Chicago Sun Times | Ji Suk Yi | July 24, 2019
The James Beard Award-nominated chef Paul Virant has an upscale restaurant, Vie, in Western Springs and a more casual spot — Vistro — in Hinsdale. He also plans to open another restaurant in the trendy West Loop soon.
For many who eschew vegetables, “Crispy Tuscan Kale” doesn’t sound like a must-order appetizer. But after one bite of Chef Paul Virant’s leafy dish flavored with honey, lemon and brown butter, all skepticism can be set aside.
The delectable “Crispy Tuscan Kale” starter is on the menu at Virant’s Vistro in downtown Hinsdale. The casual Vistro, at 112 S. Washington St., is celebrating its fifth year.
The more upscale Vie — Virant’s first restaurant in Western Springs — will be marking its 15th year in August.
While the menu is seasonal at both restaurants, “We’re not as religious as focusing on the regional stuff as we are at Vie. We bend the rules a little bit [at Vistro],” said Virant, a multiple James Beard Award nominee.
“Bending the rules” means Virant often incorporates unexpected ingredients into the bistro-inspired menu with global inspiration.
There’s a poke bowl for lunch at Vistro that features tuna, spring onions, cucumbers, avocado, sushi rice, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and fried shallots.
The fried pork sandwich is made from a Slagel Family Farm pork tenderloin that’s been brined, three-step breaded and fried. The sandwich, which pays homage to the Iowa classic, is served with bread made in-house and butter pickles, onion and dill garlic mayonnaise.
International flavors are also abundant in the Belgian-style Bar Harbor Maine mussels, Spanish sardines, a falafel plate, hummus appetizer and Steelhead trout with green curry, eggplant and bok choy.
On Mondays, for $10, you can build your own pizza for the 700-degree wood-burning oven, and bottles of wine are half-off. On Tuesdays it’s the $10 dry- aged griddled burger special with half-off draft beers.
Virant, who has achieved national acclaim for his contemporary Midwestern cuisine using hyperlocal and seasonal ingredients, often works with local farms, including Werp, Klug, Seedling, Ellis, Frillman, Green Acres and Genesis.
“Any respectable talented chef anywhere around the world will embrace as much as they can what they can get locally,” Virant said.
Virant grew up outside of St. Louis with parents he describes as “kind of hippies.”
“I grew up on some land, but it wasn’t a working farm,” Virant said. “They [my parents] originally bought seven acres and built a house in 1971 … but they ultimately ended up having 100 acres. So we had pigs and chickens when I was little.”
Virant’s expertise on canning came from watching his grandmothers perfect the culinary art. He was so enthused by preserving food that in 2012, Virant co-authored the cookbook “The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking With Pickles, Preserves and Aigre-Doux.”
Although his two current restaurants ultimately center on his roots, Virant is ready to draw inspiration from his wife’s semester abroad in college and their subsequent travels to Japan.
This summer, Virant plans to launch Gaijin in the West Loop neighborhood, focusing on the Japanese okonomiyaki — a savory, customizable cabbage pancake that is served with a variety of incorporated proteins, toppings, sauce and bonito flakes.
And even though the latter establishment will focus on cuisine from the East, Virant still plans to showcase a myriad of Midwestern ingredients.
Vistro is located at 112 S. Washington St., in Hinsdale and can be reached at (630) 537-1459. Vie is located at 4471 Lawn Ave. in Western Springs and can be reached at (708) 246-2082. For more information, visit www.paulvirant.com.