Green Zebra

Chicago, Illinois


rating star

My husband and I are both vegan. On a recent trip to Chicago, a vegetarian friend and her omni husband suggested eating there, so we did.

The veg food at Green Zebra looked really good, but the vegan options were more limited and less exciting. This was a tapas-style menu and a prix fixe option-- my husband got one and I got the other.

Between us we had the Tuscan Kale salad (okay), another salad with frisee (better IMO but I can't recall exactly what else was in it or what it was called), heirloom summer bean chili with roasted poblano peppers (sweet, spicy and pretty good), Nichols Farm Summer Squash Hash (also pretty good), Country Flatbrad with tomato jam and some veggies (pretty good too) and three side dishes to share around the table -- Foraged Maitake Mushrooms, Roasted Summer Squash, and Sauteed Pole Beans. The mushrooms was the best of these side dishes, tasty but very salty. Dessert was Key Lime Angel Food Cake with Avocado Ice Cream-- nice but not wow.

In fact, that would be my verdict about Green Zebra-- everything was solid but nothing was stellar. The food was pretty good, but not enough to justify the cost of dining there, at least for us vegans. I think our vegetarian-dish-eating friends fared better, but as a vegan, considering the cost, I'd have to give this three stars and recommend going to The Girl and the Goat instead.

rating star

I had an amaziiinggg dinner at Green Zebra.

To start, I had the couscous salad, which was a little bland, so I wasn't too hopeful for the rest of the meal. But MAN, I had the black bean dumplings and they were AMAZING. I was even a little sad when I got to the last one. My mom had the mushroom risotto and she said it was really tasty (it looked pretty too). We shared the chickpea tanjin, which really good too. Like, REALLY good.

But the best was definitely last. We ordered the only vegan dessert, a coconut sorbet with tapioca. I doubt anyone would be able to tell that the coconut sorbet was vegan. I also had the coconut oolong tea with it, which made it even better.

The bill was really high--$90 for two people. But we both agreed that it was worth every cent.

rating star

I really, really hate this place. It's pretentious as all get-out, they even make a big deal about giving you your complimentary appetizer. Then they charge you an arm and a leg for the blandest, smallest dishes you will ever see.

The worst part, though, is all the adoring newspaper writeups you see about how it's a vegetarian Mecca, how it's redefining vegetarian cuisine, etc. Unless you count doing its best to further the "chicken and fish are plants, not animals" idea, it's not redefining anything.

If you find yourself thinking about going here, you should instead go to a decent vegetarian restaurant (perhaps the Diner) and then burn a couple 20-dollar bills. You can find better vegan food at any vegetarian or vegan restaurant in the city, and it'll be much cheaper. Frankly, the only reason this restaurant hasn't closed its doors yet is that people automatically praise anything expensive. Ultimately i hope there will be an expensive, haute cuisine vegetarian restaurant in Chicago that's actually good (heck, the Millenium is already doing that in San Francisco, and doing it well) but this isn't it.

rating star

Wow. This place is tied for the best meal I've ever had in my life. I think we had 9 courses... all of them were excellent, but the spaetzle really stood out. The cocktails were equally amazing, and the ice cream tasting was perfect (basil ice cream, who knew!?).

My only complaint would be that the service was a little inconsistent. The place was packed (seriously, the tables are very close together--you will get to know the people next to you), so maybe they were just a little flustered, but I feel like there's not much excuse for that with the price tag. The food more than made up for it, though!

Image for conde.kedar

rating star

Green Zebra is the closest thing to Candle 79, Horizons or Millennium that Chicago has to offer. GZ is modern, romantic, expensive (though not nearly as expensive as the three aforementioned places), fusion-y, and full of artfully-presented meals on square plates. The menu uses words like "reduction" and "emulsion."

That said, I'm not sure why they insist on always offering one fish or chicken dish, and I'm not sure why the menu is so heavy on eggs. The vegan food here almost seems like a hasty afterthought.

About a third of the menu can be made vegan. Strangely, these dishes are marked with a (V), but ARE NOT vegan by default. The "V" just means that the dish can be made vegan. Make sure to tell your server if you're vegan, otherwise you'll end up getting a dish you thought was vegan, but in fact contains dairy or eggs. The menu is confusing in this regard.

To start I had a green papaya/hearts of palm salad ($10) which was decent, but didn't stand out in any way. The distinct flavors of the green papaya and hearts of palm seemed to jumble together into a mish-mash of tartness.

For main courses I had the "slow-roasted shittake mushrooms in crispy potato with cabbage" ($12) and the "sweet potato dumpling with pecans and mandarin oranges" ($13). The shittake dish was tasty at first but seemed to become saltier and saltier the more I ate. When I looked closely, I could see salt crystals still sitting atop the sushi-shaped rolls. I thought the cabbage was a nice touch and the shittake mushrooms were prepared well and made to melt in your mouth; but the salt became overwhelming by the end.

My sweet potato dumpling dish was, however, excellent and the highlight of the meal for me. The dumpling shells were somehow simultaneously crispy and soft, filled with a creamy sweet potato puree, which mixed perfectly with the tiny, soft orange slices, all of which created an intriguing mix of savory and sweet flavors, done subtly.

For dessert I had their only vegan option, a mini slice of chocolate cake with banana sorbet and caramel sauce ($8). The chocolate was too subdued for my taste (but nicely moist). But sandwiched between the chocolate were nicely-salted layers of peanut butter/cream that crunched in your mouth like tiny, delicious crystals. I've never experienced a texture like that and was amazed by it, actually. The dessert wasn't perfect, but it came together on a whole and was worth it for the novelty value of the peanut cream alone.

I found the service here to be mixed. My water was always kept filled by busboys, but my waiter was sullen and not very helpful. Toward the end of the meal, another server randomly took my dessert order, and she was far friendlier, so maybe I just had bad luck with my original server.

This is a great place to take a date. Most of the people there seemed to be celebrating an anniversary or a birthday or something special. All the men wore blazers and all the women looked like they just came off a catwalk in Milan.

I think the biggest draw of Green Zebra, aside from its upscale atmosphere and unusual food, is the prices. The dishes here are innovative (if not always made perfectly) and edgy. At $12-15 a piece, they're actually quite cheap for what they offer and the portion sizes are pretty good. Dishes like these in New York or San Francisco would easily cost 50% more and don't necessarily taste better. I'm impressed that Green Zebra is able to be so affordable, actually.

If the restaurant were more vegan-friendly, and the dishes were more consistent in their quality, I'd give this place one more star. As it stands, this is the the most upscale vegetarian food that a city of meat and potatoes can produce. (If you're looking for an all-vegetarian place in Chicago that's sort of posh, Karyn's Cooked is your other best bet).

rating star

Gotta let you guys know: If you're a vegetarian or vegan, eating at the Green Zebra is not ethical.

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I met the owner of the Green Zebra, Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky. She was over at one of her other restaurants. It's called Custom House and it's on Dearborn.

I don't usually like to publicly whip people but I gotta say -- How the hell do you own a Veg restauraunt and a place across town that serves veal and foie gras? WTF?!?!

Don't eat at the Green Zebra if you think it's ethical or compassionate. Voting with your dollars has zero effect when it goes into the coffers of the Drohomyrecky clan; who would cut up and serve a baby Koala Bear's spleen if it had a good profit margin.

In the interest of full disclosure I'll let you know I've eaten here twice. Never again.

Image for Lola

rating star

Initially, I had very high hopes for Green Zebra. In my mind it would fill the high-end vegetarian restaurant void in Chicago (with the possible exception of Karyn's) and I thought that perhaps it would even help to promote vegetarian dishes as an alternative to the filet mignon culture that pervades much of this city.

Unfortunately I was wrong. Instead of attracting people who are concerned with animal welfare, Green Zebra seems to have become a hip hangout of 20-something yuppies.

For a "haute cuisine vegetarian restaurant," I am surprised by the dearth of vegan items on the menu. Although almost any dish can be made vegan, most of the vegetarian dishes are so reliant on the cheese and creme ingredients for flavor that it isn't really worth ordering them vegan-ized. While I understand the business sense of offering a few organic meat options in order to appeal to a wider audience, I resent the fact that Green Zebra does so AND still manages to call itself a vegetarian restaurant.

That said, Green Zebra does have something to offer for those who have the cash. The trio of salads is exquisite, even after leaving the parmesan cheese off of one of the salads. The sweet potato dumplings are vegan without any modifications and have a delicious hint of floral aroma. The best item on the menu is by far the ginger cake with banana soy ice cream. Although it's the only vegan dessert on the menu, it's also the only item that I felt was fully worth the $7 that I paid for it.

Note: I wrote the above review about 3 and a half years ago. My opinion of Green Zebra has since changed considerably (as reflected in the current rating). Everything that I mentioned above is still true (Green Zebra continues to have limited vegan options and to be overrun by yuppies).

However, I have come to the conclusion that the vegan food at Green Zebra is considerably better than you would find at any other "vegetarian" restaurant in Chicago. The food is innovative and, most importantly, never tries to imitate "normal" food by replacing it with soy products. The emphasis is on the wonderful flavors of the vegetables and fruits, which are cooked in unusual combinations and served with delicious sauces. For this reason, Green Zebra is a great place to take non-vegan friends and family.

One new food recommendation: even if you normally love a good cocktail, I would recommend trying the soda "tasting" instead: the waiter brings 3 or 4 exotic-tasting carbonated beverages in small cups (my favorite is the pink peppercorn thyme soda). It's fun to enjoy a tasting menu of drinks with a tapas-style meal.

rating star

I had been meaning to get here for the longest time, and I finally did to see what the story was. I wasn't sure what to expect, except that I had high aspirations for the price I was about to pay.

My overall impression is that I think the place is OK, but not anywhere I will be returning to. The service was actually a bit more lethargic than I would have liked because I was seated with my dinner companion and left for at least 10 minutes with a rather opaque menu -- what's good? what's vegan?

Of the three courses I had (they are all tasting size btw), only one was really impressive: sweet potato dumplings in a dandelion miso broth. I also had a celery-apple soup, which was pretty good, and a series of lentil cakes, which were a bit too spicy. Only one of the desserts was able to be veganized when I ate, a persimmon cake.

I'm largely indifferent to this place, so it means I probably won't be going back.

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