Vie Restaurant -- September 13, 2008 -- Localvore Challenge
It had been too long since my last trip to Vie. So, last week, we took the initiative and made a reservation for Saturday night. As great as all my previous meals at Vie have been, this one was possibly the most fantastic of them all. The usual problem I have at Vie -- not being able to decide exactly which great-looking items to order -- seemed amplified to the point of ridiculousness. The additional wrinkle of dining there during the 2008 Localvore Challenge probably had something to do with this. 12 of 28 total items offered on the menu were comprised entirely of locally-sourced ingredients and several others, which were clearly local in spirit, contained no more than 1 or 2 minor components that were not local. This is especially impressive when you take into account the fact that every cured meat, every pickle and every condiment are made in-house at Vie.
The dishes we tried -- and we tried a lot of them -- were universally delicious, imaginative and well-executed. The baseline for this meal was higher than the highpoint at many similarly-priced meals I've had in town over the past 2 years. And not only did this meal trump my previous meals at Vie but as the meal progressed, each set of plates seemed to reach a level above the previous one.
Below is a pictorial recap, with some commentary, of our meal. In case it is not clear, *
denotes one of the entirely local dishes to which I referred above. While in many cases, a picture cannot adequately tell the entire story about a dish, I hope that these images provide at least a clue as to how enjoyable our meal was. Frankly, I'm just about out of words when it comes to this restaurant. They pretty much fail to describe the joy that these plates delivered . . .Amuse of olive oil-poached shrimp with eggplant escabeche
The kitchen sent out these delectable opening bites -- along with some wonderful Cava. The shrimp were tender and matched up very nicely with the eggplant.Yukon Gold potato Gnocchi with roasted broccoli, aged Wisconsin cheddar, creme fraiche, chives and bacon
A magnificently comforting dish that was executed so well. As perfectly as these ingredients go together, the dish easily transcended the sum of its parts.Slow-cooked Kilgus Farm Goat Leg with wood-grilled porcini mushrooms and crispy bone marrow dumpling
It was a treat to eat this amazingly tender goat, along with some of the earliest porcini of the season. I've had this dish before at Vie but it was even more finely-tuned this time around.House-made Bresaola with pickled asparagus, shaved celery, hard-cooked egg and marinated radishes
Sous chef Nathan turned out this bresaola, made from bottom round, which was easily the best I've ever had. The sweet, salt and meat were all nicely-balanced. It carried an intoxicating aroma and a silky texture.House-made Charcuterie plate: Mortadella, Salami and Pate en Croute with baby greens, pickled beets, apple butter and smoked cherry mostarda
Heaven on a plate. The charcuterie work at Vie is not only one of their strongest suits, it's the finest I've found in Chicagoland. Not only were the meats on this plate amazing, but the smoked cherry mostarda was insanely good. The kitchen's obsession with perfecting these items is the diner's delight.Pate en Croute
This wonderful rendition is based on a recipe from The River Cottage Meat Book
by Hugh Fearnley.Mortadella
I know the lengths that Nathan, Craig and the other Vie chefs have gone to in an effort to perfect this mortadella. I cannot think of one aspect of it that could be improved upon.Wood-grilled Octopus with semolina pasta, olives, grilled sweet & hot peppers, house-made vinegar and Spanish olive oil
A taste of Spain. I loved the toothsome/tender octopus and the accompanying elements were in perfect unison. The pasta -- made only from water and semolina flour -- is, of course, made in-house.Crispy Lake Perch with eggplant caponata, piquillo pepper, herbs and house-made soppressata
I had no idea that perch and soppressata would go so well together. This was an inspired and absolutely phenomenal combination of flavors and textures.Mint Creek Lamb Spare Ribs with Klug Farm grapes, lemon balm, wood sorrell and preserved meyer lemon vinaigrette
If not for the vinaigrette, this fantastic dish would have been entirely local, too.Roasted local Beets with wood-grilled chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, Werp Farm frisee and preserved spring onion vinaigrette
Delicious salad that successfully showcased the spectacular beets.Seasonal vegetable Minestrone: pearl pasta, summer squashes, grilled peppers, beans, local greens and tomato broth
Another great dish that would have been entirely local, if not for one component -- the pearl pasta. Great flavors here. I never tasted minestrone and its components the way I was able to taste them here.Local Heirloom Tomatoes with scallion vinaigrette and ricotta salata
Wow! These tomatoes make you realize how completely worthless it is to eat tomatoes when they are not in-season. They were only lightly adorned. The additional elements accented -- but did not crowd -- the luscious tomatoes.Gunthorp Farm Chicken 2 ways: wood-grilled thigh and country-fried breast with creamy polenta, City Farm tatsoi, Green Acres pepperonata and jus de poulet
A fantastic, inspired dish. It was hard to decide which preparation of chicken I like better because they were both sensational. The charcoal aroma of the meaty thigh was an eqaul match for the crispy, moist breast, which had been marinated in organic buttermilk for 48 hours.Slow-cooked and wood-grilled Dietzler Farm Beef Brisket with Wieland Farm cranberry beans, olive oil-poached local tomatoes, marinated cabbage and pickled beans
Absolutely spectacular preparation in which the accompanying items were every bit as wonderful as the tender, smokey brisket.Great Lakes Whitefish "en papillote" with fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard, heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions, white wine, butter and herbs
I don't typically like whitefish or this preparation and yet, after one 'tester' bite, I could not stop eating it. The fresh dill, razor-thin potatoes and chard supported and accompanied this great piece of fish wonderfully.Slagel Farm Pork Combination: King's "Jerked" shoulder, crispy loin and braised belly with City Farm red kuri squash, Tuscan kale, local pears and pork jus
Holy f*cking sh%t! Really, this is one that words simply cannot describe. It nearly brought a tear to my eye.City Farm Tatsoi
A great, locally-grown side with a slight bitterness and a nice bite.Succotash: local lima beans, sweet corn, Nichols Farm okra and roasted tomatoes
This was actually offered as an appetizer but we decided to split it as a side dish. It was, by a long, long margin, the best succotash I've ever eaten. The residual starch from the beans synergized with the moisture from the tomatoes to create a 'sauce' that -- I swear -- had addictive properties. Bring me a straw, please!
After the onslaught of savory courses, we moved on to dessert. But first, a refreshing, house-made intermezzo of Rosé sorbet (which is not pictured here) was served.Warm Gooey Butter Cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, honey crisp apples and caramel sauce
Vie's glorious, signature dessert with a seasonal tweak. I absolutely love this dessert and this particular variation really spoke to me. I love the gooey cake, with its sweet, buttery flavor and dense, crispy edges.Chocolate Malt with chocolate-dipped cocoa nib biscotti and whipped cream
A serious malt that drove home what this often bastardized dessert is really supposed to be.Warm Klug Farm Peach Crisp with Blue Marble yogurt ice cream
Holy smokes! The peaches in this crisp could not have been any better. They had a great "peachy" aromatic and the topping was perfecto.Peanut Butter & Jelly: peanut butter mousse, Klug Farm Concord grape mousse, peanut cake and Concord grape jelly
A great, tasty take on the old classic sandwich. The concord notes rang true and, needless to say, went very well with the peanut butter. The sugared, roasted peanuts scattered on the plate would have been a great dessert on their own.Klug Farm Blackberry Panna Cotta with blackberry compote and vanilla cookies
Peak blackberries went into this compote which topped a perfectly-textured panna cotta.
Also ordered but not pictured is a scoop of house-made Horchata ice cream which, ridiculoulsy, I had to try. It was amazing to have something so cold, served with so many other deeply flavorful desserts, deliver the accurate and intense flavor that it did. Really, masterful.
Lastly . . .Mignardise: Berry Gelee
Not wafer thin, but I kind of wished it were.
This was an intense final burst of berry goodness and if it had been any larger, I probably would have exploded.
The fact that so many dishes on this particular menu had been created with the Localvore Challenge in mind, says a lot about the intensity, focus and 'joy of the game' in chef Virant's kitchen. They didn't just agree to participate, they took it upon themselves to fulfill the challenge in a way that completely re-defined it. We were just lucky enough to be there while it happened. Since this aesthetic lines up so closely with the SOP at Vie, the result was a super-charged version of the masterful cooking they already do there on a regular basis. There's still some time left in this year's Localvore Challenge. I suggest getting to Vie before it ends. Dining at Vie is always special but in my experience, this was an entirely new level for an already magnificent restaurant.