Gourmet Vegetarian – Small Plates at Green Zebra

Winter in Chicago is a fine time for trying new restaurants; we have a total of three different “Restaurant Weeks” going on in January and February–Chicago Originals, North Shore Restaurant and Chicago Restaurant Week, which begins February 18. Frankly, with my suburban location and a five year old I can’t always participate in these great deals, but that’s what I have Groupon for. My most recent culinary adventure came courtesy of that Chicago-based company, because I had to use my discount at Green Zebra last week-or lose it.

Green Zebra is an upscale vegetarian restaurant, decorated in a contemporary manner with bamboo and ferns that create cool textured shadows on the ceiling. It’s small, lively and dimly lit (hard to get good photos in this place without a flash, which seems to disturb the ambiance!), and I had a bit of trouble getting a reservation on an evening immediately after the Big Blizzard of 11′–fortunately, someone had cancelled. A sign asks you to shut off your cell phones, and you can check your coat in at the front counter.

I think of my desire to eat at Green Zebra as an attempt to drag my husband, kicking and screaming, into a more adventurous world of food. His diet is what he’s dubbed “truck-driver vegetarian”-all the bread, cheese and grease you can eat, just without the meat. He’s a big guy, over six feet tall, so I think the idea of small plates makes him a bit nervous, wondering if he’ll get enough to eat. He’s also a creature of habit, and likes to visit the same restaurants over and over again. But, because he knows how much of a foodie I am, I can occasionally introduce him to something new, and he likes it. Or at least, he tells me he does. That’s how I know he’s a good husband.

I will say we actually ate pretty lightly. Our waitress said that a good meal of small plates usually consists of three or four plates per person, but between us we had five plates and a dessert selection.

We started out with two cold plates, Hen Of The Woods mushroom pâté with date mostarda and pumpkin seed brittle, and a Riesling poached seedling farm pear salad with feta, mint, almonds and citrus. I loved the pâté, which was very flavorful yet mild. Even after the bready bits were gone I just ate the stuff with a knife (see how sophisticated I am?). The pear salad was less successful for me, mainly because the pear was so soft, but again the flavors were vibrant.

Next, we had a roasted pumpkin soup with whipped creme fraiche, Thai basil, pepitas and garlic, along with a small mound of fettucine, basil, pistachio, giardiniera, garlic and parmesan cheese. Both dishes were delicate and well-done. The pumpkin soup was sweet and creamy, and the fettucine, although you might think it a fairly simple pesto-style pasta, was accented with these marinated carrots (the giardiniera, I imagine) that helped to elevate the dish into something special.

We also had spiced hush puppies with seven-year cheddar. I was a little hesitant to order this, because my experience with hush puppies to date has been in Long John Silvers’ Fish & More meal, and they were eaten with ketchup. But the guy at the table next to ours, who was also using his Groupon, assured us it was an amazing dish, and he was right. Basically, hush puppies here are these little balls of fried dough, with some cheese melted on top. I think I might come back just for those.

After that we decided we were still hungry, so we decided on the dessert plate, which seemed big enough to satisfy whatever was left of the hunger pangs in each of our bellies. We were right. The plate was a chef’s selection that included three homemade sandwich cookies (chocolate chip and peanut butter, chocolate and mint, and ginger and maybe vanilla, I think), a cupcake and a doughnut, complete with hole. These desserts were rich enough to complete our meal with a flourish.

I almost forgot what was my favorite discovery of the night, something called a pink peppercorn thyme soda. This was a lovely little concoction that was just enough carbonated without being fizzy, with a clean and crisp and unusual flavor. I loved it. I would go back just for another taste.

We both enjoyed our meal immensely, although my husband admitted that he could have used a heartier meal after the long day he’d had. Personally, I found the amounts perfect, but I am about a foot smaller than my husband and he runs half-marathons regularly while I sit around and stare at my elliptical machine as though it was going to do something interesting.

I will tell you what I think is the greatest strength of Green Zebra: its chef, Shawn McClain, knows how to put flavors together, whether it’s to complement another flavor or to accent it. Every dish we tried included some unexpected little zing of something that just made it exciting. I love food, but I’m a newbie when it comes to food culture. I’m out of my element when I go to places like this. Nevertheless, the restaurant had me discussing flavor combinations as though I knew what I was talking about. It’s the kind of place where you can’t help but talk about the food, because it’s the type of place that makes you think about the food. It makes you consider the ingredients separately, and together. That in itself makes Green Zebra special.

Honestly, this is a place that’s a bit out of my price range for regular nights out. But I’m already trying to figure out which of my vegetarian friends-and which of my non-vegetarian friends, since I didn’t miss the meat one bit-I should take back for a meal at Green Zebra.

Green Zebra also features a tasting menu and honors other dietary restrictions, so vegans will have no trouble eating there as well. The guy who sat next to us also said the Sunday brunches there are fabulous, so that may be our next visit.

Green Zebra
1460 W. Chicago Ave.
312-243-7100

Vegetarian Dining in Los Angeles – Eating Out Meat-Free in LA

If you’re a vegetarian, eating out can sometimes be a challenge. This is thankfully not the case in Los Angeles, where vegetarians have a wide variety of options when it comes to meat-free dining. This is somewhat due to the sheer multitude of restaurants in the Los Angeles area and the variety of cuisines available. But much of the ease that vegetarian diners experience in L.A. is due to the general health-conscious attitude of Los Angeles residents.

Los Angeles, and California in general, is known by many to be progressive in its thinking. Additionally, because of Hollywood’s focus on appearance, Los Angeles has evolved into a city where healthy eating is practically a job requirement. For both of these reasons, Los Angeles restaurants are more likely to offer meat-free or vegetarian entrees than restaurants found in other cities.

For example, Los Angeles restaurants that offer hamburgers almost always provide a veggie burger option that can be substituted for the standard meat patty. Some restaurants offer meat-substitutes such as tofu, seitan, textured vegetable protein or tempeh that can be used in traditional dishes such as meatloaf, deli-style sandwiches, asian stir-fries, chili and more. It is not unusual to find breakfast restaurants offering veggie bacon or veggie sausage as a side for your eggs or pancakes. Plus, most Los Angeles restaurants are accommodating to vegetarians and those who simply want to eat less meat, making menu items without meat for those who request it.

Another reason Los Angeles is great for vegetarian diners is its variety of cuisines. There are a large number of Indian, Ethiopian and Thai restaurants located in L.A. which, due to cultural and religious traditions, offer a wide selection of vegetarian appetizers, entrees and side dishes. Vegetarians who have adventurous palettes or who like spicy foods will find these cuisines to be an ideal choice, for both dietary and taste reasons.

Of course, Los Angeles is also host to a large number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Some of the more popular dining establishments catering to vegetarians include Real Food Daily, Vegan Glory, California Vegan, Native Foods and Vegan Express. Because of their incredibly tasty and healthy food, these restaurants are loved by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

So whether you’re looking for a strict vegan or vegetarian restaurant where you can avoid meat all-together, or simply want to find a restaurant where you can eat out with your meat-eating friends, you’ll find a wide variety of dining establishments in Los Angeles to fit your needs.

Benefits of Being Vegetarian

In the last decade, we have witnessed an explosion of scientific knowledge that has made more information available to humanity than in all previously recorded history. Due to the dedicated research of scientists and doctors, we now understand more than ever before about our physical body and what measures promote good health. As more evidence is coming to light about the beneficial effects of maintaining a vegetarian diet, the number of vegetarians around the world is steadily on the rise.

Throughout history, many great philosophers, mystics, saints, and enlightened thinkers have recognized the value of vegetarianism. It is only recently that science has confirmed the views on vegetarianism explained by these great people. More and more people are realizing that this diet can increase the health and well-being of our body, mind, soul, and the planet.

Books, journals, magazines, and newspaper articles have published research on the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Doctors and nutritionists widely recommend that people reduce their consumption of meat, high-fat foods, and eggs as a health measure. They encourage the increased use of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in one’s diet to cut down on cholesterol in the body and to minimize the risks of heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, and cancer. The results of medical findings have already had a far-reaching impact on the food and restaurant industries. We find more foods are being produced without animal products. If we look back even twenty years, a vegetarian eating at a restaurant hardly had any choices offered on the menu. Today, we can find a variety of delicious vegetarian dishes at most restaurants. Natural food stores and vegetarian restaurants abound in most cities. Even large grocery chain stores carry a large variety of vegetarian foods. Those who carefully consider the advantages of vegetarianism will see that the quality of their life and health can be greatly improved on such a diet.

Longtime vegetarians have testified to the changes they experienced when they gave up meat. Many have reported that they felt more energetic, not only physically, but also mentally. Animals that do not eat meat, such as the elephant, the horse, the mule, and the ox, are known for their great strength and endurance. Having more stamina, vegetarians tend to exhibit improved efficiency and concentration in their physical as well as intellectual work.