The award-winning Vestige in Ocean Springs has refined its culinary style over the past seven years — earning acclaim and making the restaurant a foodie favorite for locals and tourists alike.
Vestige is owned and operated by Ocean Springs native Chef Alex Perry and his wife, Kumi Omori, who met at a friend’s birthday party shortly after Perry graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu-accredited Orlando Culinary Academy. After working in Mobile for many years, they considered various places to open their own restaurant but couldn’t find anywhere that felt right. Returning to Ocean Springs to regroup in 2013, they settled in a location they love and have since made their modern American eatery a must visit.
The name Vestige, which is defined as the trace of something that is disappearing or no longer exists, comes from Chef Alex and Kumi’s desire to play off of what people have when they go out to dinner.
“There’s a monetary investment, but it is kind of there, and then it’s gone,” Chef Alex says. “We wanted our restaurant to produce the vestige of the meal you had — how you remember it, and how you are remembering us.
“That was sort of a guiding philosophy when we first opened — putting this really good experience together of producing great memories.”
They’ve used locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients from the start, but Vestige initially served dishes that would qualify as Southern cuisine. Kumi, who grew up in small village in northern Japan and creates most of the breads and desserts Vestige offers, often would give Chef Alex Japanese cookbooks for Christmas. This got him interested in the Japanese naturalistic feel of cooking.
“It’s not just using what grows in the region,” Chef Alex says, “but sometimes showing what that day looks like, or what a memory from your childhood looks like, on a plate. They incorporate a lot of that into hyper-seasonality, and a lot of times, it’s done kind of minimalistic. Less is more.”
Vestige always has believed in the seasonality, sustainability and locality of ingredients, which combined naturally with the Japanese aesthetic, flavors and techniques they began infusing into their cuisine. This gradual evolution is the inflection point to where they are now, with an ever-changing menu using what grows here, both farmed and wild. Chef Alex says they use a lot of fermenting and preservation to paint a different picture of what coastal cuisine can be.
“When you think of coastal cuisine, you think of kind of the obvious — the jambalaya, the po’ boys, the etouffee, the shrimp, the fish,” Chef Alex says. “Not that there is anything wrong with that; it’s just that we saw a different way to view the food on the Gulf Coast.”
The service and cuisine continue to evolve at Vestige, and the challenges of the 2020 pandemic prompted yet another change: a weekly prix fixe tasting menu. Guests initially were a little wary about not choosing what they order, but the creative dishes featured each week on Instagram and Facebook are now a big draw.
“People really are starting to warm to the idea,” Chef Alex says. “You come in and don’t have to worry about anything. You just order your drink, and if we are any good at what we do, it’s not going to be bad.”
I can attest to that, as the meal my girlfriend, Lauryn, and I had during our visit was exceptional. Shortly after we were seated, our server, Michael Anthony, presented us with an amuse bouche of a pouched Biloxi French hermit oyster with a locally grown tomato gazpacho inside the shell. The small bite was bursting with big flavor, and based on this start, we knew we were in for a treat.
Next up was a smoked Verlasso salmon with a basil oil and cucumber juice emulsion, topped with a homemade crème fraiche with fresh ground cherries. The light dish was absolutely charming.
After cleansing the palate with a delightful milk bread with blueberry butter, we followed with a sous vide prime New York strip that was pan seared in a cast-iron skillet to medium rare. It was plated on an eggplant purée and topped with a pickled kombu and a seaweed hollandaise sprinkled with a bayberry. Perfectly cooked, it melted in your mouth with each delicious bite.
We concluded our meal with a fresh blueberry custard tart treat made with a diplomat crème and a black sesame crust. Plated with a blueberry coulis and topped with a French whipped blueberry crème quenelle, it was the perfect end to a tremendous meal.
Last year, Chef Alex was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as a semi-finalist in The Best Chef: South category. Next year, he and Kumi will open a second Ocean Springs restaurant called Apple Pear, which will be part of a collective that includes a bookstore, brewery, wine shop, garden and communal space on Porter Avenue. Vestige is open Tuesday through Saturday and offers a weekly changing, multi-course dinner. Reservations are highly recommended.
IF YOU GO
715 Washington Ave.
Ocean Springs, MS 39564