Green Zebra

Here\'s a long and slightly self-indulgent \'blog post about going out to eat.

Cat and I went to Green Zebra for our one year anniversary. We had a groupon for $20 off, but even still it wasn\'t the sort of thing I could afford as frequently as I\'d like. Then again, \"as frequently as I\'d like\" would be weekly, at least.

Perhaps not daily, however, as it is more of an art gallery than a restaurant, although no a visual one. Each course is tiny, and you are advised by the waitress to order more than one (we both had the five course tasting menu, each course paired with a wine). After you finish the tiny course, they clear your plates. Then, six or seven minutes later, they bring out the next course.

The goal of this is to present you with a fascinating experience, not just to cram food down your throat. In each course I had just about figured out what I was eating and how to eat it, but not yet begun to take it for granted when I was done.

It began with a half-shotglass-full of delicious carrot and mint soup (and I really must figure out how to make that; I need more cold soups in my repertoire, and this was was great) and a beet salad.

The carrot mint soup was surprisingly sweet (carrots in general are surprisingly sweet) and the mint made it quite refreshing. We weren\'t given spoons, but were offered bread--I really wonder what the folks who declined the bread did!

The beet salad consisted of a beet sliced into long, thin strips, served with a vinaigrette dressing. Between and upon each strip was melted goat cheese. It was covered in watercress that was, in turn, graced with a horseradish foam.

I wasn\'t a huge fan of the watercress (it was difficult to manage, and I couldn\'t see quite what it added... possibly a palate cleanser, I suppose) and as far as I could tell the horseradish foam was purely decorative.

The paired wine was a nice prosecco. I usually find prosecco much too dry, and by itself this was no exception. After a mouthful of beet / cheese / dressing, though, its more subtle flavors came out. I\'ve been thinking, lately, that I\'m maybe not such a huge fan of wines. Maybe I\'m just not a fan of wine without food, though. At any rate, I really think that the prosecco was a much better cleanser, and the watercress was maybe unnecessary.

The beets + goat cheese + vinaigrette, on the other hand, worked perfectly. I don\'t usually like either beet or vinaigrette dressing on their own--they both have pretty strong tastes that are ok, but not great. Combined, though? Brilliant! Beets slightly sweet, vinaigrette slightly sour, perfect. Still strong tastes, though, which were nicely dialed down by the goat cheese. This is the sort of food art that I love--the salad was clearly designed by someone who knew what they were doing!1

For the second course, they brought out a strong kick-ass red wine--too much wine for me, at first sip (I found the tannins too strong, I reckon).

When they brought out the food, after a suitably long pause for reflection, it was a small white bowl on a small white saucer with half a leek, several slivers of carrot, and several slices of red pepper in the bottom. Then the waiter came back and poured Hot and Sour Soup over them.

Green Zebra is entirely vegetarian2, so I have no idea how they got the soup to taste so savory. In any other restaurant I would have loudly accused them of beef stock! This is a good thing, by the way--I miss beef stock, and the soup was delicious.

Sadly, that\'s about all I have to say about this course, save that the leek was a little difficult to eat, but extremely worth it (so tasty! So tender!). It was wonderful soup, but not especially innovative, as far as I could tell.

This wine, as well, tasted much better when I tried it alongside the soup.

I can\'t remember the third wine of the meal (quite possibly because it was the third wine of the meal--they were only pouring half glasses, but their glasses were large).

The food, though, was fascinating--two renditions of \"potato and leek\". On the left half of the plate were tiny (dime-sized) tater tots nestled among exquisitely sauteed leeks. On the right side of the plate was a stack of hand-made potato chips, with a robust leek foam in between and drizzled with truffle oil. In between was a thin black line of leek ash. Yes, leek ash. Because dinner hadn\'t been fancy enough yet.

For a start, I know I\'ll never have potato chips that good again. Each one was thick and hearty, extremely chewable but also nicely crisp. Also, each one was coated with this ridiculously good leek foam. And drizzled in truffle oil. Cat pointed out that it was their take on Sour Cream and Onion Chips. Great, thanks for ruining those for me! I\'ll never be able to eat Lays again.

I\'m not sure that I got the tater-tots, although I didn\'t think to try them smothered in leek foam. Cat did, and assured me that it was awesome. I did try the sauteed (or maybe braised?) leeks on a potato chip--delicious. Why on earth don\'t I cook with leeks all the time?

The fourth wine was (I think) another robust red, and it was served with mushroom tortellini. Two of them, to be exact, served in a leek sauce that was covered in rhubarb sauce. It was topped with fresh slices of rhubarb, and I seem to recall something else, as well. I\'ve forgotten the final ingredient, mostly because all I can remember were the miyatake mushrooms.

This was another course, like the soup, that was delicious but not innovative. Unlike the soup, which was merely wonderful, this completely blew my mind. It was my favorite course of the evening--the mushrooms were so savory and moist and chewy, and this was augmented by the leek sauce. All of which would have been just a bit too much, except that it was expertly cut by the rhubarb! Oh, yum!

Cat didn\'t like it quite that much, and we figured out later that it was probably because she eats meat. There is a certain sensation that I adore, that is really hard to find outside of a nice steak. That chewy, meaty texture, and those wonderful juices--that\'s difficult to replicate with plant matter.

Finally, sadly, it was time for desert. First they brought out a Moscato D\'Asti, my favorite sparkling wine. Admittedly, I usually buy that ten dollar stuff that tastes kind of like soda. But whenever I do, I remember the few times I\'ve had really good Moscato D\'Asti, where it tastes like faint but perfectly distinguishable apples and is light and sparkly and divine. You\'ll never guess which kind they served us!

And the desert itself was... deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! Slices of sweet, dry cake for the bread, three perfect fresh raspberries in a raspberry sauce, and a small scoop of sweet, frozen creme fraiche. Everything was then covered with powdered peanut butter dust. Oh, there were also tiny chocolate bit throughout.

This is the sort of taste-pun in which Moto specializes, and I really adore it. However, I do think that these very clever courses only work for me in the context of a bunch of really, genuinely wonderful food--as a desert course, Deconstructed PB&J was delightful3, but five courses of \"look how clever we are\" might have gotten old.

and yes, before you ask, it did taste more or less like the best PB&J ever. Huzzah!

1Shawn McClain, 2006 Best Chef of the Midwest, and apparently also the chef at Spring. Huh.

2 Well, they have a single, solitary shrimp dish. Note that they are not especially vegan, by the way.

3Although I might prefer the Creme Brule flight that we had the last time I was there. It wasn\'t especially clever (although the Green Tea Creme Brule was unusual) but it was sublime.

This sounds... fabulous. Dang, we need to get back to Chicago.