Tag Archives: Lincoln Park

A Last Minute Venture: Perennial Virant

Oh no. We made this reservation two months ago and passed up Bulls playoff tickets for our much awaited dinner at Schwa with our good friend who was in town for the weekend.  Four hours before our dinner time, our friend’s plane landed only to find out that the kitchen was out of order at Schwa and all reservations were canceled for the evening.  What to do?  Fortunately, Kate thought of Perennial and its exciting makeover involving the Michelin starred chef from Vie, Paul Virant, and quickly snagged a late reservation to save the night… well not totally… the Bulls still managed to get eliminated from the playoffs during our dinner.

The Atmosphere:

Perennial Virant is located across from The Lincoln Park on Clark Street.   The dining room had a very comfortable and casual feel with two long communal wood tables surrounded by more intimate booths.  While we are not the biggest fans of communal dining, these tables were spaced out well enough to make our dining experience very comfortable.  The modern yet rustic look made us feel like we were in a nice spacious neighborhood lounge rather than a fine dining establishment.

The Food:

There are two basic options:  the 37 dollar 3 course price fixe with 2 options each course or the small plates option similar to the menu at the Girl and the Goat, another restaurant owned by the Boka Restaurant Group.  The small plates get progressively larger but never large enough to constitute an individual portion.  Since there were four of us, we chose a few small plates to share.  Our first plate was the Carnaroli Rice with local Brunkow Cheese Curds.  The dish looked beautiful and had a nice texture to it but could have used a little more salt or pepper for my taste.  This was followed by the Slagel Family Farm Pork Shoulder which was quite tasty but didn’t carry the falling off bone texture you typically expect with pork shoulder as it was compressed into a pork patty of sorts.  The Wisconsin Morrels in Milk Jam were the highlight of the meal.  They were extremely fresh and delicious!

Carnaroli Rice Cake

We also enjoyed the perfectly seared scallops and the flavorful Rabbit Ballotine, although Kate opted out on the bunny.  We tried the Chicken Fried Steak(beef provided by Wisconsin based Dietzler Farms), but we just couldn’t get into it like we had hoped as the crust wasn’t quite sufficient for the amount of meat it covered.

Sea Scallops

Our Thoughts:

Considering that this restaurant had only opened four days before our meal, the kitchen and service did an outstanding job!  The dishes were all very seasonal and composed of  fresh local items, many of which were supplied by the farmers that regularly attend the Green City Market across the street in the park. Paul Virant certainly lives up to his reputation of using fresh, local ingredients.  However, the portions of the shared plates were not much more that tapas size despite carrying a price tag of 8-27 dollars.  Overall, we enjoyed our time a Perennial Virant, but will most likely try the prix-fixe menu on our next visit.

Perennial Virant | 1800 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago IL 60614  | 312.981.7070

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Charlie Trotter’s: A Marathon of Meals

We’ve been preparing for this meal for the past week.  I mean serious training people.  Stomach stretching sessions twice a day, Grand Menu flash cards with proteins to be matched with their respective vegetable or grain element.  We tested our ability to denote a well made wine pairing by successfully matching our favorite uncured hotdogs with a marvelous Cote de Rhone.  So when Tuesday came we had butterflies in our stomachs as we drove down Halsted towards Charlie Trotter’s legendary restaurant in Lincoln Park.

The Atmosphere

We walked past this establishment so many times that it was odd to be actually walking in.  Dressed in our finest( jacket required), we were greeted instantly in the foyer and taken to our table on the second floor overlooking the entryway. We were one of the first reservations of the evening but soon the dark and regal dining room began to fill with people eager to try Chef Trotter’s current menu.

The Menu

We had already previewed the menu online, so when we perused the menus at the table, it was merely to determine whether we would include a wine pairing.  While I contemplated the non-alcoholic Beverage Tasting Menu, today of all days, I began to have my own “Omnivore’s Delemma.”  My mind kept wandering back to the duck and veal dishes from the menu.  Although, I knew we’d receive the best quality organic and free-range ingredients I was concerned my guilt of eating something so cute would haunt me through the rest of the dinner. When our waitress arrived and requested our decision I didn’t know what to say.  I told her that I didn’t know if I could eat veal or duck today. She kindly suggested angus or elk as another optional protein and when I told her I would feel equally guilty eating those animals, she quickly responded with, “Why don’t we let the chef create a pescatarian menu for you.”  The flexibility was much appreciated.  G selected the Wine Pairing Menu (bypassing an $18,000 bottle from France) and asked if we could add another vegetable dish that looked interesting, the japanese eggplant soufflé.

Gourmet Prawns at Charlie Trotters

Grilled Blue Prawns

Our meals began to emerge as we slowly sipped on our beverage accompaniments.  The marathon of meals commenced with a sashimi of yellowfin tuna.  It was light and fresh… the perfect beginning. The next dish to follow were the sweet and delicate grilled prawns that almost melted in your mouth. I even sheepishly reached down into my purse to pull out my camera so I could get a picture.  Our favorite dish by far was the Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Garbanzo Beans. The fish was perfectly executed  and wrapped beautifully around a mousse with the skin served as a crackling on the side.  We savored every bite of this dish cleaning our plates completely.  And when the dish was sent back to the kitchen, the waiter had to assure the chef that food had actually been served on the plate.  As each course progressed into a more elaborate story of protein, vegetable and grain, the wine pairings seemed to matched beautifully.  I don’t know if I truly appreciated the beverage tasting menu, there were a few drinks I did not enjoy, but found the Muscat grape juice to be my absolute favorite.

Trout with Chickpea

Tasmanian Ocean Trout

As we neared the finish line of our grand menu I was excited to see what the chef had created in place of my potential duck and veal.  However, I believe I suffered a mild food coma at this point in the meal and thus, the fish that replaced my duck eludes me.  But my final dish, grilled salmon with porcini mushrooms, fit in nicely with the degustation menu.  Our desserts were beautiful, but we just did not enjoy the black olives with our dish of candied kumquats and meringue. We actually thought, perhaps, that kalamatas may have paired better.  But the lavender custard with honeycomb and black tea was my favorite dessert served that evening, excluding the tiny gelantinous squares that were spread across the plate.   Delicate macarons arranged in a row with the check marked our finish.

Our Thoughts

We enjoyed the progression of unique dishes that the chef provided and the way they personalized the menu according to our needs and desires.  Some courses were amazing, while others seemed to have just too many ingredients on the plate.  We were very impressed with how well each wine complimented the meal and even heightened the taste of each course.  The beverage tasting menu also created an interesting pairing of ingredients and although I was not a fan of every drink, each made me think and wonder what was exactly done to create the taste.

All in all, its hard to justify the expense of an experience such as this without feeling a little gluttonous. This is not a restaurant for the frugal (unless you too received a hefty gift certificate) or for those who enjoy low key, local spots. This is a place to recognize a chef, a restaurant and a concept that put Chicago on the map for gourmet dining.

Charlie Trotter’s | 816 West Armitage Chicago, Illinois 60614 | 773 248-6228

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