The Vegetarian Option

Reviews of vegetarian dishes.

The Vegetarian Option: Bistrot Zinc

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[Photographs: Roger Kamholz] The back bar at Bistrot Zinc, with the day's newspapers hanging on wood rods.

I could watch the afternoon light cling to the mustard walls at Bistrot Zinc, well, all afternoon. It's a ritual restaurant—a cozy spot you could revisit week after week, never tiring of the warm atmosphere and simple, reliable pleasures. I'd opt to park myself at the pewter-toned zinc bar with a pastis and the paper.

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The dining room.

When I got peckish, I'd naturally dip into the Gold Coast mainstay's menu of French bistro fare. Now typically, this is the point where you might think that this kind of while-away-the-hours, early-retirement fantasy would cease for the vegetarian diner (French, after all, is not exactly the most veggie-friendly cuisine). But Bistrot Zinc's menu is in fact quite amenable to meatless eating, with a couple of very tasty options.

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The salade de chèvre ($8.95), made with mixed greens, goat cheese fondue, toasted hazelnuts, red onion, roasted pears, and sherry walnut vinaigrette, is a quietly charming starter. Here the roasted pears steal the show, with a concentrated yet not syrupy sweetness and a firm, pleasantly grainy texture.

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While the goat cheese in the salad is creamy, fluffy, and well-integrated, it woefully drags down the ratatouille & chèvre crepe ($9.95). On a recent visit, the crepe itself was dreamy—light, pliant, and just slightly doughy-sweet. By contrast, no care had been taken with the filling, which consisted of one mega dollop of cheese lost among bland stewed vegetables. By the time I had excavated the chèvre, I was over the veggies. And the cheese, which had gotten pasty from partial melting, was too cloying to eat alone.

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The kitchen at Bistrot Zinc handles cooking veggies much more adeptly with the colorful Moroccan-spiced vegetable and chickpea stew ($16.95), which is topped with fragrant parsley leaves and toasted almonds and served on a bed of nutty couscous. For a "stew," there's not a whole lot of liquid, but the veggies themselves—laced with a robust, cumin-heavy seasoning—harbor enough tender juiciness to complement the couscous. There's an enjoyable balance here that I didn't find with the crepe. It's the kind of hearty, varied, long-eating dish you could easily base a dining ritual around.

Bistrot Zinc

1131 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60610 (map)
312-337-1131
bistrotzinc.com

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