Monday, December 5, 2011

Vegan Chicago: Restaurant Review of Karyn's on Green & Karyn's Fresh Corner

One of my favorite places to dine in Chicago for a high quality all vegan dinner is Karyn's on Green. Ever since I heard about it opening, I've been pretty excited. The only other fancier restaurants that I can think of to go to that are specifically vegan-friendly are MANA food bar and Green Zebra (which I still have never been to, sadly). Of course, there are restaurants of upscale dining that can make vegan options (just call and ask, usually). For example, Charlie Trotter's has a vegetarian menu that can be made vegan upon request. The same applies for Vermilion (if you watch the Food Network, the executive chef, Maneet Chauhan, was featured on The Next Iron Chef and judges on Chopped), TRU, Coco Pazzo, and Crofton on Wells. If you really want to try something special and different, there is the art of molecular gastronomy. Chicago has two restaurants that feature this, Alinea and moto. They both can create vegan menus upon request. Be prepared to shell out the big bucks, though. For a 12-course tasting with wine pairing, tax, and gratuity, the average person spends $350 at Alinea. A 20-course meal is around $500. You could split this with a number of people; though, I'm not sure how full you'd be. Lastly, there is vegan afternoon tea at The Lobby in the Peninsula Hotel. This hotel is probably the loveliest in the city and is worth checking out alone. They have a nice jazz bar that I've been to before for some after dinner drinks. Another tea spot with vegan-friendly options is the Russian Tea Time restaurant. I've never been, but have been meaning to go for years now. One day! I would recommend placing reservations for all the above restaurants. Be warned, you'll be spending at least $100 at any of those restaurants if you include drinks.

Bread & Butter
While Karyn's on Green can be very expensive, if you cut out the alcohol your bill will probably be about $60-70 for two people. With alcohol and desserts, you are looking at about $125 (they do have organic liquor which is nice). It is the place to go for a vegan who wants to splurge, take someone out on a very nice date, or show an omnivore the classy side to plant-based dining.

Roasted Foraged Mushrooms
The menu at Karyn's on Green changes here and there (I believe it is seasonally). The menu sort of combines the other Karyn's restaurants, Karyn's Cooked and Karyn's Raw, plus added options. Karyn's Cooked is more like home cooked food (ex: barbeque pork and the crispy mixed basket) and Karyn's Raw is quality raw dining. For starters, I always like to begin with the roasted foraged mushrooms. They've changed this dish in the past year, though. It used to come with a sauce which it now desperately needs. While it is still enjoyable, the polenta that the mushrooms sit on is quite dry. The taro sticks give the dish a nice crunch, though. Of course, you're going to have to love mushrooms for this dish and I am definitely an avid fungi fan. This causes a problem for me because I always order this dish (despite I think it needs that sauce)! I have heard the aged raw cheese plate is to die for, so one day I will order that instead. Crossing fingers.

Butternut Squash Soup
Caesar Salad

My friend and I got soup and salad before our entree's. If you tell your waiter that you'll be splitting those, they will bring each out on two separate plates. For soup, we had the butternut squash. This was really good. In the past, I've had soups from this restaurant that have been way too salty. They have apparently fixed this problem. The oil drizzle adds a nice complimentary touch to the soup itself. Much like my problem with the appetizer round, I always get the Caesar salad at Karyn's. I really enjoyed Caesar salads prior to becoming vegan which I think is the root of my problem here. Again, I have found in the past that this dish can be salty, but the last couple times it has been perfect. The dressing is fantastic and you have to love those croutons. I have also had the chopped vegetable salad in the past. It was pretty good, but if you are looking for a special vegan salad, I would really recommend the Caesar salad (you don't see a vegan Caesar that often!).

Pumpkin Risotto
Marinated Portobello Steak

Ah, the entree round. I've had a number of the options on their menu on previous dining outings. This time, we tried the pumpkin risotto and the marinated portobello steak (my staple here - told you I have a fungi addiction!). The risotto was prepared beautifully. Creamy and perfect for fall weather. Since I took these pictures, they have modified the marinated portobello steak on their menu. As you see in the picture, it came with fingerling potatoes and wilted spinach. Now it comes with horseradish mashed potatoes and creamed spinach with the same balsamic reduction. I've had both version since they changed the menu (they deliver to me!) and was surprised they changed it. The previous version with fingerling potatoes was much better. The new version is okay, but I was sad to see it modified. Perhaps I have to try it at the restaurant to give it a better chance. Other entree menu items I have had are the crab cakes and the fra diavolo. The crab cakes are a nice meal. Not too dry and the sauce gives the crab cakes a great flavor boost. I've only had the fra diavolo once a long time ago and from what I recall, it was great as well. I'll have to try it again, though, since it has been a while! I've also heard the chicken legs are a real treat. Never had them, but definitely willing to try them one day too.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Any place that I can get a dessert cocktail that is vegan is the place for me. Karyn's not only has a small dessert libation menu, but fantastic sweets too. They used to have a chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and some kind of ice cream that was to die for. For our dinner, we had the pumpkin cheesecake. This was really tasty. I loved the ice cream that went with the cheesecake. The crumble gave the dessert an added crunch which it really needed due to all the creamy elements. A couple was having the doughnuts and coffee ice cream near our table and that looked very cute and yummy too!

If you can't tell from my review, I really love Karyn's on Green. It is one of my top five vegan restaurants in the city. The service can be spotty, though. I've had some really great waiters and some really snooty ones. I give the place a 4.5/5 because of this.
Raw Salad Bar
Karyn's is somewhat of a mini vegan empire here in Chicago. The owner has the three previously mentioned restaurants plus Karyn's Fresh Corner, Karyn's Inner Beauty Center, Karyn's at Home, and a book. The beauty center has organic spa services, holistic procedures, and lines of organic/vegan beauty products. Karyn's at Home is a meal service program.

BLT Sandwich
Karyn's Fresh Corner is where Karyn's Raw is located as well as the holistic wellness center, and a small market with a juice bar. The market has raw and organic products plus some of Karyn's food to-go. If you need some rather obscure raw items that you can't find at Whole Foods, this is the place to go (ex: detox items). They also have a raw salad bar and a juice/smoothie bar. It's a nice place to stop by for a quick pick-up lunch and an organic juice. The salad bar is $7.99 a pound or $12.95 for all-you-can-eat. I got the raw salad bar and a BLT sandwich (be warned, some of the breads the sandwiches are made of have honey in them, but they are marked). I have to say, I think I'm not a fan of raw sandwiches. I've had them from raw before and now from Karyn's and both times I have found them too acidic and just off tasting. I much preferred the raw salad and the juice. The juice was a lovely pick-me-up. I had the summer cooler, though the employee recommended the peaceful warrior.

Just a quick mention: There are a couple other juice bars in the city that I love. Peeled Chicago had a great cleansing Groupon a little while ago (3 day juice cleanse - all vegan and organic). I was just in about a week ago and they said they may be having one again soon, so be on the look out! Green Corner is also great. Newcomer Vegetarian Express also has vegan juice available. Kramer's Health Foods has a number of vegan options of their menu as well as a juice bar.


Bobbie {thevegancrew} said...

I've only visited Karyn's on Green once (I don't live anywhere near Chicago), but it tops my favorite restaurants list. The food is incredible. Your fantastic review leaves me wanting to schedule another visit to Chi-town. :)

Miss Lexy said...

I'm so glad you love Karyn's on Green as well! You should come back and get it again. :]

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