I had been anticipating this dinner for several years now. Green Zebra is known as one of the most innovative vegetarian restaurant’s in the country. And I have come to recognize that some of the most innovative cooking is coming out of Chicago. We shared a booth at the Green Festival with one of our vendors and he made reservations at this restaurant for all of us working the booth to enjoy post-show.
Chef Shawn McClain is the mastermind behind GZ and is also well-known for restaurant Spring in Chicago. Last year, he received the James Beard award for Best Chef Midwest. With such recommendations, we anticipated seeing how the evening would shape up.
Upon entering the restaurant the colors are cool as a cucumber, pale green with dark wood and chilewich accents. Classy. The decor is spartan, everything from palm fronds lighted to cast their zebra-esque shadows on the walls to a resin panel behind the small bar area.
Recently GZ was written about in a national newspaper for their interesting take on non-alcoholic beverages. Like most people, I enjoy a great glass of wine occasionally but really have to be in the mood. So, non-alcoholic drinks are more my speed. The list was impressive in its brevity. Rich and Romena ordered cilantro limeades, akin to a mock-mojito. I settled on a pink peppercorn thyme soda. Delish.
Eating at Green Zebra is progressive. Our server recommended ordering three plates per person and the menu moves from lighter, more delicate flavors to bold, rich ones. With four people dining, we enjoyed a smattering of the menu, listed below with brief commentary and asterisks by our favorite dishes. (Note: The menu changes rather often, since it incorporates fresh seasonal produce.)
Fresh Burrata Cheese, Meyer Lemon Gelee, Grilled Onion Relish
— Salty and similar to a buffalo mozzarella textured cheese, the relish resembles the flavors of a mediterranean tapenade. *
Roasted Beet Panna Cotta, Pecans, Rhubarb and Puff Pastry
— The panna cotta’s creaminess combined with the slightly sweet notes of the beet and the mildly tart edge of the rhubarb paired well with the deep, rich crunch of pecans.
Celery Root & Kohlrabi, Pickled Cucumber, Currants and Dill Vinaigrette
— Reminiscent of the flavors associated with a cole slaw, this app. had good crunch and the dill vinaigrette included a somewhat spicy French mustard with seeds, complemented well by the sweetness of the currants. Hands down, my favorite starter. *
Shaved Artichoke Salad, Parmesan, Preserved Lemons and Red Pepper Foam
— Of all the starters, this dish was ho hum. I did like the shaved raw artichoke with its crunch and the lemon made it fresh like a better version of a caesar salad.
Blue Cheese Beignets, Whole Roasted Pear, Bearnaise, Port Wine
The shape of hush puppies, these beignets are filled with blue cheese with a crispy coating similar to panko. The pear offset the tang of the cheese well. Tasty. *
Slow Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms in Crispy Potato with Savoy Cabbage
I woke up the morning after our dinner still thinking about these rolls. The mushrooms has an amazing flavor, somewhat buttery with the right amount of saltiness. Their chewiness contrasted well with the crisp potato coating. Outstanding. *
This was okay. Everyone liked this one a lot and I can’t really describe it well. It didn’t stand out.
Crisp Chickpea Pancake, Pinenuts, Basil and Marinated Black Radish
— There was nothing exciting about this. I could have made it at home (and maybe I will…)
Spiced Eggplant Dumpling, Baby Carrots, Coconut, Lemongrass
— It was just okay.
Turnip Risotto Cake, Foraged Mushrooms, Spinach Puree, Baby Turnips
— Yum, yum, yum. We were fork-fighting over the foraged mushrooms- they were rich and offset the creamy, grilled risotto cakes. The baby turnips had a good earthy flavor and bite.*
Roasted Squash & Apple Tart, Aged Blue Cheese, Shallot Compote, Black Pepper Syrah
— This was our favorite of the third course. The butternut squash (or it could be kabocha) gave a creamy sweetness that paired well with the slight crunch of the apples accompanied by bits of blue cheese. The syrah rounded out the flavors perfectly. *
Parmesan Gnocchi, Ramps, English Peas, Mustard, Morels
— The gnocchi was feathery and light with a slight parmesan sensibility. The sweetness and snap of the peas worked well with the ramps and the chewy morels.
Green Zebra is worth the time and expense. As Rich said, he didn’t realize he hadn’t had meat during the meal and didn’t miss it. Agnes commented if vegetarian food always tasted this good there would be no need for meat. We left full and happy.
GROUPS: small or intimate settings (one-on-ones)
NOISE: The music is kind of loud, but we didn’t have to shout at each other to be heard.
AMBIENCE: Intimate, romantic (dinner only)