Knowing that its soft opening was only four days prior, I was a bit hesitant to visit the rebranded Perennial Virant while it was “working out the kinks.” But I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to catch up with friends over good food, so I headed to Lincoln Park with somewhat tempered expectations. I could not have been more pleased with our experience.
We arrived almost an hour before our reservations, knowing that a restaurant of this caliber should have an interesting cocktail list. I joined my friends who were seated in the lounge area and sipped fancy cocktails as we took in the dining room – big windows, lots of natural light, simple décor in neutral tones. I ordered the Big Brass Bed, comprised of Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano, Dolin Dry Vermouth, lemon and soda, served on the rocks in a tall glass topped off with some tiny yellow marigold petals – so pretty and refreshing. I’m not a fan of very sweet cocktails, so the white wine aperitifs and fortified wine with soda made it taste just like our server said – a wine spritzer. My friends had the TBD (Zubrowka Vodka, blueberry aigre-doux, ginger beer, vanilla essence) and a Brooklyn Lager. There is also a select collection of European and new world wines in sparkling, white and red, by the glass or the bottle.
The host came over to let us know that if we would like to be seated at a table earlier, a table was ready. We headed from the lounge into the dining room, and were warmly greeted by our server. He explained that we can choose the $37 three-course prix-fixe option or share the various plates so that we can try a little bit of many dishes. Oh, am I glad we did!
We tried quite a few dishes, but the standout items included:
- Bar Snacks – The crispy kale is fried, which doesn’t sound that great until you bite into the light crispiness and become instantly addicted. Combined with deviled eggs and spicy corn nuts, the threesome is odd and unexpected, but my dining companion was licking his fingers to pick up all the spicy goodness.
- Smoked Rushing Waters Trout – I particularly loved this dish for its smoky trout, ramps and organic horseradish crème fraiche. I only wish it was a larger dish!
- Werp Farm Lettuces – Our server highly recommended it, and I was surprised how much I loved it. I’m not a big fan of lettuce, but this is no ordinary lettuce mix! Perfectly dressed, and the creamy goat cheese made it very memorable.
- Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi – The gnocchi were perfect pillows of fluffy potato but played second fiddle to the delicious spring vegetable ragout. Perfectly cooked, the asparagus, green peas, onions and carrots still had great texture and were bursting with spring flavors.
- Templeton Rye Panna Cotta – Panna cotta alone is good, but add seedling cherries marinated in smoky rye, puffed rye and crispy sage to it, and it is to die for. Smoky, sweet, crunchy and creamy – an amazing combination of flavors and textures!
- Bron’s Honey Nougat Glace – It’s honey nougat ice cream with poached rhubarb (looks like Twizzler Nibs, we said) and a pretty candied orange on top, but it has a flair for the dramatic when the server pours a berry sauce into the plate at your table. And it was delicious – tart, sweet and creamy.
Our food was great, but our server Ryan was a true highlight of our dining experience. He celebrates Chef Virant’s selection of seasonal and local ingredients with such enthusiasm, we worried that we ordered too much (but he assured us he won’t let us do that). He would contemplate my questions about “the most unique dishes” or “unusual items” that we might not find elsewhere. We also got to chat with a sous chef from North Pond at the table next to us, but we didn’t manage to catch Chef Virant himself, who we learned was checking in at a table near us.
On my next visit, I’d like to try the red meat dishes we skipped, particularly the Grilled Dietzler Farm Strip Steak with ramps three ways – Ryan called it a “ramp-palooza.” I think it would also be fun to sit at the communal tables in the middle of the dining room, so that we can chat with fellow Virant fans while we nosh. I imagine Friday and Saturday nights will be packed for a while, but I’d like to try more of those unique cocktails when I’m not there on a school night. But most of all, I want to go back every few months, to enjoy locally sourced ingredients that celebrate each season.