Most evenings of fine dining don't start underneath six tons of dirt.
Evanston's first annual green restaurant crawl, dedicated to highlighting restaurants that serve their customers through sustainable practices did exactly that, however, when it began with a selection of small tasting plates made, in part, from a rooftop garden.
"It wasn't easy to haul six tons of dirt up to the roof," says Chef Ben Benbow, the sous-chef at Quince. "But we're committed to using local, sustainable food."
Benbow was speaking Tuesday night at Sponsored by the Business Alliance for a Sustainable Evanston, BASE organized the event to increase exposure for the young organization, provide a networking opportunity, and simply educate those interested about Evanston's burgeoning sustainable food and wine movement.
About two dozen people assembled for the first tasting at Quince, the contemporary American eatery on the first floor of the Homestead Hotel. People mingled freely, enjoying organic wine. Benbow introduced the two hors'dourves. A sweet pastry came first in the form of a pear and parsnip pancake, about as big as a half dollar, topped with a bourbon infused cherry and a baked apple chip, ever so slightly askew. Next was a halibut croquette, using fish flown in from sustainable farms in Scotland and Iceland.
The crowd, at first, hung back politely, and then quickly descended on the appetizers. One attendee asked of no one in particular what became the refrain of the night: "Are they going to bring out any more?"
Fran Horvath knows just how hungry Evanston residents can be. In 2005, she launched the store Ethical Planet, catering to green minded concerns in the Chicago area. That experience put her in touch with a number of local business owners with the same mentality, and an informal networking group was founded that eventually evolved into the Business Alliance for a Sustainable Evanston. A board member of BASE, she was critical in planning the restaurant crawl, which succeeded in furthering the earlier groups aims of spreading news about green events.
At the second stop, Vinic Wine, the food was set aside in favor of an organic wine tasting. Justine Barkley of the Citizens for a Greener Evanston took the opportunity to mingle, passing out postcards for an upcoming Green Artists Showcase at the Noyes Cultural Art Center. Justine and her boyfriend are beyond committed to their green ideals. "Remember to recycle these," he says as he hands out the postcards.
Elsewhere in Vinic, owner Sandeep Ghaey talked up the wines being tasted. "These both are from companies that offset the entire carbon footprint they create in making the wine," he says. "And shipping it. That's a lot of carbon credits." Ghaey wants his shop to be a destination for those interested in shopping green, and plans on labeling every wine in the store according to whether it's organic or is made with sustainable practices.
The last stop on the crawl was Evanston institution Blind Faith Cafe. Owner David Lipschutz welcomed the crowd, vaunting the restaurants far reaching environmental cred. "We were green before green was green," Lipschutz said, reflecting on Blind Faith's more than thirty year history of cooking vegetarian, vegan, and in many cases, organic and local.
The food tasting reflected just that. Stuffed grape leaves were paired with organic red and white wines, and served alongside a cucumber stuffed with a tuna ceviche. A peanut and ginger gardein -- a soy and vegetable product that resembles tofu -- was delectable, and the bruschetta was an amazing surprise. A toasted, crackery bread, topped with Manchego cheese, quince preserves and, in a bit of delicious visual trickery, a red grape where one might think they're seeing an olive, all coming together in an unexpected combination that offers an entirely new way to think about what bruschetta can be.
As the night came to a close, Lipschutz circulated among the crawl's attendees to talk green eating and living. Having hung on in a meat and potatoes town for decades, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to sustain oneself running a sustainable business. "It's a commitment," said Lipschutz. "We here want to take care of Evanston's primary needs. To do that, and to do it right, you need to live the lifestyle."