This past week was quite busy – I attended both my first GrubWithUs event (a dinner with strangers) AND my first ever blogger conference.

source: http://www.thesitsgirls.com/

I always thought attending a blogger conference sounded like fun, but the best conferences occur just once per year, in locations that always seem to be completely across the country from me.  So I was excited when I read about Bloggy Boot Camp, a company that is taking their blogger conference on a tour across the U.S.  I tried my luck and put my name on the wait-list for the Chicago conference, and a spot actually opened up for me to attend!

 

The conference was a full-day event on Saturday, packed from 9 to 5 with engaging speakers, covering topics such as finding your niche, blog design, and working with brands. Overall, I was very impressed with how well-organized and informational the event was. The biggest lesson I learned?: GET BUSINESS CARDS! Of the dozens of bloggers I met that day, would you believe I was the only one that didn’t have a business card? Thankfully, my hand writing isn’t too terrible.

Source: www.grubwithus.comBut the highlight of my week was dinner Wednesday night with Mike and 6 strangers at Green Zebra at a GrubWithUs event.  GrubWithUs organizes dinners at popular restaurants around the city (and in other cities including NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, DC, and more!). Each event’s family-style menu means you’ll get to try a LOT of the restaurant’s best dishes.  Additionally, these events are great opportunities to get to know like-minded people.  

Green Zebra, just West of downtown, is (in my opinion) the most up-scale vegetarian restaurant in the city.  Yes, it’s the kind of restaurant where you are likely to receive an amuse bouche to start your meal – in this case, a white asparagus and orange salad.  I was very excited to ‘Grub’ here since this is the cheapest way to eat my way around their menu.  Additionally, I always love getting to know ‘vegetarian-friendly’ people!

 

 

 

GrubWithUs worked with the restaurant to put together a wonderful menu for us. Unfortunately, it was a while before we got to try anything, as the service was moving quite slow.  We waited, and waited, and waited… and then a bread-basket refill held us over while we waited, and waited some more.  Thankfully the conversation was fantastic. I was surprised to find that of the 8 of us at dinner, only 2 of us were vegetarian.  I loved that the other 6 were as excited for this meatless meal as us vegetarians were!

The group was wonderfully diverse – among us was a computer programmer, a novelist, a physical therapist, a student and a pastry chef – and we all shared a common love of food.  There were so many fantastic recommendations given to me during the course of the meal that I had to take notes!

But let’s get to the food…

All of it is Vegetarian, and (V) = Vegan

First Course: We started with Grilled Haloumi Cheese with Compressed Watermelon, Black Bean Dumplings, and a (V) Werp Farms Baby Lettuce salad.  They were all quite good, but nothing stood out to me more than the beautiful fresh figs in the salad.

  

Second Course

Our second course included a  Farro Risotto and a (V) Chickpea Tajine.  I loved that they used Farro, an ancient Italian grain, to make their risotto.  The risotto was extremely cheesy and creamy and could easily satisfy any comfort-food craving.  The chickpea tajine was tasty, but I found the flavor to be quite mild and wished a heavier hand was used when the spices were added.

    

But the all-around favorite entree at the table was the (V) Crispy Soba Noodle Cake.  I loved how the bitterness of the rapini complemented the light salty, sweet, & savory sauce.  While there were leftovers to take home of the risotto and tagine, the plates for the soba noodle cake were scraped clean in no time.

Dessert

Our desserts included (V) Peach and Raspberry Sorbets, Cream-Fraiche Ice-cream, (V) Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes, and Butterscotch Glazed Doughnuts.  My favorite dessert was the Raspberry Sorbet, which was especially good when blended with the Cream-Fraiche ice-cream.  The doughnuts and cupcakes were a little bit on the dry side, but I did love the decadent dark chocolate vegan frosting on the cupcake.

  

Overall, I loved Green Zebra’s use of seasonal, local ingredients, and the variety in their menu.  I also like that the menu’s plant-based focus (I didn’t see any ‘fake-meat’ on the menu) appeals to both vegetarians and omnivores alike.  The restaurant also stands out for it’s crisp, clean, modern decor, which makes dining their feel like a special night out. However, while everything we tasted was good, the food didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

GrubWithUs, however, left me very impressed.  One of the perks of dining with GrubWithUs? – Since we had pre-paid for our bills and gratuity, there was no stress at all when the check came.  We enjoyed the company so much, that we gave a ride home to three other diners, and I hope to see everyone again at a future GrubWithUs event!

I’d love to hear from you:

Bloggers – do you have a business card for your blog?

Everyone – have you ever attended a dinner with complete strangers?