Serious Eats: Chicago
The Vegetarian Option: Sable Kitchen & Bar
When Sable Kitchen & Bar opened in River North a few years back, along with the Palomar Hotel for which it serves as lobby restaurant, the neighborhood was gifted two important and somewhat strongly needed things. To find out what, just drop the S from its name. With the bar program under the capable stewardship of thoughtful cocktail mind Mike Ryan and the kitchen helmed by the creative Heather Terhune, Sable is a spot where you can come for either the food or the drinks and happily stay for the other.
Sable also happens to do right by vegetarians, with a pretty deep selection of meatless apps, salads, and flatbreads (aka pizza). To satisfy a hunger for the latter, try the wild mushroom flatbread ($16) with spinach, garlic, Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese, and white truffle oil. It sports a thin, crispy crust with a nice level of char along the perimeter. The shrooms are plump and juicy and provide a strong, earthy counterpoint to the rich dollops of cheese and fragrant truffle oil. On my latest visit the pizza was on the verge of being too salty (maybe due to a too-generous finishing sprinkle before leaving the kitchen), but that stumble was made up by the aromatic stems of fresh baby parsley. They were a welcome reminder that with herbs, younger is often better.
Not every veggie item is a clear winner, though. The best thing about the warm spaghetti squash salad ($11) is the beautiful hunk of Humboldt Fog cheese, hailing from California's Cypress Grove Chevre creamery, that anchors the bowl. For how pretty it is intact, I think the salad could be improved by the kitchen spreading the cheese amongst the spicy greens instead of leaving that for the diner to handle. The strings of spaghetti squash were a little bland and soapy, and it was hard to find the dried cranberries and hazelnuts that probably would have added some much needed flavor and textural balance to this salad.
On the other hand, I could eat the mini wild mushroom veggie burgers ($8/$13) all day. The patties demonstrate some real textural heroics compared to most veggie burgers, thanks to the inclusion of crispy rice in the mix, which accepts a nice char from the grill when cooked. To complement the patty's deep earthiness and crunch, there's a healthy dose of milky, creamy goat cheese and some kick from tangy red onion jam. One of Sable's tasty cocktails plus two of these mini burgers equals one satisfied me.