Friday, July 6, 2012

Dining Out in Chicago: Acadia

"This is where you're eating?" asked my cab driver, somewhat puzzled, as we pulled over at the corner of quiet and nondescript in the South Loop one chilly night in March. I responded with a nod and cheerful affirmation; I had been looking forward to this night for weeks. The larger part of my 20-minute cab ride had been spent chatting about my destination- an exciting new restaurant that had recently received high praise from the food critic at the Trib. After all my hype, it's no surprise he seemed a bit confused- from the outside, Acadia is just another storefront on a quiet block, no eye-catching sign or entrance, no crowds or passersby. Nothing about its exterior suggests the experience that awaits just behind the frosted glass. 

From the small unassuming sign at the entrance to the muted color palate and sparse decor, Acadia is the epitome of understated sophistication. Refined without being pretentious, it welcomes long, intimate conversations, and the caliber of both the food and the service guarantees a meal to remember.  

The main dining room at Acadia. Photo by Anthony Tahlier via Fine

Walking through the front door, patrons are greeted by a sleek, contemporary space that is refreshingly simple and welcoming. The front portion of the restaurant houses the bar, which offers a handful of potent custom cocktails and beers as well as an extensive selection of wines. It also has its own menu, made up of refined pub grub (think lobster roll, oysters and an elevated bacon cheeseburger). Definitely a good spot to stop by for a drink or a bite to eat if you find yourself in the area during the day or after work.

Beyond the front area lies the expansive main dining room and a cozier side dining area. Where as the bar has a hip and trendy vibe, the dining spaces are more intimate, subdued and luxurious. Plush cream chairs surround chocolate stained wood tables simply decorated with tiny stone vases. A large beaded curtain hangs from the high ceiling in the main dining room, while the smaller room features a funky glass chandelier and an intriguing black and white mixed media piece.

The small dining room at Acadia. Source: Time Out Chicago

Our menu consisted of:
"Risotto" yukon potato • leek • Perigord truffle • green apple • fines herbes
Penobscot Bay Scallop winter carrots • cardamom coffee • coconut • celery • hon shimeji
Wagyu Beef smoked soubise • mushroom conserva • sweet herb emulsion • pommes maxim • pommes puree
Stonington Lobster Pie pearl onions • carrot • sour cream pastry • bisque • tarragon pommes dauphine
Milk Chocolate Cremeux candied huckleberry • hazelnuts • meyer lemon • buttermilk sponge

Penobscot Bay scallop appetizer

For our appetizers, we shared the potato "risotto" and the scallops. The risotto was rich and texturally intriguing, but not something I would order again. The scallops on the other hand were outstanding. Incredibly fresh and cooked to perfection, they were served with tender mushrooms and carrots and topped with a coffee cardamom foam. The dish was beautifully plated, much like the rest of our meal, in fact, all of Chef Ryan McCaskey's creations deserve credit for their stunning presentation.

Wagyu beef entree

For the entree course, we decided on the wagyu beef and Stonington lobster pie, both of which were stellar. The beef is poached and then grilled, leaving it juicy and tender, and is served with a mushroom conserva and smoky soubise (thick white sauce made from onion puree). On the side are potatoes done three ways— creamy pureed potatoes, crunchy potato puffs, and a crispy potato chip— and tiny dots of an herb emulsion. While the steak was excellent, the lobster pie was easily the highlight of the evening. Chunks of tender butter-poached Maine lobster are served with pearl onions, carrots, tarragon potato puffs, and a flaky sour cream biscuit. The dish is then topped with a decadent lobster bisque poured tableside. For a moment, I thought I had died and gone to food heaven.

Stonington lobster pie entree

Unfortunately, when it came to dessert, Acadia fell short. While our milk chocolate cremeux (sort of like a chocolate pudding) with buttermilk sponge cake was tasty, it was definitely not delicious enough to make up for the unappetizing presentation. The dish looked like a bird's nest thrown onto a plate. Very disappointing given the high bar set by the rest of the meal.

While I was more than impressed by the food at Acadia, the service is what really wowed me more than anything. The staff went above and beyond to ensure we had an excellent meal and an enjoyable experience. Our waitress was an angel— bringing my little sister a fun soda on the house so she would have something to sip on while I drank my cocktail, and offering me half a glass of red and half a glass of white when I couldn't decide on one to go with my entree combo of red meat and seafood.

Moreover, the steady stream of freebies throughout the evening seemed to say 'hey, we're glad you're here, have a little something on us.' There was the amuse bouche, then the heavenly miniature buttermilk biscuits, whipped butter and sea salt served in lieu of a bread basket, the post-dessert chocolates made in house, and finally the take-home goodie bags filled with a pieces of cake and tied with handwritten thank you tags. I certainly left feeling like a valued customer.

If after reading this entire review you still need another reason to visit Acadia, I give you this— for what it is, Acadia is very reasonably priced. You can enjoy a special meal without worrying about being frugal for weeks afterwards. It is fine dining for a fraction of the cost. Need I say more?

My favorite freebie: buttermilk biscuits, whipped butter & sea salt

The rundown:
Price: $$$$ (Just over $60 per person, including one drink, tax and tip)
Reservations: Yes
What to Wear: Dressy
Ambiance: upscale, fine dining, classy
Good for: romantic date, classy birthday dinner, quiet business dinner, celebratory meal, splurge

Final verdict: Absolutely do not miss.


  1. All of this looks amazing, no wonder the price!!!

  2. Perfect for a delicious birthday dinner and way too yummy mini biscuits!