With so many restaurants in Chicago there’s little reason to leave the city to dine elsewhere. One exception, however, is Vie, chef Paul Virant’s sleek standout in Western Springs that has become a destination for exceptional dining and whose cuisine was awarded a prestigious Michelin star last November. More than six years after its opening, the occasion that finally brought me, my two sisters, and father to Vie was the celebration of my mother’s 75th birthday. By chance our plans fell during Chicago Restaurant Week, now in its fourth year, which happily gave us a win-win opportunity to try a number of dishes at an affordable price through the prix-fixe, four-course menu for $44.
It being Restaurant Week as well as a Saturday night, Vie was buzzing—exactly what restaurants and customers welcome in the middle of dreary February in Chicago when there isn’t much incentive to venture out. But I can tell you Vie is worth the trip, and my first impressions were a welcome surprise. A far cry from many suburban restaurants, Vie’s interior combines elegance in its blue-gray tones with contemporary styling, but steers clear from being stuffy or aloof. It’s easy to leave your daily life at the door, for here you step into another world.
Having honed his skills at some of Chicago’s top restaurants including Charlie Trotter’s, Ambria, Everest, and Blackbird, Virant deftly turns seasonal ingredients from local farmers and artisans into exceptionally composed dishes. It was an awesome evening to sit back, relax, and let dinner unfold on auto-pilot as well-trained wait staff expertly paced the meal.
For this particular evening’s menu my first course selection was a plate of crispy herb Parisienne gnocchi with parsnips and mushrooms showered with Prairie Fruits Farm Kaskaskia cheese and settled in a wonderful sauce. Others at the table gave the other appetizer, seared diver sea scallops with sunchoke purée, smoked apple butter, and fried sunchokes, high marks. (Unfortunately, I forgot to snap of photo of that dish.) When I return to Vie, I might well make a meal of a few appetizers alone for the way Virant ever so creatively combines mundane and unusual ingredients.
Following our first course was the Vie salad that brought together a mild and punchy mix of crisp local greens with Hawaiian hearts of palm, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a garlic and herb vinaigrette. We also ordered a beautiful beet-carrot side dish that by the time it came around to me was half gone.
Third course choices were either a meat or a fish, and you can’t go wrong with either. On a night with temps in the 20s, I opted for the hearty Deitzler Farm beef combination, shown in the photo at the top. Here Virant serves out-of-this-world crispy braised beef over perfectly wood-grilled steak on a pool of creamy polenta and roasted root vegetables that he then rounds out with a red wine sauce.
Virant was equally adept in his preparation of an Atlantic fluke, a meaty, moist fish pan-roasted, delivering a crisp exterior. The fish is finished with brown butter and lemon chicken jus, along with fine herbes and glazed pickled beans, all perched on smashed potatoes.
The prix-fixe menu finishes with a single dessert, but it satisfies superbly on a number of levels. Pastry chef Rochelle DuBridge offers up her divine vanilla gooey butter cake with mini tastes of streusel, raspberry jam, cream cheese ice cream, red velvet tuile, and a Meyer lemon bar. I could easily be happy with the butter cake and cream cheese ice cream alone.
The good news is that Vie has extended its Restaurant Week menu through March 1. The bad news is that that leaves only two more days to book your reservation. But if you can’t make it soon, plan on dining during Chef’s Week, from March 20-26, where a three-course meal will be offered for $33. Just this past week, other good news was announced. Paul Virant is teaming with the Boka Group to run the kitchen at Perennial in Lincoln Park, where he has been named the new executive chef and partner. While Vie is worth the trip (and will remain Virant’s flagship restaurant), now city dwellers will be fortunate to have a shorter trek to experience Virant’s outstanding cuisine.
4471 Lawn Avenue
Western Springs, IL 60558-1765