Green Zebra: Veggies in East Village

April 11 2007 - 4:53 PM

Green Zebra has been referred to as an “edgy veggie” restaurant in some review somewhere a couple years ago. My best friend from college is a vegan and doesn’t always have the chance to have vegan entrees in a fine dining restaurant. The atmosphere is sleek and contemporary, definitely not your neighborhood hippy-dippy vegetarian restaurant. The concept is wonderful and sorely lacking in meat-centered Chicago.

Before I make any commentary on this restaurant I’d like to say that this was my second time visiting (I was there a year and a half ago), and when I visited Spring (Sean McClain’s the other restaurant) almost two years ago I had one of the most incredible meals of my life. I haven’t been to Custom House but had a positive impression at both Spring and Green Zebra.

Now, about the experience. Some people are fussy regarding service.
I suppose I’m not, and maybe it was the three years I spent in Europe,
being used to having to beg for a human being but appreciating being
left alone at a table without a hovering server eager for a handsome
tip. Nonetheless, with a place like this I guess I expected to feel
somewhat welcome. When I walked in the door I felt like the hostess was
doing us a favor by even talking to us or sitting us down. I felt like
I shouldn’t have been there. Sorry for my business, but okay, everyone
has a bad day.

After being seated it took a while for the waiter to even take our
beverage order. When I asked for white wine recommendations he assumed
I wanted something sweet, as if I don’t drink dry whites. His
recommendation was good but it was a somewhat awkward conversation. We
were talking a lot at our table, and though it took a lot of time for
us to order our food it was still difficult to get someone to come to
our table. When the food came the person serving it to us wasn’t sure
who got what (this happened twice), and this is understandable at a
diner or the neighborhood BYO restaurant, but at this price point I
would have expected more attention to detail. The person serving it,
who wasn’t our server, couldn’t really explain what was what either.
Sometimes if you’re ordering something nice you like the server to
point out what is on the plate, especially if it is nouveau cuisine. We
had a vegan at our table and we had to flag down the server to find out
what items had dairy products and where it was on the plate.

To sum things up I interpreted this to be not solely the fault of
the individuals but management. I could very well be wrong and would
love to be challenged on this but I believe this place seems to have
slid downhill from the last time I was here, but I somehow got the
sense the staff was unhappy and disorganized. Anyway, I forgot to
mention the food and beverages.

Our beverages were phenomenal. The dill lemonade was fantastic, and
the glass of Austrian white was good as well (it was neither a riesling
nor a gruener veltliner but a crisp, medium-dry white). Once the server
finally got around to taking our order I first of all had beets with
horseradish butter and potatoes. Though the presentation was
interesting (and I really enjoyed the horseradish butter) I thought the
beets were just okay. My friend had shaved artichoke salad, with
preserved lemons and red pepper foam.

I decided on a foamy soup with lemon, fennel with candied fennel
seeds. The candied fennel seeds were a nice touch, and the soup was
excellent, though I do prefer my soup a bit warmer. The sunchoke
ravioli with melted goat cheese, hazelnuts, and dates was also good,
though perhaps without the “wow” factor I would have expected for the
Green Zebra price point.

My friend had slow roasted shittake mushrooms, with potato and savoy
cabbage, which was okay. The crisp chickpea pancake we ordered was very
delicious. We also had a satisfactory pan-seared rice noodles, ramps,
fennel, ginger and soy, along with rather chewy eggplant dumplings with
baby carrots, coconut, and lemongrass. For dessert we had pear strudel
with chai-infused tea, sorbet and caramel sauce. The millet cake was
one of my favorites, a taste perhaps not to everyone’s liking but a
nice savory cake with eggplant, parsnip, and blood orange.

Conclusion: I’d give the place one more try, albeit with suspicion.
Maybe the service had something to do with it, but honestly my
impression is that this place seems to be losing a grip on things. And
that’s too bad, because this is top-of-the-line for high-end
vegetable-oriented food in a neighborhood needing more variety. I
really would like to see a place like Green Zebra around for the long
haul, and it’s not a tired concept. Hopefully we went on an off-night
because there’s a lot that can be done to try to push the envelope in
this area, but it needs more innovation, better quality, as well as
happy and better-trained employees. For the category it’s in it gets a
C-.

Green Zebra
1460 W. Chicago
312-243-7100

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