Restaurants like the Green Zebra evoke the question of the emperor's new clothes: Is this place all that and a scoop of green tea gelato, or is it just another overpriced spot that, after laying down a good portion of one week's paycheck for your 12-course dinner, leaves you craving a thirteenth course from the pizza joint down the street? No invisible suit here: Chef Shawn McClain's Spring is fresh, flavorful and light on its feet.
The restaurant bills itself as vegetarian, but the occasional chicken dish or trout entree makes an appearance among the field of greens. Disregard any notions of bland macrobiotic dishes; the menu evolves seasonally, featuring produce picked from local farms and farmer's markets like Lincoln Park's organic Green City Market. That said, don't marry yourself to any of the following confections, since they might not be around by the time you arrive.
Since it's a tasting menu, the portions are small and escalate in density, volume and price with each course. Appetizers weigh in at $7-$10 while entrees cost $10-$15. If you're looking for a light meal that's heavy on the ambiance, you can simply order a single course.
You know that things are looking up when the fresh bread is followed up with a splatter of edible party favors like wasabi peas and spicy peanuts. The next step, whiddling down the options, can be tricky. Fans of miso soup should treat themselves to a cup of wild mushroom and organic dandelion miso, poured from a French press coffee pot. The second course comes packed with dishes like chilled beets with whipped carrot yogurt and port wine vinaigrette, slow-roasted shitake mushrooms in crispy potato with savoy cabbage and sweet potato dumplings. Finally, up the ante to the entree level with anything from grilled wild mushrooms with white corn polenta and herb emulsion (a personal favorite) to gnocchi or even duck egg. Top it off with dessert, such as ice cream tastings, artisanal cheese or orange crepes with Birch syrup mascarpone and orange foam. That's right, there's foam aplenty with every course. Or have one of their interesting, non-alcoholic drinks like pink peppercorn thyme soda.
Not one for the crunchy, one-with-the-earth vibe associated with many veggie dining experiences? Slid into a triangular plot off in Ukie Village, this place is slicked out, minimalist and hardly makes a scene for Chicago Avenue passersby. It's pristine but not prissy, though moderately pretentious. Dress down or dress up, but either way, make a reservation.
Centerstage Reviewer: Jessica Herman