If you’re looking for a restaurant to be your gateway into the world of plant-based eating or introduce you to more sustainable food options, Clever Rabbit is a strong contender. Perfectly blending an upscale atmosphere with down-to-earth food, it’s impossible to feel guilty when indulging in their wide array of vegetarian dishes.
The moment you take your first step into Clever Rabbit, a refined, vegetarian-focused restaurant in Wicker Park, you’re greeted with the dynamic contrast between the charcoal-colored walls white wood accents. A large opening that scales the entire length of the restaurant allows for ample light that illuminates the clean, modern aesthetic of the restaurant, seamlessly transitioning between the indoor and outdoor seating. Rustic wood furniture and dainty, hanging lights line the room, creating an intimate atmosphere that is only amplified by the wall-mounted plants, which add a natural feel to the space.
The restaurant’s aim is simple: to showcase the flavorful, somewhat under-appreciated potential of plant-based foods while using the highest quality ingredients. They place a huge emphasis on using organic, responsibly sourced vegetables and replicate a farm-to-table approach in terms of their style.
And Clever Rabbit is all about vegetarian dishes. The menu is thoughtfully crafted with an array of cuisines and dishes. From carrot dumplings in a miso broth to crispy squash tacos or broccoli tortellini to an Indian-inspired dosa, the dishes appeal to a wide range of palettes. But if there’s one thing that they’d recommend you try, it would be their signature crudite, a platter of locally grown vegetables paired with a mix of dipping sauces.
Even with all this focus on vegetables and savory dishes, there’s no need to worry about dessert. They boast an extensive dessert menu that features everything from cakes to pies with flavors that can rival even the most seasoned pastry chefs.
SOMETHING TO NIBBLE ON
After a nearly 45 minute wait and a whole lot of staring hungrily at the people eating around us, the dishes finally start to arrive. Most of the plates are meant to be shared and the staff is generally very proactive in making sure that the dishes arrive in pairs of two, but beware of the long wait before they come out. They typically recommend that if you’re sharing, two plates per person is a good rule of thumb.
The summer squash tacos, as they call it, have four flour tortillas laid across the plate, each with a fried piece of squash against the backdrop of a zucchini and cilantro slaw. It comes with a simple side of sliced lime and the presentation was what you’d expect of a standard taco, so don’t expect all of the dishes to look like artistic masterpieces. The taste, however, is a complex blend of textures and flavor profiles that made for the most delicious taco ever. The fried squash is golden brown and fried to perfection on the outside but is succulent and tender on the inside. It has just a hint of sweetness and acidity that cuts right through that fattiness that you often find in something fried.
The slaw is a unique combination of grated zucchini tossed in a blend of spices like oregano, cocoa powder, and taco seasoning. Simply put, it sounds a bit outside the box, but it worked in every way possible. It’s fresh, fiery, flavorful. It adds just the right amount of tanginess and heat that it perfectly complements the heavier, umami flavors of the fried squash. Paired with a fresh squeeze of lime on top, the dish is completely brought to life and has a certain vibrancy that it would have been missing.
The summer squash taco, the carrot dumplings in miso broth, and the carrot cake are just a few of the dishes one should try at Chicago’s Clever Rabbit.
Another dish that exceeds all expectations is the carrot dumplings in miso broth. Now this dish, unlike the tacos, is definitely a head-turner. It comes in a vibrant blue bowl with small, tan-brown dumplings poached in a decadent broth. It’s garnished with wilted bok choy, enoki mushrooms, and fresh scallions, all of which make for a whimsical combination of colors and sights. To describe its appearance in one word is easy: it’s elegant. The broth is a gentle mix of white miso paste, soy sauce, and sesame oil that can only be described as comforting. The slight heat in the soup tickles the back of your throat and envelopes you in what feels like a warm hug.
The dumplings themselves are lightly browned and glossy on top, with a chewy texture that just melts in your mouth. The filling consisted of grated carrots and thinly sliced cabbage, likely braised with a mix of Asian condiments like soy sauce. Frankly speaking, the texture seems too mushy and has an odd mouthfeel, but the rich flavors help to somewhat mask that inconsistency.
A few other noteworthy dishes would be their crudite platter and roasted tomato gnocchi as they both are quite flavorsome, but unfortunately, they don’t seem to have that same innovation or spark of curiosity like a few of the other dishes. Definitely stay away from the dosa and green curry since they were oddly sweet and didn’t even feel remotely similar to the original cuisine.
While Clever Rabbit does aim to serve a modernized cuisine, some of their dishes miss the mark in terms of preserving the intended flavor profiles of the original dishes.
After about 90 minutes and many dishes later, it was finally time for dessert. It was easily the most anticipated meal as their signature carrot cake had been advertised as their best dish. And it most definitely was. The cake came perched atop a rabbit-themed plate and was glazed with a lemon-olive oil syrup. It had two distinct layers separated by a classic cream-cheese frosting that had the perfect balance of sweetness and richness. It was super moist, dense, and felt decadent, but not to the point where it was overdone. Nutty, salty, and sweet flavors were all very well represented in the cake and made for a heavenly take on carrot cake. If not for the entrées, I would definitely come back for just their carrot cake. Priced at a cool $8, it was worth every last penny.
Clever Rabbit combines a noble approach with decent food and an intimate ambiance that makes for a restaurant that leaves you feeling satisfied. It may not be the best vegan or vegetarian restaurant in the area, but its unique blend of locally-sourced produce and diverse dishes give it a welcoming atmosphere to experiment with your food, that not many restaurants can recreate.
Clever Rabbit is located at 2015 West Division Street in Chicago. Learn more by calling 773-697-8711 or visiting them online at www.cleverrabbitchicago.com.
Aryav Bothra is a food critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl