Wednesday, February 29, 2012


We took a trip down to the 1600 block of Wabash to check out the latest from chef Ryan McCaskey - something I refer to as "casual fine dining." I enjoyed the journey and discovery of an unassuming stand alone building seemingly out of nowhere in the South Loop. You can't quite tell it's a restaurant because the only part visible from the street is the bar area and the windows are frosted and discrete. Once inside you get to see and experience the beautifully done interior with strong elements of L20 and even Alinea (super high ceilings, metal bead "wall" and dark wood and white leather everywhere). I particularly appreciate the spacing of the tables (a simple aspect but so many places pack it in) and the soft cream colored carpet vs. hard floor. The wonderful design flows with and into the service - which is as good as any other five star restaurant in the city (likely the result of Christopher Gerber's influence - he opened front of house at Alinea et. al.). Additionally, the menu is nice and easy to follow (with strong midwest, farm to table aspects and no pronunciation guide needed). There are two sections, one for each course. I'm sure you could get creative and order in any which way, but the message is clear - this is a multi course meal and everyone chooses two of them. And even though most people don't bring cameras to the table like we bloggers, the food is gorgeous with its presentation and worthy of a few shots. I'm a little upset that we didn't try any cocktails because I now find out they are a highlight (and a TOC Eat Out Award Nominee). But why call it casual fine dining? Because you don't get the sense that you have to whisper to talk, or that you must put on your class A suit, and most of all you don't need to bring five credit cards to pay for the meal. They do a wonderful job of providing a five-star experience without the five-start pretentiousness or price tag.

The last piece of the puzzle is the food on the plate, and we enjoyed a lot of what we ate. I am disappointed in the main course selections the most, and that is the main reason our experience wasn't as good as possible. I tried the Deer Isle Shrimp (served with cauliflower, cuttlefish noodles, chorizo, marcona almond, fried spoon bread) and while all the pieces were fascniating and creative, the flavor of the lemon juice and sweet thai chili was too strong to enjoy the entire plate. Erica ordered the highly anticipated waygu beef and it came out luke warm without meaningful flavor (not to mention there was a peculiar long break in the meal before our main course arrived). But even with disappointing dishes, the creativity, precision and beauty are very much apparent and respected. 

The first course is an amuse buche of butternut squash soup in a tiny tea cup. It's great, I licked it dry and would have had an entire bowl. That was followed by my "risotto" dish (yukon potato, leek, Perigord truffle, green apple, fines herbes) and Erica's sunchoke soup (might have ordered something different if we knew about the amuse). I preferred Erica's creamy and rich soup that felt right at home in the middle of winter. The risotto dish is different because it's not really risotto but carefully diced up potatoes and apples made to seem like risotto. I liked the shaved turffle but didn't love the combintation texture and tartness of the apple and potato. Since there is no bread service, after the first "real" course you get these tiny biscuits with awesome salted creamy butter. Those were fun. 

Even though I mentioned it before, it's worth highlighting how good and fun the service was (with the exception of timing before main course). Each course was presented simultaneously by two servers. Our wine was poured simultaneously, our water was rarely empty for more than a second and the plates were cleared at appropriate moments and at the same time. Add to that a very helpful and friendly waiter - it makes me wonder why every restaurant couldn't take the time train up to that level. 

The dessert menu is small with only three selections plus a cheese option and many after dinner drinks. We didn't need dessert but were glad we ordered the passion fruit toffe (with banana coffee cake, cardamon, meringue and cookies. It's definitely on the side of creative and different but had great balance and delicious flavors. It pushed the envelope just enough to be interesting but still delivered the goods. 

I enjoyed my time at Acadia even though our main course dishes were not amazing. I love the idea that our check was surprisingly lower than expected, and that the space and service made you feel and expect the fine dining experience. I'm sure the cocktails are great, we know the desert is solid and everything in between is presented as art and tastes great (or could).  There have been plenty of great reviews to suggest our few plates were an exception and not the rule; and because everything else went so well I'd give them the benefit of the doubt and return. I hope this is the start of a trend where restaurants deliver a high quality experience for less than the customer expects. Finally, I like that Acadia makes me ponder and analyze the meal I ate and not just check the box as another typical restaurant in this mode or location; in this case different is good.

Acadia on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I like it when food gets turned into little works of art. It sure adds a nice tough of flair to any event - whether it's a simple family dinner or a corporate catering party.



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