Province (Chicago): A chef spices up his green cuisine with some taste-tempting Latin twists

Randy Zweiban has years of experience working with Latin flavors, and he now blends them into his farm-to-table American contemporary menu. Photo by Laurie Proffitt

When my friend Karla talks, people listen.  So when Karla told me I should visit Province, I listened.  And now I understand why people listen to Karla.

Chef-partner Randy Zweiban describes Province’s menu as “farm-to-table American cuisine with the influences of Central and South America and of Spain.”  Fair enough, as many of Zweiban’s farm-fresh dishes feature Latin touches — a sprinkling of Spanish Marcona almonds here, a drizzle of salsa verde there.  But I believe the chef was being rather modest in his description.

Zweiban offers diners flexibility when they choose their meals. Photo by Laurie Proffitt

Missing are words like “flavorful,”  ”inventive” and flat-out “fun.”  Zweiban — who earned a reputation as a creative and skilled chef during his long tenure at Nacional 27 — brings all of this to the table at his green West Loop eatery.

Although many chefs now offer brief menus in order not to overwhelm diners with choices, Zweiban’s is bursting with appealing options — and options within options.  Province, for example, categorizes its 20 or so entrees as “small,” “big” and “bigger” and offers several of them in two-sized portions.  There are also “bites,” raw items and soups/salads, as well as a five-course tasting menu ($49).

“The menu is designed to give people an opportunity to eat what they want and how they want, instead of the restaurant telling you the rules and regulations of how you should be dining,” Zweiban says.

My good friend Susan and I had a wonderful time deciding what and how to eat our dinner on a recent visit to Province (per Karla’s suggestion).  We took our leisurely time weighing the many choices as Susan sipped a glass of wine and I enjoyed an ice-cold Death’s Door vodka martini cleverly garnished with a chorizo-and-blue-cheese-stuffed olive.

Although other chefs have consolidated their menus, Zweiban offers an extensive list of dishes — from bites to desserts. Photo by Laurie Proffitt

Ultimately, we skipped the bites and raws and moved straight to salads. Fresh spinach with slow- cooked farm egg and crunchy Marcona almonds was served with warm bacony-orange vinaigrette ($8).  And a special Mick Klug Farm asparagus salad with spring onions and herb toast featured Zweiban’s delicious fresh herb-blend green goddess dressing.

From the “smalls” we chose Nichols Farm spinach ravioli ($8) with ricotta, spring garlic, and a spicy, hearty piquillo pepper sauce.  And from the “bigs,” Susan opted for a not-so-small small portion of spice-seared tuna tacos ($9/$17), while I picked a not-so-small small portion of ancho-pappardelle pasta ($8/$15) and sweet fried piquillos with roasted garlic and queso fresco.

Slowly moving into the “biggers,” we shared succulent 10-hour braised lamb ($12/23) with roasted eggplant, house-made chorizo and homemade corn bread.

Province offers a fabulous selection of "something for everyone" house-made desserts. Photo by Laurie Proffitt

Being huge dessert lovers, Susan and I were tempted by many of the available choices.  But we happily settled on the buttery-crusted and slightly tart rhubarb tartlet ($7) topped with vanilla bean ice cream and pear syrup drizzle, along with a crunchy-topped warm and dense orange pound cake ($7) with blood orange compote and crème fraiche ice cream.

Zweiban is diligent when it comes to sourcing eco-friendly ingredients. Photo by Laurie Proffitt

Zweiban, who works out of a Gold LEED certified kitchen, is an ardent supporter of the slow food movement, and he can generally point to any ingredient on the menu and tell you its green pedigree.  He goes local and seasonal as much as possible for a Midwestern chef.  And where he can’t go local and seasonal, he takes other environmental factors into consideration.  For example, if Hawaiian tuna appears on the menu, it is line-caught — or if Zweiban uses out-of-season lettuces or greens, they are hydroponically grown.

When asked how he comes up with so many winners on his menu, Zweiban points to the green ingredients he uses in his dishes.

“At the end of the day, our food is pretty simple,” he says.  “A painter starts with great paint.  A photographer starts with a great image.  You have to start with great ingredients to have a great finished product.”

Speaking on Susan and Karla’s behalf as well as my own, I say, “Amen.”

161 North Jefferson Street
Chicago, Illinois  60661

Province on Urbanspoon

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