Serious Eats: Chicago
The Vegetarian Option: The Publican
I wouldn't be the first to point out that chef Paul Kahan's Chicago restaurant galaxy is brightness-based. Acid plays a huge roll in elevating flavors and bringing dishes together. It's what helps make the cuisine at the Publican shine, well, so brightly.
This style expresses itself swimmingly through the Publican's notably ambitious menu of vegetable offerings. Known more as a palace to fresh seafood and locally sourced meats—pig portraits decorate the walls—the European-style West Loop gastropub always has a few inviting vegetarian dishes alongside the oysters, sweetbreads, and pork belly (be mindful, though, that not every menu item listed under "vegatable" is vegetarian in its standard presentation).
The radicchio ($12) with creamy burrata, sliced dates, tangerine segments, and aged balsamic vinegar is a perfect example of the sparkling, unsubtle food that makes the Publican so reliably good—even for the vegetarian. Half a head of California radicchio, well-cooked (roasted, perhaps?) and heavily marinated in balsamic, co-stars on the plate beside a generous scoop of savory-sweet burrata cheese. Much of the radicchio's raw, fibrous resilience has been shaken loose by the oven—leaving you with tender, pliant greens to munch on, but its wonderfully sharp bitterness has thankfully stuck around. So what you get is this great three-way play between the bitter purple greens, the rich and delicate cheese, and the acid-sweet balsamic. A lingering chord of low, intermediate, and high notes, strummed with feeling. The trifecta of chewy dates, juicy tangerines, and baby greens plays similar notes in concert, just a bit more quietly.
I won't go so far as to say that the Publican provides enough meatless dishes to make a big meal for the vegetarian diner. It's just not that kind of place. But I'd argue that it's worth a visit, say for a beer and a few plates, when you're hunting more for flavor than fulfillment.