Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Acadia - fine dining in Chicago's South Loop

Acadia (1639 S. Wabash) is “a place of plenty”. The name is a reference to the French settlement in the new world, modern day Maine, and the seafood-heavy menu reflects these coastal influences.  Acadia offers the sort of fine dining experience you’d expect to find in the Gold Coast, but lucky for me, the restaurant’s Chef and Proprietor, Ryan McCaskey, is a South Loop neighborhood resident.
You hear the term “fine dining” and you probably jump to the conclusion that the evening will be outrageously expensive. McCaskey has been sure to maintain the restaurant’s accessibility for the neighbors. Upon entering the space (note there is no signage to the restaurant, so your only guide will be the valet signage out front) you are greeted by the host stand and a minimalist white bar off to the right. There are a handful of seats for guests to enjoy a more relaxed evening with hand-crafted cocktails and a less expensive bar menu that includes a burger ($12), a lobster roll ($14), and a few other items all under the $16 mark.
The dining room has a few different areas and can even be sourced for private dining. The walls are white and there are large rectangular windows that offer views to the north of area condos and the Willis Tower. There is not much to look at on the walls; the Chef wants you to notice his food. To relish in the dining experience. The chairs are comfortable; the tables are nicely spaced. Though the setting is modern you will feel at ease. The staff, though perfectly on par with their formal fine-dining service, is relaxed and friendly. The wine list is extensive and the sommelier is passionate about his selections. There are a variety of cocktails that are worth sampling; they could warrant a visit to Acadia’s bar all themselves.
Bucking the Chicago dining trend, menu items at Acadia are meant to be enjoyed individually. Diners will start with an amuse bouche followed by their first course. The “Risotto” ($10) is an imaginative play on its namesake dish using tiny cubes of Yukon potato standing-in fo the grains of Arborio rice topped with hairs of black truffle. The Charcuterie Platter ($15) would be the one item that would easily be shareable and boasts some rich chicken liver mousse. Though bite size, the petite biscuits are buttery slices of heaven and the perfect separation between courses. The presentation of the entrees is stunning and a true work of art. The Stonington Lobster Pie ($34) is a deconstructed take on the traditional pot pie complete with a generous portion of lobster and colorful pearl onions. All of the entrĂ©e portions are substantial by fine dining standards. The Black Cod ($30) is nestled next to a delicate sprout leaf salad. The Deer Isle Shrimp ($26) flaunted large prawns resting atop milky white noodles.
There are digestifs, dessert wines, French press coffee and a handful of desserts ($10) to round out the meal. A decadent chocolate and bite-sized whoopee pies were presented with the check. Upon collecting coats (sans the use of any coat check tokens or direction from the diners) a parting slice of almond cake was gifted; a small remembrance of the fine dining experience in our very own South Loop. The devil is in the details and the Acadia staff makes sure that every detail is looked after with care.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Me & Mr. Puck

Wolfgang Puck was nice enough to take a photo with me
I always eat well when I visit LA. I eat too well perhaps. I research where I want to go and all the activities I want to be sure and squeeze into my all too short visit with the BF. My last visit was no exception with stops at breakfast hot spots (yes, the kind where you have to wait in line for an hour and everyone in said line gives the other patrons the once over), supremely fresh sushi, stops for sweet treats (a post-run sundae at Sweet Rose Creamery and one of the airy baked doughnuts from Fonuts), and of course a visit to the local farmer's market. After so much eating out (yes, there was luckily some running in there as well - one even being along the ocean in Santa Monica) one of my favorite activities is to relax and walk around one of LA's many year-round farmer's markets. This is a treat we're not able to support each and every weekend of the year in Chicago. I gaze at the produce. I sample the juicy oranges and inquire after varietals of fruits and vegetables I'm not as familiar with. It's a fun outing for me. So imagine my surprise when I see celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck at the local farmer's market! He was definitely shopping for his own personal use and I was surprised that no one was bothering him. He graciously took a picture with this Food Girl, and I have to say it was the ideal way to end yet another food-filled LA weekend visit.
My decadent hot fudge sundae - Brentwood's Sweet Rose Creamery