Petite Phenom

Corporate Exec Chef, Mary Grace Viado celebrates 20 years at Village Tavern.

By Jan Walsh

If Chef Mary Grace Viado were a dish… What would she be? Her petite appearance and gracious hospitality are much like a canape, perhaps a caviar scallop. Yet her pretty smile and sweet personality are more like a dessert, such as her own warm butter cake with fruit and ice cream. Yet underlying this dainty demeanor, there is a CIA education, a world of experience, a passion for research and development, and a boss lady. Thus, Viado is not a dish, she is the talent who develops them all.

A native of the Philippines, Viado graduated cum laude with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration from the University of the Philippines. Before graduating with highest honors from the Culinary Institute of America, she was honored with many awards and scholarships, including a prestigious James Beard Foundation Scholarship, Culinary Institute of America Service Award, Culinary Institute of America President’s Scholarship, Guest Services Endowed Scholarship, Katharine Angell Scholastic Achievement Award and International Student Scholarship. She was corporate chef, at Italianni. She fine-tuned her culinary skills by stage training at several top New York restaurants: Restaurant Daniel, Aquavit, Le Cirque 2000, Aureole, Payard Patisserie and Bistro, Café des Artistes and Le Bernadin. Viado has also worked at luxury hotels, such as the Hotel Sainte Claire in San Jose, and Four Seasons in New York City and Atlanta.

In 2002 Viado came to Village Tavern, working her way up to corporate executive chef. In this role she could have lived in any city with a Village Tavern. And she chose Birmingham.

Today she greets us with excitement in her eyes. She shares that she has everything planned for lunch including starting with their new craft cocktail list. Yes, Mam! Mary Grace rules the day with her choice of Chocolate Manhattan. If you love bourbon and are a chocoholic, like me, this drink is for you. The complexity of the bourbon marries marvelously with the creaminess of the chocolate in this lustrous drink layered with Makers 46 Bourbon, Tempus Fugit Crème de Cocoa, Carpano Vermouth, and orange bitters. Served in a Champagne coupe, the Chocolate Manhattan is the ultimate sophistication in a glass. Highly recommended!

Our menu today is much like an eight-course tasting menu, yet not tasting size… I should have brought more people to the table! We begin with Spring Rolls, which are hand made in house. I am a spring roll enthusiast… The worst food happening of my life was the closing of the downtown’s Joy Young. I may never recover. Yet surprisingly, I have never had Village Tavern’s Spring Rolls. But this sad streak just came to an end. These rolls are generous in size and packed with grilled chicken, Napa cabbage, mixed greens tossed in Miso, enhanced with garlic, soy, ginger. Just like old times, I slather the rolls with the condiments, which include mustard, along with Sweet Soy and Thai Chili. And just like that a Joy Youngs food memory craving is finally satisfied. Calling all Joy Young lovers to try these rolls!

The Spinach Salad and Bacon Wrapped Scallops complement each other. So why not combine them? The salad is a deep and delightful mix of lean bacon, crisp apples, juicy tomatoes, tart cranberries, candied pecans, sliced egg, pungent blue cheese, and poppy seed dressing. The scallops are always a must. Plump, delicate New Bedford sea scallops are enveloped in applewood-smoked bacon and glazed with teriyaki sauce. The crispness and fattiness of the bacon add texture and richness, and the sauce glosses the scallops with fragrance, adding tangy sweet, saltiness. And they add succulence and protein to the salad.


Love flatbreads? Look no further. Margherita Pizza is a thin crust, with homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. It makes a scrumptious starter or keep it on the table as a bread for the entrees, as we do.

Here’s the beef… New to the menu is a 10-ounce Butcher Steak. This aged, center cut Certified Angus Beef is top sirloin, with choice of two sides, which she selected: a man-sized creamy mac and cheese and fresh asparagus. The Prime Rib Sandwich boasts towers of thinly sliced, tender prime rib (much like a Philly cheese steak but with much better beef) with caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese, mayonnaise, French batard, and au jus. Kev says it is the best he has ever had and keeps requesting we go back for more!

Teriyaki always takes me back… Beef teriyaki was the first dish I learned to cook as a teen. My friends loved it and were impressed, not realizing how simple it was to make. So I am delighted to find it again, this time varnishing intensity to my pristine, grilled filet of Fresh North Carolina Trout. It glistens with sweet soy and teriyaki glaze. Fresh green beans and rice pilaf round out this clean-eats dish.

Oh my! Look at the Key Lime Pie. From the butter graham cracker crust on bottom to the ribbons of whipped cream at its peak, “pie” does not describe the size of this over-the-top dessert. And the luscious, zingy, sweet tart nuances tickle and cleanse the palate. You have not had key lime pie until you try this one.

Just as we cannot eat another bite (already have a large to go bag), Village Tavern’s famous Warm Butter Cake arrives. As the vanilla ice cream begins to melt onto the warm, cake, we take a bite. Drizzled with raspberry sauce and appointed with fresh strawberries and blueberries, one bite leads to another of this can’t resist gooey goodness.

With better days ahead, Viado has new plans for research and development of new dishes to roll out to her eight Village Taverns.




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