Worshiping at the Alter of Althea

Guru. Pioneer. Celebrity. Savant. God.

Matthew Kenney is many things to his multitude of fervent followers, but one thing cannot be denied: The man knows how to cook. Well, more accurately, he knows how to treat his vegetables right, heat need not be applied. He is not just a chef, but a brand in and of himself. Commanding the table at over two dozen fine dining establishments worldwide, he’s arguably the trailblazer at the head of the raw food movement. These days, his formal education from the French Culinary Institute manifests in less rigid preparations, mandating minimal processing, rather than a complete abstinence of heat.

Three Beet Carpaccio

As a prominent figure in the plant-based movement from the days before it was cool, his name hit my radar sporadically, but my experience with his food has been limited. Only once before, over a decade ago, was I fortune enough to dine at Pure Food and Wine before its scandalous closure. Thankfully, the man is unflappable, soldiering on with new projects seemingly sprouting up everyday. Althea in Chicago offers a compact menu of re-imagined classic dishes spanning numerous global cuisines, along with Kenney’s own fusion creations. The only knock against the place is location. Completely hidden away on the 7th floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, you must navigate through racks of stiff men’s suits and deftly dodge the perfume counter to earn your meal.

Kimchi Dumplings

Stemming from the Greek name that can be applied to either a woman or a man, Althea means “wholesome,” from the verb althos, meaning ‘to heal’. Fittingly, the mission statement of the eponymous restaurant is to meld plant-based culinary art and ultimate nutrition.

Mightyvine Tomato + Zucchini Lasagna

Most raw approaches treat food only as fuel, leaching out all the joy and whimsy from the act of eating. This was one of the rare instances I can look back on the concept and it has the potential to compete with any Michelin-starred cooking.

Kelp Noodle Cacio E Pepe

Truly alive in more ways that old-school “uncookery” would imply, colors vibrate off immaculately plated dishes, flavors explode with incomparable intensity; the full essence of each vegetable is celebrated. You won’t find dehydrated planks of flaxen juicer pulp here. This menu is designed from a place of joy and abundance, from a creative food lover unleashed from traditional culinary boundaries. Defying easy explanation, this is an experience that you simply must enjoy firsthand to properly grasp. Book your table, book your tickets, get yourself out there; it’s worth traveling any distance to enjoy.

Althea
700 N Michigan Avenue
7th Floor
Chicago, IL 60611

Wordless Wednesday: Wildly Delicious

Ceviche of King Trumpet Mushrooms; leche de tigre, avocado, mango and seeded chips

Beet Poke; macadamia, baby cucumbers, ponzu, seaweed garlic crackers

Curried Cauliflower; with muhammara and toasted almonds

Mexican Corn Cakes; cherry tomatoes salad, lime, chili and queso

Mezze Plate; falafel, smoked white bean hummus, baba ghanoush, cucumber, marinated feta, pomegranate-tomato and parsley tabouli, seeded flatbread

Neatball Masala; warm super grains, lentil and mushroom neatballs, coconut masala, pickled carrots, tzatziki

Donburi; warm super grains, kimchi, avocado, roasted yam, shiitake mushroom, chard, roasted cauliflower

Peruvian Hodo Soy Tofu Skewer; with King Oysters mushrooms, yam, aji amarillo, quinoa salad, and cucumber yogurt

Impossible Burger; grilled onion, chipotle aioli, tomatoes, gem lettuce

Warm Chocolate Cake; beet and chaga, Gio’s chocolate gelato, coco nibs

Wildseed
2000 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

One in a Trillion

There’s no stopping culinary creativity, even during a pandemic. Innovative eateries are still opening up everyday, ranging from low-cost to high-brow, but the latest wave all have something in common: They share the same dining room. Your own home dinner table is now ready to host! Meal delivery services are the new restaurant experience, filling the gap for those who love food but may not be as wild about all the labor- or dishes- involved. Another uniting, but less palatable factor, is that none of these options take specific health needs into consideration.

WeTheTrillions takes an entirely different approach. So named for the trillions of cells, bacteria, and other living beings that make up our microbiomes, the goal isn’t just to feed, but to nourish and flourish.

Using plant-based foods as tools to address specific conditions and wellness goals, these bespoke meals offer powerful nutrition in genuinely delicious packages. A quick quiz helps determine which menu is best suited for your situation, but it’s not all anonymous algorithms guiding the way. A real, live person (!) reviews the results, following up with additional questions about your health history. The goal is to design a menu that you’re guaranteed to love, with real, tangible benefits. Some of the programs deal with tackling diabetes, menopause, IBS, PCOS, Endometriosis, fertility, anemia, and more, customized to your tastes.

Okay, but what about the fun stuff: The FOOD? If you’ve been around the Bay Area long enough, you may recognize some of the edible offerings from the now defunct leCupboard. Living up to that memory, if not exceeding it, these dishes are simply delicious, crafted for flavors without compromise. In fact, downtown workers have been eating it up before thinking about the nutritional implications. There’s a literal hole in the wall, down a small alley in the Financial District, where you can purchase grab-and-go meals a la carte.

Landing right at your doorstep on demand, delivery is clearly the way to go for the majority of those hungry for a change. Packages arrive absent of fanfare in plain cardboard boxes, focused on the inner contents rather than exterior appearances. Personalized touches distinguish every aspect of the service, setting it a world apart from other companies claiming to put their clients first. Handwritten tags label every glass jar, packed by people, rather than shrink-wrapping machines.

If you’re so fortunate as to pay a visit, appropriately socially distanced in person or virtually, at home, may I recommend The Madrid? Designed with the mushroom-lover in mind, slow roasted shiitake and cremini tumble together in a tangle of zucchini noodles, coated in impeccably fresh, slightly spicy walnut pesto. This was a favorite back in the day, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be reunited at last.

Exploring deeper into unknown territory, while The Tangiers Stew isn’t one I was familiar with from previous visits to the brick-and-mortar establishment, it would have easily made my hit list for repeat orders. In fact, it was so good, I willfully flaunted reheating instructions to eat it chilled, straight out of the container! Mercifully, for hot days ahead and blisteringly busy schedules, everything included is fully cooked and ready to eat. Sauced and spiced zucchini dazzles with the ginger-lemon sauce saturating every cell, perched atop a bed of toothsome black forbidden rice. Slivered, toasted almonds remain as crisp as can be, lending a resounding crunch to the harmonious ensemble.

Translucent kelp noodles from The Ha Long Bay glisten in the sunshine, glowing with the golden hue of simmered carrots and parsley pistou. Wok this way (or just sautée) for a Vietnamese-inspired twist on New American Cuisine, drawing inspiration from the tenets of the raw food movement. Kelp noodles, made without flour or starch, are a rare find on any menu. Their unique texture is an ideal blank canvas for such an innovative palate of spices and herbs. Tender mushrooms and zucchini are woven between strands, playing umami chords for a completely symphonic eating experience.

Struggling to get down enough greens is a constant challenge even in the best of times, let alone given difficulty accessing enough fresh produce en masse. Gulp down a few sips of Cancun Juice to win this battle with ease. Swampy green from spirulina, thick as a blended smoothie, the taste is pure pineapple refreshment despite the intimidating appearance.

Appeasing the sweet tooth, breakfasts and desserts seemed interchangeable to me, as it should be when only natural, nutrient-dense sweeteners are involved. The Barcelona, a berry and hemp parfait, stacks up layers of creamy custard and fresh strawberries, that actually retain their textural integrity. It’s a small but noteworthy element; you’ll never find that in a frozen meal solution. Meanwhile, The Nancy is aptly named only because I continuously transpose the letters to call it The Fancy. A coconut base bursting with roasted blueberries, pistachios, and flax seed crumble would be right at home in any high-end hipster enclave. A bit simpler but no less impressive is The Manchester, flawlessly smooth and creamy, a strawberry pot-de-creme made possible only with flawless fruit as the foundation. While the The Bordeaux Chocolate Mousse was most clearly intended for an after dinner treat, but the fact that it’s made up dates and yams suggests that it’s an equally suitable morning starter. Chocoholics, rejoice; you can indulge in all the cocoa goodness your heart desires, deep and rich and silky, without any regrets later in the day. These tiny but mighty little jars contain the fuel to start out strong and end up satisfied.

Of course, any decent diet must include snacks, and the midday morsels included here don’t disappoint. The Marrakesh Jewels take two juicy, soft Medjool dates and stuff them to the brim with pistachio praline and cashew lemon chia, respectively. If hunger begins to nag like a petulant child between meals, a little bit goes a long way with these potent bites.
Genuine cookie monsters can find a more conventional pastry replacement in The Istanbul Cookie, a tahini-rye chocolate chip cookie that boasts an impressive 80% of your iron requirements per day. You’d never know it based on flavor, which is evocative of pure childhood comfort, hold the butter and eggs.

WeTheTrillions invites you to embrace your cravings. Acknowledging that “clean eating” is a misguided fallacy, the ultimate goal is to satisfy the need for comfort food without sacrificing wellness, or sanity, for that matter. Flavor is the foundation of what makes a healthful meal.

This is one establishment you’ll never regret visiting. Give it a try, make it a routine, and throw away your other takeout menus. This one has genuine staying power.

Get 10% off your order with the code HANNAH10, today!

This review was made possible as a collaboration with WeTheTrillions. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Wordless Wednesday: Greens is the New Black

Potato Griddle Cakes with vadouvan and spinach. Served with coconut tamarind chutney, shaved fennel, mint, and lime vinaigrette.

Arugula Salad with charred cauliflower, watermelon radish, avocado, and pumpkin seeds.

Grilled Brussels Sprouts with muhammara sauce, pomegranate reduction, and slivered almonds

Mesquite Grilled Brochettes with mushrooms, Mariquita Farm potatoes, peppers, fennel, sweet potatoes, red onions and Hodo Tofu with chermuoula.

Wild Mushroom and Spinach Phyllo with Moroccan chickpea stew, green harissa, roasted carrots, and maitake mushrooms.

Broccoli Pizza with macadamia cheese, baby arugula, and spicy red pepper pesto sauce.

Blackened Hodo Tofu with Carolina Gold hoppin’ john, cabbage slaw, and golden BBQ sauce

DeVoto Orchards Apple Crisp with ginger streusel and coconut sorbet

Greens Restaurant
2 Marina Blvd A
San Francisco, CA 94123

Fall Back Plan

Wet leaves slap the windshield, leaving teardrops in their wake, smearing across the glass before spreading their wings and fluttering away. Driving through a light autumnal drizzle is strikingly more depressing than a gentle summer rain. Fog obscures the road, blurring signs and stoplights into hazy, shapeless colors. I feel like my whole head is full of damp cotton balls by the time I finally shift gears to park.

Fall is not my favorite season, but by no fault of its own. Signaling the end of summer, it’s merely the messenger, doomed to be shot every year. I shiver as I watch temperatures slowly fall, regardless of how warm it really feels. I storm angrily through piles of leaves, even if there’s only one small mound pushed together on an entire block. The truth is, there’s still a lot to love about fall, and almost all of if it is food.

Do you welcome the arrival of the autumnal equinox with open arms, or reluctant acceptance? One thing we can all appreciate is a return of cozy comfort foods with all their warming spices, hearty starches, and nostalgic aromas. There’s a handful of recipes that always set me in the right mood and remind me, in spite of my irrepressible pessimism: Hey, it turns out that autumn isn’t all bad.

Continue reading “Fall Back Plan”

Noodles for All

Between the hundreds of healthy eating regimes, food intolerance and allergies, and moral dietary restriction, to say nothing of basic taste preferences, the number of landmines one might hit just trying to get the whole family to the table can make everyday meal planning a war zone. When it comes down to it, though, there are just two types of eaters out there: Noodle lovers and noodle lusters. There really is a place where everyone can eat in peace, allowing everyone to fully embrace their cravings, healthy or more hedonistic. Taking great pains to become more inclusive than ever, Noodles & Company has launched a new initiative to offer dishes with flavors and options for every diet, preference, pickiness, and lifestyle.

Figuring out just what is or isn’t vegan is a top concern, especially when some dishes might be just one easy modification away from perfection. Penne rosa sounds inextricably bound by dairy, but believe it or not, can easily come without cream or cheese for a satisfying Italian feast. I wouldn’t have even thought to ask had it not been for the handy new personalized nutrition calculator which lists not only potential allergens, calories, and ingredients, but suggests swaps to better suit your specific needs. Unlike the harsh rules imposed by some unwelcoming, militant chefs, customization is genuinely encouraged here!

Best of all, the encouragement to tailor your meal to taste allows for infinite creativity. Everything is made fresh, to order, so it’s not a problem to mix and match, add and subtract to your heart’s content.

Need something without gluten? Try the pipette, which bear such a satisfying, al-dente bite that I had trouble believing they were made of rice and corn, rather than traditional wheat.

Want something a bit lighter? Go for the zoodles (ie, zucchini noodles), which pair brilliantly with the spicy peanut sauce, if I do say so myself.

Craving all the veggies? Load ’em up, adding a rainbow of produce to the already verdant whole wheat spaghetti fresca, sans cheese.

Need a bigger protein punch? Try the spicy Korean noodles with tofu instead of beef, and avail yourself heartily to extra sriracha on the condiment bar.

I’ve passed by Noodles & Company many times before without giving it a second thought, which strikes me as a terrible oversight now. These aren’t your average bowlfuls of bland, mushy food court pastas. The Japanese pan noodles are the OG plant-based option, standing the test of time as part of the menu since day one. Had I just ventured in and tried those chewy, beautifully charred strands of udon, twisting around tangles of broccoli florets and shredded carrots years ago, this superlative experience would have come as no surprise. It’s a good thing the Noodles & Company empire is continuing to expand, with many more locations in the works.

Whether your food preferences are dictated by a strict diet or a picky palate, there’s a place for everyone at this table.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Noodles & Company. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!