Monday, October 3, 2011
I first encountered Chef Paul Virant at a chef demo at Green City Market. As he had a limited amount of time and resources and he was cooking for a large number of people, what he made there was pretty simple, a grilled goat cheese sandwich with some house-made bread from his restaurant, Vie, but as simple as it was, it was still really good. He seemed very friendly and personable and the way that he talked about making food local and seasonal made me really interested in his restaurant. Unfortunately, his restaurant is way out in the suburbs and I don't own a car so this was a little bit of a drawback and I didn't really consider it. For whatever reason, I looked to see exactly where it was and found that it was half a block from a train station so there really was no reason not to go and I made plans to go out for dinner. I went last Friday and easily found it because the building is huge. I went in expecting a huge open area with high ceilings but this wasn't what I found. The alcove was small and led to a small bar area. As I esd led to my table, it was like walking through a maze. There were several small interconnected rooms. The room that I was in could probably seat about 30 people. The walls were light grey, the tables and chairs were aluminum with white padding and tablecloth, and there was track lighting, and black and white pictures of nature and railroads in different seasons hanging on the walls. The music was a nice mix of lighter (but not light) rock. Different artists I heard included Jackson Browne, REM, The Beatles, The Decemberists, and Sarah Maclachlan. As I made the journey out there, I decided to go for the 5 course chef's menu with wine pairings. I told the waiter this and we quickly began. Before any of my official courses came out, I was given an Amuse Bouche. I am not exactly sure all of what was in it but it included almonds, chives, some sort of mild fish, and grapes, covered in some sort of cream sauce. It was crunchy and creamy and pretty good even if I didn't know exactly what it was.
After the Amuse Bouche, the dinner began. All of the courses that I was served could be found on the menu. The first was the appetizer. I was served a Yukon Gold potato gnocchi, roasted butternut squash, Klug farm grapes, red onion aigre doux, and Prairie Fruits Farm chevre. Aigre doux means sweet and sour and this is what it was. It had a nice tart sweetnesswhich brought together the squash and the goat cheese. The grapes also helped to bring everything together. The gnocchi was soft and provided a nice counterpoint to the firmness of the squash. The waiter implied that they were known for their gnocchi and I can see why.The first of my entrees was a crispy baby barramundi with Anson Mills Charleston Gold rice, bacon braised red cabbage, Klug Farm seedless grapes, and a red wine reduction sauce. When they first brought it out, I swore that it was a beef dish because it was so red but I then noticed the scale marks on the skin. Barramundi, or Australian Sea Bass as it is also known, has a rather strong flavor so a red wine sauce would go with it well which it did. When the dish was served, I was told about the bacon braised red cabbage but all I saw, other than the fish, was the rice. The rice was served in a risotto style and was really good. As I worked my way through the dish, I saw that the cabbage was on the other side of the fish from the rice. I like red cabbage. It's nice and sweet and the bacon made it even better.As I was having a 5 course meal, that worked out to two entrees. I mentioned that I thought my first entree was beef, my second entree actually was beef. It was a wood-grilled dry-aged Dietzler Farm beef loin with braised beef and potato gratin, stout braised candy onions, wilted local greens, wood-grilled brussel sprouts, and beef jus. The loin was nice and tender and very juicy. The braised beef that topped the potato gratin was actually beef cheek that had been frozen and shredded before it was braised. It was sweet and reminded me of beef bacon which went well with the gratin. The grilled brussel sprouts had grill marks on them and went well with everything else. They were also helpful with wiping up the jus.
The next course was a cheese course. I was given several slices of Dante Cheese which is a sheep's milk cheese similar to Manchego but made by the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op instead of a dairy in Spain. It was served with a house-made and toasted bread, some mixed baby greens, and a peach mostarda. I had never had a peach mustard but it was pretty interesting and it went well with the cheese. While the wine pairings that I had been served were good, the pairing with the cheese was best. It was an Argentinian Wine that for all the world smelled like sweet peaches but was pretty dry and contained no peaches.
Before my dessert, I was brought a sorbet course as a palate cleanser. It was a tangerine sorbet. While I normally like tangerines, I have to say that this really did nothing for me. I suppose that it was a good sorbet because everything else that I had had was really good but it reminded me of canteloupe and I could have done without it.
After that palate cleanser, I was ready to have my palate cleansed of that. Dessert was a red kuri squash gooey butter cake with a pear squash chutney, pear ginger sorbet, and whipped cream. I generally don't like the texture of pears but the flavor is fine. I was a little apprehensive but this was actually really good. The squash in the chutney moderated the pears and the sorbet was really good.
I really enjoyed my time here and have to say that this was probably one of the best dinners that I have had this year. While the restaurant is kind of expensive, I would have no problem recommending it to anyone. While the distance is an issue, if someone wanted to come here, I would bite the bullet and travel out here to enjoy the food.