You can’t please everyone, but that sure hasn’t stopped Scott Halverson from trying.
Halverson is the executive chef for the Prasino restaurant group, which recently opened its newest “green” eatery, this time in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. (Other locations are in LaGrange and St. Charles.) And Halverson’s inclusive menus — the restaurants serve breakfast, lunch and dinner — “reach out to everybody,” he says.
Indeed, there are numerous offerings — from burgers to signature beef short ribs — for your basic omnivores. But health nuts, vegetarians, vegans and those with gluten and dairy allergies also have a variety of choices. The only options that might possibly be missing are choices for kosher or diabetic diners.
The restaurant’s mission is “to offer healthy, clean food with no pesticides, hormones and antibiotics,” Halverson says, so sourcing organic ingredients is his first priority. And Halverson uses local and sustainable products whenever possible. But like all Midwestern chefs, he has long winters and short springs to contend with.
At the new venue, Halverson also wants dishes to appeal to adventurous city dwellers. So he added one of his favorite foods — sushi — to the Wicker Park outpost’s dinner menu. He features seven options in his playful collection of “Loco Rolls,” which have been a huge hit with the urban set.
“We may be bringing [sushi] to the suburbs because it’s been so well received here,” Halverson says.
The chef, who was raised in Texas and has lived in California, also has a fondness for ethnic foods. Prasino’s menu showcases a melting pot of ethnic flavors and includes twists on Mexican, Asian, Italian and other cuisines. Halverson, who calls his cooking style “modern American with global influences,” presents multicultural dishes such as gluten-free fish tacos ($13), grilled Thai curry pork loin ($21) and vegan miso-glazed tofu ($14).
Admittedly, I had some trepidation before dining at Prasino Wicker Park, having never tasted Halverson’s fare. First, I was concerned that the menu suffered from a case of culinary ADD; I wasn’t sure so many varied cuisines could be properly executed. And second, The Husband and I were dining for the first time with Chef Lite — who has been known to walk into famed restaurant kitchens and offer his services — and his wife, La Journalista. And I did not want the restaurant to disappoint these hardcore foodophiles.
From the moment our starters hit the table, I quickly learned my fears were unfounded. Halverson’s expertly prepared dishes impressed from the get-go.
Topped with thinly shaved beets rather than fish, the Green Rainbow Loco Roll ($12) was a whimsical take on traditional veggie sushi. Crisp and clean, the roll was filled with tempura asparagus, arugula and goat cheese and accompanied by an orange sauce. Our waiter treated us to his favorite — the delightfully dense Killer Dragon ($16). And our table was thankful for his gift, a kicky combo of shrimp tempura, fresh crab and cucumber topped with avocado, dragon sauce and both unagi and unagi sauce.
Working our way into the small plates, we sampled simple but flavorful steamed (gluten-free) snap peas ($5) sprinkled with sea salt, slightly hot chili and fresh basil. But Halverson’s signature lobster-stuffed avocado ($16) was the darling of the appetizers, drawing “oohs” and “aahs” from the group. Bursting with sweet lobster meat, the dish was dressed with a refreshing and fruity mango salsa and a luscious, zippy chili beurre fondue.
Entrées were a tough call, as a number of items appealed to our table’s foodies. After some discussion, Chef Lite chose the signature short ribs ($25) with soufflé-like cauliflower-cheddar gratin, crunchy greens and truffle mushroom Cabernet sauce. You can bet these babies were tender, as Halverson marinates them for six hours in a spice rub before braising them for eight to ten hours, he says.
Listening to my inner carnivore, I went with the fall-off-the-bone ancho-braised lamb shank ($24) with olive oil smashed potatoes, greens, feta cheese and spiced olives in a lamb jus. My only disappointment with this hefty sweet and spicy (gluten-free) “stew” was that I was too full to finish it.
La Journalista selected the surprisingly light grilled curry pork loin. Served with brown rice, mango salad and coconut cashew sauce, the dish’s complex Thai flavors were present without being overpowering.
Rounding things out, The Husband dove into Halverson’s list of sustainable and eco-friendly sourced seafood and came up with broiled (gluten-free) Tasmanian salmon ($24). The gently sautéed Latin-inspired fish was accompanied by avocado, mango salsa, and plantains with cilantro oil and sweet chili sauce.
Pastry chef Todd Feitl describes his desserts as “familiar and homey.” His sweets, many of which are gluten-free and some of which are vegan, are “more about flavor than flash,” he says.
We ended the evening with a gift of Feitl’s silky honey-lemon pot de crème ($7); his warmly satisfying organic molten chocolate cake ($7) with fresh organic berries, organic caramel and vanilla gelato; and another round of “oohs” and “aahs.”
I think it’s safe to say that Halverson and Feitl satisfied us, one and all.
1846 West Division Street
Chicago, Illinois 60622