Local Restauranteur Reintroduces Vistro Prime

By Kerrie Kennedy

It’s been a long year of home cooking and takeout food, but as vaccine rollouts give Americans the confidence they need to return to in person dining this spring, restaurant owners are hoping for a robust recovery. For local restaurateur Paul Virant, who owns Vie in Western Springs, the newly renamed Vistro Prime in Hinsdale and Gaijin in Chicago, it’s been a roller-coaster of a year, with lockdowns, restrictions, curfews and more. “Like a lot of other restaurants, we had to shift our business model quickly,” Virant said. “We now do a lot of carry-out at Vie, and we also did a lot of special meal-kits for major holidays.” Virant also had to address the push for outdoor space, erecting tents at Gaijin and Vistro Prime, and building a patio with a pergola and lighting at Vie. Suddenly, the landscape is changing again, and Virant—who kept his restaurants going thanks in part to two rounds of PPP loans—is preparing for recovery driven by pent-up demand. “There’s no question—it does feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Virant said. “This past weekend, there were a lot of people at my restaurant in the city. Things are getting brighter.” And while there’s no doubt the last year has been tough, it hasn’t been without some silver linings. “For me, 2020 was an opportunity to reflect and make changes,” he said. “It gave me time to do some redecorating, make changes to menus and rethink some of my concepts.” One of the biggest changes he made was at Vistro, which he re-concepted and rechristened Vistro Prime. “Hinsdale does not have a steakhouse in town,” Virant said. “I decided it was time that changed.” Here’s a look at what Virant has planned for his restaurants this spring:

Vistro Prime. While the solid core of Vistro will remain in place—with burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, salads and a la carte offerings on the menu—the restaurant is transitioning into a neighborhood steakhouse. The new menu will feature dover sole, diver sea scallops, lamb-chops and five different cuts of steak, along with a variety of sauces and enhancements that can be customized by the diner. Along with the menu change, Vistro Prime received a makeover to match, featuring banquettes and tables dressed with white cloths and votives. And to top off the old-school vibe, Bananas Foster, prepared tableside, will top the dessert list. Vistro Prime, 112 S. Washington in Hinsdale, vistrorestaurant.com

Vie. Virant’s mothership restaurant, which opened in 2004, remains a locally sourced foodie destination, where the produce comes from Midwestern farms and fish from the Great Lakes. While its culinary concept remains the same, Vie’s chef of 11 years Dan Compton has recently added a variety of sharable snacks to the menu, including cheese plates, deviled eggs and cheddar-cheese straws with smoked apple butter. Perfect to share on the restaurant’s brand-new patio over a bottle of wine, perhaps chosen with some help from Vie’s in-house sommelier. Vie, 4471 Lawn Ave. in Western Springs, vierestaurant.com

Gaijin. After opening in November 2019—just four months before the lockdown—Gaijin reopened to the public on March 1. One of only a handful of Akonomiyaki (savory pancake) restaurants across the country, Gaijin prepares the traditional Japanese comfort food on a 12-foot griddle in an open kitchen, and delivers it to tables equipped with warming units. Besides customizable savory pancakes, Gaijin’s menu features a number of shared appetizer plates and mochi donuts topped with a variety of frostings. Gaijin, 950 W. Lake in Chicago, gaijinchicago.com ■

“There’s no question – it does feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

*Photos by Marcello Rodarte