Eat what you can, Can what you can't

Lisa Arnett Reviews PV!

Review: Perennial Virant

Award-winning Paul Virant’s garden-fresh cooking is now in the city

By Lisa Arnett

May 27, 2011

 

 

Review: Perennial Virant

Photo tour: Perennial Virant Photo tour: Perennial Virant Photo tour: Perennial Virant Photo tour: Perennial Virant Photo tour: Perennial Virant
Address:
1800 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, 60614-5812
Phone:
312-981-7070

Hours:

Brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday Dinner: 5-10 p.m. daily
Official Web Site:
http://perennialchicago.com/

Rating: !!!! (out of 4) Already hot

While every other newbie restaurant seems to be talking the “local, seasonal” talk, Paul Virant has been walking the walk at Vie in southwest suburban Western Springs since 2004. And city foodies haven’t been making the mini-pilgrimage on the Metra for nothing; he does it really, really well.

So well, actually, that it’s a wonder no one has convinced him to open a second restaurant in Chicago proper until now. The Boka Restaurant Group (Boka, Landmark, Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster) did just that after their chef at Lincoln Park restaurant Perennial, Ryan Poli, announced he was leaving for Tavernita, opening later this summer in River North. And so Perennial plus Virant equals the new Perennial Virant, which reopened May 18 after a top-to-bottom rehab.

I arrived at Perennial Virant, more casual than the special-occasion worthy Vie, via a quick bus ride from downtown. From the start it’s clear that Virant continues to be local to the core; even the whole-grain bread served at the meal’s start is made with grains from Heritage Farms in Elburn and barley malt from Goose Island here in town. Though the right side of the menu tempts with a slew of shareable plates, I stuck to the left side to see what the $37 three-course meal (called the PV3) would buy.

Every dish manages to …
balance flavors perfectly. Virant intends to change the three-course options often based on limited quantities of seasonal produce and meats he can get his hands on. During my dinner, chicken fricassee ($25 or part of the $37 three-course meal) is light but still hearty, with bites of meaty oyster mushrooms, green garlic and shaved bits of turnip. Virant’s well-publicized penchant for pickling shows not just in the dozens of jars lined up on the wall, but in vinegary veggies that provide that punch of acidity to counter rich, smoky flavors, like the sweet onion relish coating potato chunks alongside rich Great Lakes whitefish ($21 or as part of the three-course meal)

I can’t stop thinking about … the pork shoulder confit ($12 alone or part of the $37 meal) with a giardiniera of white turnips, fennel, carrots and radishes. It’s a crabcake-like disc of juicy, tender pork shreds, seared to a satisfying crisp. Also dominating my dinner daydreams is the butter pound cake dessert ($8 alone or part of the $37 meal). Virant borrowed Boka pastry chef Kady Yon from to collaborate on the sweets, and I gobbled up every bite of this Twinkie-hued bar of buttery cake with buttered hickory nuts and toasted milk ice cream (which, in case you’ve never toasted your milk, tastes kind of malty).

You’ll be glad that …
the oh-so-pretty, pergola-outfitted patio is still intact, though for now there’s some unfortunate scaffolding intruding on the picturesque park view.

Even if you don’t drink wine …
take a look at the bottle list for categories are helpful and fun, from “Liquid Dessert” to “Rhone Rangers” and “From Our Friends in Michigan.” Never-too-sweet cocktails follow the rightfully popular practice of tweaking tried and true classics, from Remember the Maine Forest ($12, like a manhattan but with tea-infused rye) and the Late Spring Daiquiri ($12) with rum, honey and allspice.

I’m already planning a return trip to …
dip into the shared-plates sides of the menu. These dishes will also change spontaneously, but Virant hopes a few will become signatures even as the preparations change, such as the Yukon gold potato gnocchi with spring veggie ragout ($17) or crispy Carnaroli rice, a take on arancini with cheese curds ($11).

Just wait until …
brunch launches in time for Father’s Day (if this sounds like your dad’s style, make your reservations soon). It’ll likely take on a Southern-inspired “meat and three” format, with your choices of breakfast meats plus sides of eggs, veggies or breads.

My only complaint … is that I still just can’t get on board with the name. It’s clunky. And awkward. I have yet to talk to anyone (correction: anyone not affiliated with the restaurant) who is genuinely crazy about it. The staff has taken to calling it PV for short, which, I’m sorry, sounds like something you should be treating with antibiotics.

Bottom line:
In theory, Virant and the Boka crew have created a restaurant that will make you want to come back because the menu will change often. In practice, you’ll be craving return trips because every bite delivers in the deliciousness department.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Food: $37 three-course dinner or shareable plates running $7-$27
Drinks: Signature cocktails cost $12, wines by the glass run $8-$20, American craft beers $5-$21
Reservations: Recommended
Crowd: Reflective of the Lincoln Park-meets-Old Town location, from twenties to gray hairs
Service: Casual and smiley, by servers in tees, jeans and sneakers
Must order: Pork confit with spring vegetable giardiniera
Skip: The prix fixe meal’s $9 cheese course supplement. For its small size, I’d put that cash toward another drink.

Lisa Arnett is the Metromix dining producer. lmarnett@tribune.com. She dines anonymously and meals are paid for by Metromix.

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