This Saturday night I, and four friends, had an underwhelming experience at Green Zebra.
I had friends in town, and after much consideration and research, we chose Green Zebra for our Saturday night dinner. I have read many great reviews of the restaurant here and on other boards, as well as in Chicago Magazine. Needless to say the experience was much anticipated. We had a 9:30 pm reservation for four people. At the last minute we had an addition to our party. When I asked the hostess if we could add one to our party which at 9:30 I thought would not be a problem, its not like we were springing this on her at 7:00 on a Sat. night she first told me no, that they plan their reservations weeks in advance and there would be no way to add another person. Now, I have been working in restaurants and hotels as long as I have been working, and the first thing I learned in this business, is never say no to a guest. Apparently she remembered this dictum and told me that if we waited 15-20 minutes they could seat our entire party. In less than 10 minutes a gentleman escorted us to our table, and when I thanked him for accommodating us, he replied with words that should never pass through the lips of a restaurant manager, YOU GOT LUCKY. I wanted to punch him in the face and tell him that he was the lucky one, but I decided to just enjoy the bottle of champagne that we had purchased in the interim.
We all knew that the menu consisted of small plates, but the menu was organized in three sections so we werent sure if it was best to order in individual courses or to share various plates. We asked the server how we should order, she explained that the three sections of the menu were organized from lightest to heaviest and we could order, however we wanted. So each of us, without direction from our server, chose two items with some overlap. I assumed that we would be sharing so when the items I was interested in were already ordered I went with my second choices.
The amuse was whimsical but uninspiring: shelled edamame, spiced popcorn, spiced peanuts. While the butter was high quality, the white bread was chewy and the wheat dry.
The dishes were delivered to each individual and presented in a way that was not conducive to sharing. While I had my eye on the sweet corn mezza luna, my first dish was a spring onion soup that, although it was pleasingly hot, had the look and consistency of pea soup and the flavor of onion water. The soup began the trend of all of our food being horribly unseasoned with no salt or pepper in sight. From a restaurant with a reputation such as Green Zebra, I would not expect to need to add salt or pepper.
The sweet corn mezza luna was, in fact, wonderful. It had a reisling reduction that didnt compete with the sweet corn and very nice beets and brussel sprouts. We found, with no help from the menu that mezza luna is a ravioli. We dont consider ourselves naïve in such matters, but we would have appreciated a little clue as to what we would be ordering. Several times we referred back to the menu to identify a flavor, a foam, or an ingredient and came up with an inadequate description.
Other items ordered were wild mushrooms with polenta: bland farina-like polenta with barely cooked mushrooms more like a side dish than a course. A lentil cake with a red pepper relish that was fine, not enough relish, again the cake was bland. The roasted beet salad with a carrot yogurt sauce was the other standout of the night. The beets were really fresh so it was hard to do them any harm and the yogurt sauce was a nice accompaniment. The beet dish was much more generous than the other dishes for some reason. The chicken with fingerling potatoes was, again, just okay and very dry. The mushroom gallette was also pretty good. The gnocchi and sweet potato dumplings were both bland and unexciting.
Not only did the dessert menu not have anything that sounded appealing, the two items we settled on were really bad. We had cream puffs that literally tasted like someone ran to Jewel and picked up a package of Mrs. Smiths frozen cream puffs and neglected to thaw them before serving them to us. And a apple beignet that was just plain boring.
Finally, for a menu that is devoid of meat, I was surprised to spend nearly $100 per person.
I will probably be crucified on this board for badmouthing such an esteemed restaurant, but I have little tolerance for that type of service and inadequate food from a restaurant named one of the best new restaurants of 2004. Based on my meal there the other night, they are the lucky ones to stay open if that is how they are presenting themselves.