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Boka group restaurant featuring chef Paul Virant of Vie.

Our Review

"Eat what you can, can what you can't" is the motto at this Boka group restaurant, which is intended as a central-city showcase for the farm-to-table philosophy chef Paul Virant pioneered at his award-winning Vie, in Western Springs. And, true to that discipline, the creative menu changes daily; between my first visit and a second two days later, fully a third of the dishes had been swapped out. But while the details of the menu vary, the principles remain the same: clean, (mostly) unadulterated fresh vegetables, seafood, and meats paired—or triangulated—with the house pickles and preserves that are Virant's culinary calling card. In many cases this kitchen math adds up to much more than the sum of component parts, as in a rich rabbit confit served over slightly bitter braised Swiss chard with accents of pickled beet and rhubarb, each forkful producing a perfect chord of flavor. Simpler dishes like a bowl of fresh spring peas topped with shaved Parmesan and tossed with tufted pea shoots and just enough warm bacon vinaigrette—or its later menu replacement of roasted carrots and peas in the pod with feta—were storybook expressions of a pastoral spring. And pillowy Yukon Gold gnocchi, swabbed with potent pistachio pesto and buried under a fresh vegetable "ragout" of asparagus, peas, carrots, and fennel, was an explosively flavorful showstopper. Vie's signature pound cake with malted vanilla ice cream makes a strong showing, and a dessert of panna cotta topped with puffed rye, crispy sage, and cherries that had been steeped in Templeton Rye and then smoked, was about as edgy as dessert at a hotel restaurant can get; likewise cocktails such as the Falcor: aged rum, beer jam, lime, and toasted orgeat. But Perennial Virant is still comfortable and welcoming—at least until you get the bill. Because while it's one thing to honor the true costs of sustainable farming in theory, it's quite another when staring down a $32 plate of scallops. Read the full review >>

Martha Bayne

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