I had a lovely dinner last night at Pirennial Virant and I wanted to share the experience with you all. I was the first to arrive in my party of 3 for our 6:30 reservation (they had a private party arriving around 9 so they asked that we make reservations at or before 6:30 so that we were not rushed). They sat me at a comfortable table in the back of the beautiful, bright-but-still-cozy dining area. Wall-to-wall windows permitted me a view of the rain soaking Lincoln Park across the street. I was struck by how kind and smiley everyone was, even though our third arrived almost 25 minutes late. Our server was consistent and amicable throughout our entire meal, offering suggestions when asked and ensuring that we were content at intervals throughout our meal. We were each brought a half-slice of a hearty wheat bread, which, though not warm, was fresh and tasty.
She explained that we could opt to treat the menu (organized into small, medium, and large plates) as three separate course choices, or we could order plates for the table. My dining companions were a bit intimidated by the menu descriptions, so they asked me to order (twist my arm). We started with the celery root pave, served with leeks and beautiful purple cauliflower, as well as the butternut squash tarte tatin, which was my favorite of the two. This gorgeous 5-inch tarte had a butter pastry crust and was cooked such that you could just manage to cut it with your fork. The pave had an unexpected, almost grainy mouth feel, and the smoothness of the marinated cauliflower and buttery leeks balanced it well.
Next, we had the roasted rainbow trout, the pork confit, and the hearty greens. The pork was oh-so-flavorful, complemented by wheat berries and grilled vegetables; this was the heartiest of the three dishes and definitely my favorite. The trout was light yet the accoutrements added some needed richness: hen-of-the-woods mushrooms paired with pecans and a bed of spaghetti squash. The lightest of the three dishes was the hearty greens, a delicious combination of house made giardiniera, kale, mustard greens, and chicories.
Throughout the meal, I sampled the slender pear cocktail and the gin and autumn tonic. I think they would have paired well with dessert, as both lacked a bite and were a bit sweet for my taste. Speaking of which, we tried the butterscotch cremeux as well as the chocolate custard pie, which were both misses. The cremeux was so viscous that you almost needed a fork, and the flavor was overly sweet. It was served with two small slices of flavorless quick bread (called apple bread) and a very nice apple cherry compote. The pie had a divine consistency, but was so bitter I could barely have two bites. I understand that the chef used bittersweet chocolate, but it lacked a balancing note. The squash tarte tatin, at the beginning of our meal, would have been the perfect dessert, actually.
I left feeling satisfied and light on my feet; at $60 per person including tax and tip, the cost was reasonable. I would definitely go back, and I am interested in trying Virant’s brunch one weekend.