Plant prince Matthew Kenney — who operates vegan restaurants around the world — is bringing kelp noodles and kimchi dumplings to Chicago next month. Kenney — who opened New York City’s first fine dining vegan restaurant in 2004 called Pure Food + Wine, and who has been on a roll unleashing meat-free restaurants both in the U.S. and abroad over the last couple of years — will land on the seventh floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, replacing the former Sophie’s with Althea.
Slated to debut late September, Kenney plans to plate his signature style of worldly-inspired modern vegan cookery using carefully-sourced organic ingredients, some of which he’ll bring in from California. As is the case at many of his venues, the 13-seat bar plus 14-seat lounge will celebrate cocktails made with organic produce, plus beer and wine that’s vegan, organic, and biodynamic, too.
Claiming Sophie’s 2,000-square foot space adjacent to The Men’s Lounge, patrons can expect a 64-seat dining room with views of Michigan Avenue. In terms of aesthetics, think clean, bright and modern — in line with many of Kenney’s spots — and flaks say there will be “a rippling Lasvit glass wall, which can transition the space into a private dining area.”
With 16(!) restaurants currently in his plant kingdom, Kenney will visit Althea as much as his schedule allows, but in his absence a still to-be-determined chef de cuisine will run the ship. Expect some of Kenney’s staples like kelp (seaweed) noodle cacio pepe, kimchi dumplings made from coconut wrappers, and a play on raclette using cashews in place of cheese. So while some dishes may sound like non-vegan staples, remember everything here is entirely devoid of animal products. In terms of new creations, expect dishes like spicy udon soup.
As mentioned, Kenney has recently been on a wild opening streak, spawning businesses on five continents, with the most activity concentrated in New York. Not long ago he debuted a Japanese vegan spot named Arata in the East Village, and before that Mexican-tinged Bar Verde and Mediterranean-minded XYST, both in Chelsea. He also rolled out concepts in Australia, Colombia, with a spot slated for Argentina later this year.
And now, Chicago. In a food-focused dining city rich with burgers and beer, fresh, plant-based dining is a welcome reprieve. Consider Althea more of a daytime cafe, as hours of operation will run 11 am. to 7 p.m. daily.