3-STAR DINING REVIEW

C'est la Vie?

Paul Virant's city restaurant is reminiscent of his suburban spot, and that's a good thing

The fact that chef Paul Virant and I share the same monogram shouldn't confuse anybody, although years back the chef sent me a letter he received from some luckless job applicant who, instead of writing "Paul Virant" in the salutation, used my name instead.

Inattention to detail is not the path to a chef's heart. It certainly won't get your calls returned from Virant, currently displaying his culinary precision at Perennial Virant (yet another PV), where he has been cooking since May.

The restaurant Perennial has been around for some time, of course, but when founding chef Ryan Poli announced his departure (joining the Sandoval brothers to open Tavernita, due later this year), owners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, who have a positive genius for teaming up with top talent (with Stephanie Izard in Girl & the Goat, Giuseppe Tentori in GT Fish & Oyster, Chris Pandel in the as-yet-unopened Balena), recruited Virant, who already had Vie, a highly regarded restaurant in the west suburbs, to join them.

In the process, Boehm and Katz remade Perennial, now called Perennial Virant, in Vie's image, giving the dining room a more rustic look and incorporating Virant's love of all things preserved into the design, fashioning light fixtures from vintage Mason jars and installing a wall of shelves displaying jar upon jar of preserved fruits and vegetables (all of which eventually make their way to the kitchen).

The menu is very Vie-like as well, reflecting Virant's farm-to-table, everything-made-in-house ethic, and his fondness for combining deeply satisfying, hearty flavors with bursts of bright acidity.

Dishes are divided into small, medium and large plates, seven per category. There are gems throughout, naturally, but I've yet to find a large plate that didn't wow me. You can't go wrong with the duck breast over bitter greens (balanced with grapes and almonds) or the whole-roasted trout with pecans, spaghetti squash and whatever mushrooms are in season, and I hope the crispy-edged walleye, matched to hush puppies and a smoked-tomato vinaigrette, returns to the menu soon — though in its place is a sensational grilled sturgeon, served in cubes over a bed of red-wine-braised beef neck.

There's a stealth Thanksgiving dish decked out with sweet-potato puree and a chunky cranberry vinaigrette, only instead of a turkey breast it features a thick slab of skin-on barramundi, which takes to its sweet-tart plate companions astonishingly well. And I love the pappardelle bolognese, the toothsome pasta married to chewy nuggets of goat sausage, perked up with slivers of pickled garlic and a killer tomato-cream sauce — comfort-food heaven.

Among the smaller choices, there's a very clever "tarte tatin" of butternut squash topped with tangy shavings of Capriko cheese, set amid greens brightened by a tart apple-cider dressing; and a cheese-rich plate of cloud-soft gnudi over braised rabbit and root vegetables and a sauce bearing whiffs of mustard (like an ethereal take on a rabbit-and-spaetzle preparation).

And don't skip the "bar snacks" plate, a trio of fun bites. There are always a couple of deviled eggs and a ramekin of spicy corn nuts; the third component has varied from fried pickles to crisped kale to, currently, a warm pretzel with smoked-cheddar sauce. No disrespect intended to the fried pickles, but, chef, please keep the pretzel around awhile.

All of this is abetted by smart, personable service, which has become a hallmark of Boehm and Katz restaurants all over town.

Pastry chef Elissa Narow, who also makes the desserts for Vie, is in fine form, as usual. Her offerings at Perennial Virant include a sensational chocolate bar, a reimagined s'more with Valrhona caramelia mousse and manjari ganache under a blanket of raspberry-laced marshmallow (artfully torched), and a bowl of impossibly delicate goat-cheese puffs accompanied by little jars of apple butter and honey.

There's also a beautiful cookie plate, a comfort-food collection of thumbprint cookies, snickerdoodles, a dulce de leche bar and a ramped-up homage to the Oreo using cocoa-powder cookies and butter cream.

I keep intending to try Narow's bourbon-butterscotch cremeux, but the dessert has been sold out the last two times I tried to order it. Maybe if I wrote the chef a letter. …

Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine," CLTV and at wgntv.com/vettel.

Perennial Virant

1800 N. Lincoln Ave., 312-981-7070
Tribune rating: Three Stars
Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday; brunch Saturday-Sunday
Entree prices: $17-$25
CHICAGO

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