Paul Virant had no plans to open his first restaurant in Western Springs. Like most aspiring chefs in Chicago, he wanted to open his first place in the city, but his wife’s work kept him grounded in the suburbs.
Fifteen years of happy coincidences later, not least of which was the lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol by Western Springs, Vie is well established as one of Chicagoland’s most acclaimed restaurants. Virant had just come out of Blackbird’s kitchen when he decided he wanted to go it alone, and around the same time he and his wife were looking for a house in the suburbs. All the while, Western Springs was calling them, literally.
“The village had made an investigation and the inhabitants wanted a restaurant where we could dine and have a drink,” he recalls. It was presented to an owner, and the rest is Chicago’s culinary history.
From the start, Vie has been deeply involved in the local food movement. This is not a place to buy a carrot at the farmer’s market and brag: virtually everything on Vie’s menu comes from local farms, as it has since 2004.
“When we first opened it was a real effort; the farmers didn’t have the infrastructure, they weren’t delivering anything, ”says Virant. “If you wanted something from Klug or Nichols, you had to go get it. As a restaurant, it’s a challenge.
In the years that followed, it became easier to source ingredients, but Vie’s chef, Dan Compton, still spends a lot of time building the supply chain, especially for larger items. exotic.
“The farmers have really improved their game. I can grow ginger in Illinois; I can have artichokes, ”says Compton. “It allowed us to expand our palate, thanks to what people can cultivate. “
Vie was pretty much a success from day one, although it was never exactly what Virant expected. He planned to open a more casual restaurant, but over time Vie’s tasting menus became more and more popular. In what Virant calls a “ahead of its time” moment, the original Life had a cocktail bar. 15 years ago no one seemed to want the casual drinking space, so it was converted into a dining room. Now it has become a lounge for casual drinks and appetizers.
For its anniversary, Vie is offering a special four-course $ 60 menu until Saturday, August 17. It includes classic Vie dishes like semolina gnocchi, pan-roasted Great Lakes whitefish and a wood-grilled strip loin loin with sauerbraten beef cheek. Compton has become somewhat of a sausage master over the years, so naturally there’s a sausage dish on the commemorative menu: the cotechino sausage with fresh bacon-braised beans and a crawl salad dressing.
Despite the milestone, Virant is not resting on its laurels. In addition to Vistro, his second restaurant in Hinsdale, he’s working on a new Japanese restaurant that will open in October, this time in the city itself. Gaijin will focus on two dishes: okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake, and kakigōri, a sweet dish of crushed ice. But everything is linked to the same concept.
“The Japanese treat food like we do at Vie,” says Virant. “[It’s] the whole idea of seasonality, food focused on ingredients, simple, not too complicated. This kind of religion that we preach in restaurants continues.