Open Tab: PLANTA Queen redefines plant-based Japanese cuisine


Jay Dugar/Daily Senior Staffer

PLANTA Queen’s ornately decorated bar serves as spillover seating for those who did not make reservations.

Jay Dugar, Newsroom Strategist

Who said sushi needs to have fish? Even if you love seafood, the “Torched and Pressed” at PLANTA Queen, Chicago will make you forget that you ever liked fish.

PLANTA Queen, or Planta for short, is one of my favorite Japanese restaurants of all time. So the moment I learned there was a Chicago location, I knew I needed to visit it immediately.

As a vegetarian, I’ve always been a fan of plant-based sushi. But, I’ve found that there is a lack of vegetarian-based sushi options at many Japanese restaurants. Beyond consuming the occasional avocado and cucumber roll, this specific dietary restriction can be extremely limiting. So when the waiter’s first words to me after introducing themselves are some variation of “everything at Planta is entirely plant-based,” it can be pretty exciting.

One of Planta’s most unique aspects in comparison to other vegan sushi places is rooted in their  ingredients. Rather than relying on tofu or meat substitutes, Planta uses actual fruits and vegetables that are prepared to taste like the traditional food. Any restaurant that can make watermelon taste like tuna, or eggplant like charred freshwater eel, is absolutely worth the trip to me.

Planta is meant to be eaten family style with a sweet spot of 2 to 3 dishes ordered per person. In the interest of being thorough, I tried five menu items — three sushi dishes, one small plate of broccoli and one “signature,” each somehow better than the next.

Starting with sushi, I ordered the Unagi Eggplant Nigiri and the Ahi Watermelon Nigiri. These plates are fairly reasonably priced, with each dish — consisting of two pieces of sushi on each plate — at $6.25. It is worth every penny.

The explosion of flavors from the Unagi Eggplant Nigiri made the world stop spinning temporarily. This dish consisted of a piece of eggplant, charred to perfection, topped off with a brown miso truffle glaze. The sweet and savory combination is difficult to perfect, and typically hard to come by, but that’s not the case at Planta — especially for the watermelon ahi.

The watermelon’s slight sweetness paired with the sauce’s savoriness was a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure what I expected prior, but the ahi exceeded any expectations I had. Though it wasn’t my favorite dish, only because it has such stiff competition, I would stake my reputation on it all the same.

Moving on to my small plate, I tried the Dan Dan noodles — a staff member recommendation. The dish did not disappoint. The noodles were presented in a creamy coconut sauce with gai lan — or Chinese broccoli — and szechuan kamut. The dish’s creamy nature is enough to make a person wonder “how can this possibly be vegan?” I know I certainly asked that question. The Dan Dan noodles were one of the pricier dishes I tried, at $20.75, but it was incredibly filling, and I would order it again in a heartbeat.

My fourth dish is the restaurant’s best seller, and for good reason, as a Planta dinner would not be complete without the Bang Bang Broccoli. The dish has an actual cult following in New York to the extent that Planta proudly sells Bang Bang merch. If anybody wants to get me a birthday present, look no further. The dish itself is made up of deep fried broccoli topped with a peanut sauce. Crisped to perfection, I feel confident in reporting that the dish featured the most delicious broccoli I’ve ever tasted. At $14.50 for the entire dish, I’d say it’s well worth it.

For those wondering why I have only described two sushi dishes so far, ponder no longer: I wanted to save the best dish for last. 

The “Torched and Pressed” sushi dish was honestly life-changing. The dish, which comes with six pieces at $16.75, features a bed of rice topped with torched avocado and an umami-rich miso truffle glaze. There’s so much flavor enclosed in each small bite of the plate that this dish easily made it to the top of my ranking.

Planta’s delicious food options are only rivaled by the excellent service and relaxed and modern ambiance. The space is bright and airy, with large windows and chic decorations that strike the perfect balance of luxurious and upscale without being obnoxious.

Growing up vegetarian in Los Angeles, I’ve tried my share of plant based sushi, and let me tell you: Planta blows every other option out of the water. This reporter gives Planta two thumbs up, and I know I’ll be going back at least a few more times this quarter. 

All I can say is, if sushi with fish tastes anything like Planta, I finally understand what people mean when they say I’m missing out. However, I have it on good authority that the sushi at Planta is just as good or better than the meaty kind, and I cannot recommend trying it for yourself highly enough.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @dugar_jay

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