesting items, ports, sherries, teas, and French press coffees. We had blueberries in peach sabayon with roasted peach ice cream. Nice natural flavors, but an unimpressive dessert overall.

Looking back on the meal, there is one memory that stands out in my mind. You never forget that there is a real chef at work at Green Zebra. The ingredients are of the highest quality and prepared with a careful hand in a consistent fashion. The presentations are precise, interesting, and impressive. The flavors are delicate and mature, highlighting the natural flavors of the ingredients. The fact that meat is mostly absent is secondary to this experience.

The decor and service also bear mention. In these respects, Green Zebra truly feels like an extension of Spring again. A comfortable, calming environment and high-class service that didn't miss a beat.

Check out Green Zebra at 1460 W. Chicago Ave, 312-243-7100 and at www.greenzebrachicago.com. Reservations are recommended but they do claim to serve walk-ins. The price of menu items range from $8 - $15 for the appetizer-sized portions. Expect to spend a minimum of $30 per person.

If you have not tried Shawn McClain's seafood-dominated menu at Spring, it is also a must. 2039 W. North Ave., 773-395-7100, reservations recommended. www.springrestaurant.net.

Posted 08:35 AM
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