How many vegetarian restaurants do you know in Chicago? I can name about…5, and trust me, I’ve done my research.
Chances are, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan living in Chicago, you have heard of or been to Green Zebra – probably one of the most hyped up veggie restaurants in town. Sadly, I have to say that “Overhyped” would be the word I’d use to describe my GZ experience.
Nick and I have heard a mixed bag of reviews for Green Zebra, but most of them decent! All the dishes are priced around $12 a plate, and because the dishes run small, the restaurant recommends diners order 3-4 dishes each.
If you read Lucky Taste Buds, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of vegetarian and vegan food, even though I don’t have strict dietary mandates (love my seafood!), so I was SOOO excited about going to Green Zebra. What I love about the GZ concept is that it isn’t vegetarian food pretending to be anything. IT JUST IS. The chefs try to create an inspiring menu with non-meat options that have a unique spin by itself.
While I found the concept refreshing, the execution was poor on most of the dishes we ordered. Over-salted and over-greased seemed to be a recurring theme across all 6 plates.
Starter: Bread, Butter, and an Amuse Bouche
A waiter came around with a small metal basket of sliced crusty bread – you can choose between white or whole grain. I picked the nutty whole grain, which was delicious by itself with a crunchy crust and a soft chewy center. Paired with the butter cube topped with coarse sea salt, it was a perfect starter…and you can bet I asked for 2 more slices.
Amuse Bouche was a carrot salad that was in a vinegar dressing. Nick and I agreed this tasted exactly like pickled sweet and sour Chinese cucumbers you can get as cold appetizers in restaurants. In other words, DELICIOUS!!
My Dish #1: Grilled Mu Shu, eggplant, cucumber, spring onion, peppers, pickles $7
Tastiness: 4/10. ULTIMATE FAIL. I asked the waitress if she would recommend this, and she said she “likes it” kind of half-heartedly. I now realize she probably lied. The dish was made of a few components – 2 oiled and grilled wraps, 1 of which was soggy and had no grill marks (boo!), and 4 different vegetables. What the menu does not tell you is that you are literally eating sliced up kimchee from a jar, sliced pickles from a jar, and diced red peppers from a jar. The only exciting element was the curry flavored eggplant that MAY have been “cooked” at the restaurant. This dish was a slack-off and I was incredibly disappointed. I can DEFINITELY remake the same dish at home from grocery store ingredients, and there is no doubt that any one reading this can make a BETTER one that the dish I had.
My Dish #2: BBQ Black Eyed Pea Dumpling, hoisin, ginger, Chinese mustard, scallion $12
Tastiness: 5/10. The menu should have said: a sweet pot-sticker served with jarred hoisin sauce you can get from the grocery store for $1.49. I did not expect that the black eyed pea filling inside the dumpling to be so sweet and so salty all at once. The dish had 4 dumplings, 1 of which was soggy and mushed. The other 3 were fried well and had a dark crunchy char on the bottom. The skin of the dumplings were chewy and well-made, but everything was extremely greasy. What was more maddening was that the dumplings sat atop a boring thick hoisin sauce that made the dish even more salty than it already was. Let’s not even talk about the sad looking strips of green on top and stingy scattering of shelled edamame.
I’m half-annoyed by this point and asking for my third slice of bread. Don’t worry, the review only gets better from here because Nick had better dishes than I did.
My Dish #3: Slow Roasted Shittake Mushrooms, in crispy potato with savoy cabbage $12
Tastiness: 7/10. If you can look beyond how much oil and salt was used in this dish, this would have been quite a successful dish in terms of concept and execution. The mushrooms and cabbage were sautéed and wrapped in thin slices of potato. The whole roll is then fried to perfection, sliced into pieces, and topped with a light foam. While I found the level of salt in this dish appalling, Nick was able to rescue me and finish this dish while downing 3 glasses of water while he was at it.
Nick’s Dish #1: Sunchoke Ravioli, grilled leeks, medjool dates, preserved lemon, quail egg $12
Tastiness: 7.5/10. Sunchoke is a Jerusalem artichoke that has a sweet flavor. This dish was a compliation of 3 ravioli’s, boiled and served atop an INCREDIBLY sweet bed of leeks and dates. The mush was so sweet this dish could have passed as a dessert. The egg was perfectly cooked and placed atop the sweet ravioli to add some savory flavors into the dish. Nick enjoyed this dish, but probably wouldn’t be something he’d order again. The concept is definitely a win here!
Nick’s Dish #2: Creamed Spinach Filled Crepe, oyster mushrooms, confit artichoke, parmesan $14
Tastiness: 9/10. Both of us agreed this was the best dish of the night, on par with the scallops. The crepe was soft and fluffy, stuffed fully with piping hot spinach, and topped with an even layer of melted parmesan. The chef topped the crepe with a delicious concoction of fresh pan fried mushrooms and flavorful artichoke confit that I could NOT stop eating. I have no complaints about this dish…I just wish I had ordered it instead. And…I wish I took a better picture!!! Sorry guys.
Nick’s Dish #3: Maine Sea Scallops, braised wild mushrooms, yukon potatoes, pomegranate $17
Tastiness: 8/10. Two large fresh sea scallops were pan fried with the top slightly seared and the inside still soft, sweet, and chewy. The braised mushrooms and tiny cubes of potatoes decorated the center of the plate, and apart from (again), the over salty flavors of the elements, this was a delicious dish. Pomegranate was in the form of a SPECK of sauce on the side of the dish, which I found unsuccessfully implemented. Also, $17 is too much to pay for 2 scallops.
Taste: 2.5/5 (Hit or misses all the time…but mostly Misses)
Plating: 4/5 (Dishes were far better looking than they were tasting)
Value: 2/5 (A restaurant I’ll probably never go back to)
It sucks that I have to give mostly negative reviews of Green Zebra, but I honestly believe vegetarian can be done SO MUCH BETTER and I am incredibly disappointed. Nick and I filled up on pieces of bread and thank god the waiter took great care of our water glasses – making sure it was filled up 100% of the time. (Probably a good thing since salt content in the dishes were sky high)
A hit ratio of 2 great dishes out of 6 is hardly good at all, considering the menu is not large and 1/3 of it is a salad of some sort (anyone can throw some greens together, no culinary skills required). Green Zebra’s sister restaurant Spring was far more impressive, in my opinion.
Overall, it was a decent restaurant but I would not go back again. Both Nick and I felt our dishes were ALL over-salted and unnecessarily greasy. Perhaps the chefs felt that vegetables didn’t have enough flavor by itself and overcompensated by adding too much salt and oil. This approach may work for some diners, but not for Nick and I. Green Zebra is far better off NOT changing their menu all the time and making sure the ones on their permanent menu rocks.
For those who still want to/need to go: *My Green Zebra Tip* Dishes are hit or miss. Make sure you know what you’re ordering, ask for descriptions, and keep your mind open!
Have you ever been to a restaurant that you had high hopes for, but left utterly heartbroken??