The Vegetarian Option explores the meatless options at Chicago's best restaurants.
Longman & Eagle
Like every other time I've been there, Longman & Eagle was pleasantly packed and humming when I arrived and aggressively cramped and noisy by the end of the night. Like always, I drank, I yelled, and I left full. It's just that this time I did all of those things without eating an ounce of meat. But let's back up for a second.
Though I intend to play one online, I am not a vegetarian. (A quick look back to yesterday will prove that one.) Nor was I forced here against my will to eat greens while watching plates of restaurant's outstanding roasted bone marrow bones pass me by. I genuinely love vegetables. In fact, I am usually that guy going on about the peculiar qualities of in-season zucchinis or artichokes. Sometimes I eat a salad for breakfast. (Seriously.)
No, I went to Longman & Eagle to eat vegetables because I heard the restaurant was pretty awesome at cooking them.
I guess it makes sense. The restaurant has near-universal acclaim, and it didn't earn that kind of respect by pissing off every vegetarian that walked through the door. Awards from GQ and Esquire sit on the shelf next to bottles of bourbon. Today, it should hear whether its one Michelin star will be renewed. Seeing as it is also something of an inn (there are five amazing rooms for rent upstairs), the restaurant has had to deal with the odd vegetarian since the day it first opened. In fact, it has even been serving up a daily vegetarian menu for awhile now. I'd just never ordered it before.
I started with the shaved pear salad with haricot verts, endive, watercress, frisee, Stilton, port wine syrup, and sherry-walnut vinaigrette ($9). Got all that? Balanced, properly dressed, and featuring some stellar Stilton, it was a good start.
Next came the pumpkin agnolotti with walnuts, brown butter, wild huckleberries, and parmigiano ($12). Listed as a small plate, the dish was compact and bathed in butter, but also laced with enough huckleberries to sort of balance things out. Maybe I just haven't had enough pumpkin yet this year, but this felt like a perfect introduction to the winter months ahead. I could have polished off a bowl twice this size. Regardless, the last thing I thought about was the lack of meat.
For an entree I had to choose between hand rolled cavatelli ($19) and butternut squash risotto ($17). Since butternut squash is a relative of the pumpkin family, I went for the cavatelli. Mixed with Oregon porcini, rapini, artichoke, Matsutake puree, and grana padano, the dish was surprisingly hearty thanks to the mushrooms and cheese. Yet, the bitter rapini managed cut straight through most of it. The flavors were right on, but I have to admit that by the end I was getting a little tired of pasta.
Which leads to the only real criticism of the meal: none of the dishes featured the vegetable as the absolute star. Both of the entrees were essentially built on starches with a few vegetables tossed in. Of course, I often go for meat dishes that only have a little bit of actual meat in them, so perhaps I'm thinking about this all wrong.
Either way, as vegetarian experiences go, huddled in the dim glow of Longman's bustling bar is not a bad place to be. I saw the roasted marrow bones pass me by but did not reach out. From the outside, it may seem like a purely hedonistic place, but vegetarian travelers to the inn need not worry about succumbing to the carnal pleasures of the flesh -- of the Epicurean variety, at least.