Friday, March 28, 2008

The Vie-Dict

Spring Break at Vie

Aside from a quick jaunt to Madison, we did not leave town for spring break. With Trillinesque logic (as well as an about to be expired gift certificate) we planned on visiting Vie this week. The chance to arbitrate between Ulterior Epicure's stellar meal and Abby from Gaper's Block trying experience gave me all the more reason. Fodder, fodder, fodder.

And, as long time devotees of my eating can suss, the winner is Mr. Epicure. This is no offense to Ms. Abby. Bad meals happen to everyone. Our dinner last night met all our expectations for Vie in terms of deliciousness, innovation, ingredient quality, and generosity. I'm just always left ready to return. Is there no better endorsement than that?

My daughters are somewhat reluctant gourmets. In fact they pushed for delivery pizza as this week's splurge. At Vie, both had a hard time deciding what to get, especially the younger who decided she was in a no-split kinda mood that day. Still, after tense ordering, Sophia sez with confidence, "I always look forward to the amuse. I may not like it, but I'll always try the amuse." What a proud papa moment.

The amuse is always good at Vie. Most of the time I am left with the desire to have about five more helpings. Yesterday's meal started with a fritter dotted with green garlic, served over a green garlic mayo. We all picked up a bit of curry of what not. It reminded us of the pakoras we had last weekend on Devon (Da'bomb).

First course for me was a touch choice between house made salami/mortadella and house-made pork sausage. I'm glad I went with the later. One of the best dishes I've had a Vie. For one thing, I loved the sausage with its high funk and lose texture. For another, the garnish really made this dish. It was marinated chick peas (a Virant signature ingredient) with bright preserved oranges (think more than one meaning of bright) and a smoked paprika vinaigrette. Seems like a lot, no? It was a prime example of a Vie dish; the combination of fresh and tang, use of the wood stoked grill, and mostly, the hand, the special taste that only small batch sausage can have. Moreover, not many think molecular gastronomy when they think Vie, but here was a dish were all of those disparate elements (plus some miner's lettuce) combined into something wholly greater than their parts. A true recipe.

My wife's scallop appetizer converted older daughter to a scallop lover; really garlic heavy salad enticed the other daughter (what's that you are always saying about wine friend food Paul?). The New Zealand venison combo I shared with my wife offended my localvore convictions but not my palate. Chef Virant is incapable of sending our an inferior plate of gnocchi. It was nearly all good. Just so you know I am not a shill, I will point out a few things.

My younger daughter, who loves a good amuse, also has a thing for just trying stuff on a menu. Why something appeals to her, I'm not quite sure. In Madison, shrimp de jonge called out to her; last night it was the baked farinata or chick pea cake. She and pretty much the whole table, found it bland (especially compared with so much else on the table). The fresh bacon, crisped on the surface and gooey within, between my wife and I, tasted good, fatty-good, but was, perhaps, just a bit too much fat even for me. Maybe. The house made giardinara helped cut the richness. Fatty or not, we still made empty plate.

We really made empty plate from that venison. The venison itself, seared leg and smoked loin, was somewhat inoffensive, not bad, but on its own probably boring. Chef Virant takes this blank space and fills it with good things: wild rice and preserved pecans and preserved blueberries. He cooks down the juices of the preserved items and makes a sauce with browned butter. With tiny, earthy fried sunchoke chips atop, this was a pick your plate up and lick clean kinda dish. Maybe next time, sticky customer that I am, I might just have them skip the venison and have the wild rice as a side dish.

The rest of the meal proceeded with an array of tasty food. Mid entree, for the table, house manager Jenny brought over a special of ramp cake with fried egg. As much as this is spring and local and new ramps, what made the dish was the perfectly cooked, awash in butter, farm egg. Pre-dessert, the kidz got sorbe made with mandarins, my wife and I got sorbets made from white wine. Like the egg, the fritter, Vie's techniques are so good. The sorbets had that fruitier than fruit quality to them. The kidz shared a creme brule, my wife and I the gooey butter cake, and we split an order of donuts with caramel corn. Our last bites were tiny whipped up nutty meringues. We were stuffed.

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