I’ve been seeing a doctor (okay, a therapist) whose office is next to Viand for almost a year now, so I’ve been there more than once for a posttherapy burger. (What, therapy has never made you hungry?) Maybe it was my tender psyche, but I always found it better than average—much better, that is, than you’d expect from a restaurant in the Marriott.
With the November arrival of chef Steve Chiappetti (known for his successful—but now defunct—restaurants Mango and Grapes, as well as for being the opening chef at Rhapsody and Oak Park’s Cafe Le Coq), the restaurant seems to be reaching higher. Having eaten there under the previous chefs, I was surprised on a recent visit when my table was treated to an amuse-bouche, a flavorful square of crispy chickpea cake topped with a tiny dollop of aioli. Our server seemed almost as surprised as we were—he set the spoons down in front of us slowly, seemingly frightened that the thing would spill into our laps.
Service was clumsily cute the whole night, as if the staff were a baseball team that suddenly found itself in a different league. But it can hardly be blamed. At the old Viand, crab cakes were simply crab cakes. At the new Viand, crab cakes (called “crab salad” on the menu) arrive in a curvaceous bowl and are quickly immersed by a server in a carrot-curry soup. As the crab cake breaks apart, it gets into every spoonful of soup, and each flavor—the carrot, the crab, the curry—is deliciously distinguishable. Chicken potpie is more straightforward but a little less successful: The golden crust was soft instead of flaky.
While eating our appetizers, we watched as various large, kitschy plates were paraded to other diners. The poor lady two tables down was given a foot-high statue of a man that served as a chopstick holder, and minutes later, an enormous wooden boat found its way onto our table. The asparagus-stuffed rectangles of tuna loin inside the vessel had a clean but underwhelming flavor. Continuing with the dramatics, a bright red tagine was opened ceremoniously to reveal “Chiappetti’s Lamb,” an enormous leg with sweet, gamey flavor, so tender our server had trouble transferring it from tagine to plate. The short ribs, slowly braised to a soft, sumptuous texture, came without fanfare—ironic, because of all the dishes we tried, it was the most bland and could have used something—anything—to make it more exciting.
After the onslaught of head-turning serviceware, we barely blinked at the “Junk Food Cart”—a miniature shopping cart brimming with warm brownies, house-made Oreos, thick marshmallows and a tiny Coke float. It’s certainly kitschy and it’s not the best dessert you’ll ever have, but it epitomizes what Chiappetti is doing best for Viand—getting it noticed.