You know the frustration of trying to order healthy while dining out only to receive a plateful of butter-sopped vegetables? Chef Matt Lair (Bom Bolla) and his partners do too, and they aim to provide the antidote at Clever Rabbit (2015 W. Division St., Wicker Park), a veggie-focused restaurant slated to open in the former 25 Degrees space late this month.
“A lot of times, you get veggies [in a restaurant] and there is a heavy reliance on cream, cheese, and even bacon,” Lair says. At Clever Rabbit—a venture that includes Lair, Brad Serot, beverage director Nick Pagor, and Chris Haisma (who also co-owns the Betty and Sparrow)—“Butter and cream are not forbidden,” Lair explains, “but our philosophy is [creating] food that’s different than we’ve had in the past.” As such, Lair will look to vinegars, olive oils, and even avocado, to sub in for butter.
Some dishes, such as carrot dumplings with roasted carrots, ginger, and herbs, could be plucked straight from the garden. While the offerings won’t be solely veg, 65 percent of Lair’s menu will focus on them (more about that other 35 percent later). Inevitably, Clever Rabbit will face comparisons to Bad Hunter, one of the year’s best new restaurants, but Lair says Chicago is simply catching up with other food-centric cities. “Chicagoans are just starting to embrace vegetable-focused, healthier cuisine,” he says. “But the trend has been going on in London, New York, and California for a while now.”
Pagor will oversee the cocktail list, which features such plant-based concoctions as a carrot margarita (cold-pressed carrot juice, ancho chile liqueur, tequila, lime, and salt). Still more carrots will feature on the dessert menu—in cake form, topped with emulsified olive oil jam in lieu of icing.
“When people hear ‘veggie-focused,’ they hear ‘vegetarian,’” Lair says. Not so at Clever Rabbit. Lair mentions a poached salmon dish with rosemary, juniper, roasted heirloom carrots, and parsley root. And, just to keep it real, he’s thrown a diner-style cheeseburger into the mix. “[We thought], we have a beautiful griddle, why don’t we do a double patty with a lot of cheese and mushrooms?” (We can’t think of any reason why not.) “We’re calling it the Fat Rabbit,” he says.