Althea ( 700 N. Michigan Ave.; MatthewKenneyCuisine.com/althea ) is courtesy of celebrity chef and plant-based pioneer Matthew Kenney, and occupies part of the seventh floor of Saks Fifth Avenue ( and is where Sophie's used to be ).
There are two things I remember about Sophie's: the models who walked through the restaurant advertising some expensive frocks, and crab cakes featuring crustaceans that had been flown in from Indonesia ( which prompted me to jokingly ask, "Aren't there crabs that are closer?" ).
Althea has crab cakes as wellbut considering that this is a vegan spot, quotes should probably be put around that name. However, these particular itemsmade of hearts of palm, artichoke, quinoa and ancho aioli, with zucchini relishare pretty delicious themselves, even if they're crab cake-ish.
And that's part of the problem for this writer. If I had never tasted ( and appreciated ) meat, I might have loved some of these dishes more. However, too many of these items should have an "ish" tacked on the endemphasizing that while vegan items have come quite a long way, there's a bit to go.
That being stated, there were some other standouts. The flora artisanal cheese plate had such treats as porcini truffle, harissa Jack cheddar and wine-soaked mascarpone ( even if the accompanying fennel-flax crackers were too brittle to handle anything ). Also, the Brussels sprouts flatbread ( with smoked almond ricotta, carrot-caraway puree, sauerkraut and apple-cider gastrique ) was pleasingand the people at a neighboring table raved about the kimchi dumplings, which my dining companion and I did not try.
Then there were the entrees.
Neither my dining companion ( a strict vegan, by the way ) nor I was particularly impressed with the spicy udon or the coconut-curry risotto. My friend thought the udon "is anything but. Short on noodles and stingy on mix-ins ( shiitakes, cashews and bok choy ), the fine dusting of togarashi ( spice blend ) around the bowl fails to alert ones taste buds to its presence. Disappointing." My risotto was watery and wretchingly blandeven the mint-cilantro chutney failed to help. However, other dishes sound promising, such as the kelp noodle cacio e pepe and the chickpea frittata.
Desserts were marginally better. The chai-spiced maple cheesecake was pretty good to me, although the crust was diamond-hard. The coconut cream pie was also satisfying
( By the way, nuts are used extensively hereexcept for peanuts. )
On the night I attended, the crowd steadily increased in size, indicating that at least some people are taken by the cuisine.
My final analysis is this: The appetizers are very appealing, and you can certainly enjoy them while taking in the exquisite sights of the Mag Mile. You may also want to check out brunch; I imagine the avocado toast is amazing.
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.
Sidetrack's MOMosa brunch Nov. 17
Equality Illinois will hold its annual "MOMosa" brunch fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 17, 1-4 p.m., at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted St.
Attendees will celebrate mothers, families and all others who love equality.
All proceeds benefit Equality Illinois. Tickets are 440 each; see www.equalityillinois.us/events/momosa-2/ .