Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: This was technically my second visit to Perennial Virant – the first was on opening night a couple years ago, but I’d been looking for an opportunity to go back ever since. It’s on the first floor of Hotel Lincoln, right across the street from where the Green City Market is held every Wednesday and Saturday in Lincoln Park, and so it’s easy to understand the inspiration for the heavily seasonal menu. Of all the dishes we tasted, I was most blown away by the roasted beet salad. I’m not a huge beet person, but I was practically obsessed with the combination of beets and strawberries. Joined by the creamy ricotta, mellow garlic, and balsamic, it hit every note and felt exceedingly fresh. I also loved the crispy rice cake, nicely contrasted by the smoky vinaigrette.
To make the evening extra-special, our meal concluded with a tour of the kitchen (let’s just say it helps to know people!), which was a surprise to my three girlfriends and me. Once we weaved downstairs, through cooking and dishwashing areas, we reached the real highlight of the tour: the wall-to-wall shelves of the pickles and preserves for which Chef Paul Virant is best known. Every kind of produce you could imagine was meticulously jarred and labeled, ready to be judiciously incorporated into dishes in the weeks and months to come.
And in the summer, it’s almost impossible to leave the building without hopping an elevator to the roof and emerging in what is probably my favorite rooftop bar in the city, the J. Parker. Between the meal itself and the incredible post-meal view, it was hard to stop oohing and aahing.
The details: Perennial Virant, 1800 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago.