Pan-seared whitefish Photo: Jeff Marini

For 14 years, Vie has endured a stream of backhanded compliments: “I can’t believe this restaurant is in the suburbs!” “It’s totally worth the drive!” As if there were some unwritten rule against opening a top-level restaurant outside the city limits. Enough already. Vie is a terrific restaurant, full stop.

One of the early adopters of the farm-to-table/DIY/artisan ethos, Paul Virant’s steady, elegant destination in the western suburbs still pulls it off exceptionally well. Vie’s kitchen has always been great at coaxing big flavors from humble ingredients, as in, say, a salad of shaved and roasted carrots and pumpkin seeds with a NuMex pepper vinaigrette. And when Virant flexes his muscles to showcase the brawn of American cooking, you get exceptional dishes like wood-grilled lamb loin and barbecued leg of lamb with papas bravas, smoked paprika aioli, and minted English peas. Julius White’s cocktails ride high despite their twee names. (The Fennel Countdown? Really?) The goofy humor, combined with the pure expression of Virant’s passions—canning, pickling, baking, entertaining—gives Vie a genuine Midwestern warmth that cannot be faked or taught.