Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Perennial Virant

From an outside perspective it would be hard to recognize anything new at Perennial unless you inspected the menu. The layout is pretty much the same with the great outdoor patio across from the park. And the building length signs still read "Perennial." But that's the point I suppose - a mulligan on the original Perennial with a new chef and new vision. I really liked looking over the menu. They do the very "in" multi-section by plate size separation (small, medium and large) with "an emphasis on sharing plates." There's plenty to choose from but the menu feels small and approachable with many familiar items. My focus was on both small and large plates with a curious indifference to the medium section. We tried five things and found they all came out with relative consistency. Nothing was earth shattering or amazing but there were some interesting flavors. My biggest takeaway was a feeling of goofiness. A strange adjective for a restaurant but each plate reminded me of a trouble making fourth grader - some good intentions inside but not sure there is any organized direction. Maybe it works for most people but even though most everything was "good", there is not anything I would call memorable or would rush back to have again. We had a nice meal outside under the heat lamp enjoying the lincoln park atmosphere (especially since moving across town), with attentive service and reasonable prices.   

The three "small" plates we ordered were the sweet corn salad, spring bean cassoulet (I think) and server recommend carnaroli rice. Erica and I both really liked the corn salad for its summery freshness and tastiness. The string bean dish sounded great on paper but couldn't quite figure out the flavor pairings. There was melted Gruyere cheese, string beans and fried onions. It was ok but a weird combination. The rice dish was like a grilled grilled cheese style risotto. That's the best description I can think of - cheesy rice in between two layers of fried rice. Very interesting and unique with pretty tasty flavors.

The two large dishes we ordered were the ravioli and grilled fish (not the one on the menu but a substitute I don't remember). What surprised me the most was that I really wanted to try to the spare ribs but those were unavailable. [Side note: I don't quite understand how something on the menu for that night could be unavailable. Most places I know with adaptive menus print them the day of. I would be shocked if that morning they didn't realize there wasn't enough spare ribs to go around? Or how did it get to that point, it was a Tuesday night and at a reasonable hour of 8. Just surprising.] Other menu items that looked appealing included a pork loin, gnocchi, beef loin and salmon dish.
The fish dish (whitefish or trout) was very well cooked and very lightly seasoned. It came with hush puppies, also tasty, but kind of random. I liked the ravioli more than Erica did but I do agree that the sauce (an onion, brown sugary concoction?) was strong and unusual.

We had a nice meal for pretty good value. The flavors are interesting and mostly satisfying but seem to come from all over the place. I like the concept and the menu but I bet it would benefit from some more thought in preparation before it hits the table.

Perennial Virant on Urbanspoon

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