Review: Virtue Restaurant
Author: Emily Kang
Photographer: Angela Sha
At Virtue, classic Southern comfort food is made high-end through owner and chef Erick Williams’ vision. This restaurant, which opened November 2018, focuses on hospitality, honesty, and heritage. It has recently been hailed as one of the top new restaurants to watch in Chicago, and it’s located right here in Hyde Park.
We began our meal in the cozy, refined dining space with two of the “small rations,” or appetizer-sized dishes-- fried green tomatoes and a pickled beet salad. The fried green tomatoes were hearty without being heavy, the meaty tomato and crisp breading lightened up with fresh shrimp and acidic remoulade. This Southern classic felt like an appropriate start to the meal. However, the beet salad stole the show. Virtue’s take on this trendy dish used both red and golden pickled beets for earthy sweetness and slight acidity, candied walnuts for sweetness and crunch, and homemade farmers cheese brought a nice creaminess to the dish. This well-balanced dish was a wonderfully refreshing way to begin the meal, and ended up being my favorite dish of the night.
For our entrees, we tried the shrimp and grits and the salmon. The shrimp and grits were simple and hearty, but dominated by the sweet and smoky sauce. The sauce, while delicious, coated the palette and made the overall dish feel a bit one-noted. I was grateful for the generous serving of green onions that garnished the dish as a way to brighten up the heavier flavors. Despite the heaviness of the dish, I still found it satisfying. The salmon was cooked well, but did not shine as the star of the dish. Instead, I felt the side accompaniments were more interesting in flavor. The brussel sprouts were roasted and caramelized, the red peas were rich and creamy, and the dill sauce brightened the dish. Overall, the dish engaged sweet, salty, and umami flavors effectively, but I felt more could have been done to elevate the salmon from a typical glazed fish filet.
Finally, for dessert, we split a crustless ricotta cheesecake with apple compote and caramel. The cake was sweet but acidic and perfectly creamy. The apple compote added textural variety with soft apples and crisp croutons. The caramel, however, was overpowering in its sweetness. Each bite had to be perfectly balanced in the amount of each component, or else it quickly veered into overly sugary, one-flavored territories.
The food at Virtue was good, but I was not blown away by this meal as a whole. Still, I am glad I went and am eager to return. Virtue makes conscious efforts to reflect on the origins of Southern soul classics by engaging with art, ingredients, and even the choice to phrase the menu as “rations.” Southern soul food has grown out of the culinary traditions of slavery, using less-desirable ingredients to create delicious, hearty meals. Virtue reimagines and elevates these ingredients without losing touch with the social and historical implications they carry. This young restaurant undeniably has room to grow, but I enjoyed my meal and I am excited to see where this concept will go.