On my first trip to Chicago with Zach a couple of years ago, he suggested we go to Green Zebra, but at the time, there were few, if any, vegan options. Fast forward to today and you'll see that they are very vegan-friendly. I had always heard good things about this restaurant and was anxious to check it out.
Green Zebra was opened by Chef Shawn McClain in 2004, but at the time it was not a vegetarian restaurant though I also believe it wasn't a very meat-heavy restaurant either. About a year and a half ago, it became 100% vegetarian and is now also vegan-friendly.
I convinced a friend of mine who isn't vegetarian to go with me to get his thoughts on the cuisine so we headed out in search of the Green Zebra. In the dark, the restaurant is hard to find as there is no visible sign from the street. Once close though, I did see their logo on the window. We almost missed it entirely! Luckily, at least their address is clearly posted.
When you first enter, you walk up this ramp to the main dining area. The restaurant is pretty small, but well organized and there is a small bar at the front, which is pretty much in the dining area. For such a small space, I think they did a great job maximizing the space. On the walls, there is this unique artwork by Ashley L. Lieber that is made of live moss. They are all from the same artist and are all for sale. You just have to spray each one often to keep it alive. Interesting.
We sat close to the bar and began looking at the wine menu. We chose a bottle of Givry 1er Cru, Le Petit Pretan, Besson, Burgundy, France for $62. This was a very light wine, in fact, a bit too light for my liking, but it was fine.
We both decided to go with the 5-course tasting menu. I went with the vegan version while my friend went with the only other option -- vegetarian. We were both served an amuse bouche of Moroccan spiced popcorn to start, which we enjoyed.
My first course was a salad off the menu made of arugula, cooked cauliflower, pumpernickel croutons and a citrus dressing. It was very unique and had some great flavors.
The second course was a black bean pozole that had black beans, corn, shaved radish, and cilantro. This soup was spectacular. I don't think I've ever had yellow heirloom hominy corn, but it was harder than your typical corn and was perfect for this dish. The shaved, crinkled radish went well as well. Superb!
The third course was my favorite -- the crispy sweet potato dumplings. These were dumplings were filled with sweet potatoes and deep fried served with honeycrisp apple sticks, walnut-sage pistou, and crabapple ketchup. Delicious!
The fourth course was warm soba noodles with crispy turnips along with a cashew cream. It was okay, but paled in comparison to the other dishes.
For dessert, I was served a rice pudding with some sort of shaved ice on top. It tasted like sour lemon shavings. I didn't particularly like the dessert.
I'm really glad I was engaging in interesting conversation with someone, otherwise, I think this review would have been worse as the service was not very attentive. I was too engaged to be completely annoyed, but there were two things in particular that I didn't like -- one was that we had to pour our own wine because we rarely saw the server and the other was that the server barely said anything about the dishes. Most of my dishes were off menu or completely modified to be made vegan and he didn't even take the time to tell me about them.
Besides that though, I did have a good experience there. My friend liked all of his dishes and I enjoyed most of mine. So although the service is lacking, the food is pretty good. At $55 for the tasting menu, I think it was priced appropriately. I just hope the service improves on my next visit.
1460 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642