ZED 451 (Restaurant, River North)
Located in the trendy River North, ZED 451 is an interesting dining concept, combining an upscale buffet with the table-carved meats you may expect at a Brazilian steakhouse.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the restaurant is it’s modern décor and layout. The space centers around four large buffet tables — dubbed the Harvest Table — where you will begin your meal. Choose from soups, charcuterie, cheeses, sides, breads, and an array of salads, including potato, veggie, and pasta salads. Though I hesitate to call the spread a buffet -– it sounds rather pedestrian -– it will serve as your appetizer course and main course sides. Upon learning that I’d be getting up to pick out my own food, I felt a little disappointed. When I go out to eat, I generally like to sit back and relax, enjoying the rarity of having someone else serve food to me. But once I got into it, I really enjoyed the experience. I headed up at least three times, and it didn’t bother me a bit.
Once you’re ready for the main event (the meat), you will take a stone from the center of your table and place it in front of you. Your server will bring you a clean plate, and then the fun begins. Chefs amble through the dining room with a variety of meats on spits to be carved at your table. Among choices that we tasted were chicken, two types of grilled sirloin, duck breast, leg of lamb, venison, snapper, crab cakes, salmon, and pork belly. Chefs may ask you to assist them in the carving process, using a pair of tongs at your table to pull the meat from the spit.
When you can’t bear to eat anything more, place the stone back in the center of the table. The chefs will leave you be to sit back and unbuckle your belt. If you are able to exhibit self-control, or have an amazingly expandable stomach, you may want to check out the dessert menu. Beware that ZED is not kidding around with the sweets. Desserts like a Chocolate Layer Cake and a S’more Pie are enormous. One should be enough for a table of four. Of course, my group was overzealous and went for two to share. Woof. Unnecessary, but delicious.
I left in a self-induced food coma, but oh was it worth it.
An important note about the dinner menu: there is no option for a la carte ordering. The restaurant only offers its fixed-price menu ($48/person), including the buffet and carved meats. The entire experience is not inexpensive, though it’s a great place to try for a special occasion. Brunch is also served on weekends from 10am – 2pm.