Sweet of the Week: Chocolate Budino at Lyfe Kitchen

When a restaurant touts itself as healthy and vegetarian-focused, with an emphasis on fake "chickin," I generally take it with a hefty grain of salt. Or don't eat there at all. I'm not too keen on restaurants that are preachy to the point of brow-beating customers into eating what they deem healthier, even though vegan and gluten-free items are not automatically diet-friendly. So with that minor rant out of the way, I have to admit I've been pleasantly surprised with the wares at Lyfe Kitchen, a California-based import that recently set up shop with its inaugural Chicago location in River North. The quick service eatery peddles items that are often vegetarian, sometimes vegan, and sometimes gluten-free, with a constant commitment to wholesome sourcing. But can it walk the walk as well? Indeed it does, from kale smoothies to burgers both veggie and non, and all the way down to its diminutive dessert selection. One to take note of is the chocolate budino, something wildly more inventive and thoughtful than the rest of the sweets on the menu. It will delight your senses while enlightening your mind, something most desserts probably don't come close to doing.

Chocolate budino
(Chocolate budino at Lyfe Kitchen)

It's not every day a chocolate dessert comes buried in chewy chia seeds. That alone makes the chocolate budino worth noting, let alone the fact that it's delicious, albeit a tad dense. A fudgy scoop of thick chocolate forms the foundation of this tiny-but-mighty dessert. The chocolate is rich but not too sweet or buttery, making it easy to consume the whole portion without feeling like you swallowed an anvil. It helps that the whole thing is immersed in pomegranate-soaked chia seeds, toothsome tapioca-like pearls that enliven the chocolate and enrobe it in fruity, silky flavor. For some added crunch, it's finished with a smattering of toasted almond slivers. All together, it's a combo that is at once offbeat, eye-opening, and luscious, making for a truly profound dessert experience.

- Matt Kirouac