Unfortunately everything was booked up from 6 until 9:30pm, but they said they would call us if something became available. Sure enough, two hours later we got a ring from Justin at Acadia and they could accommodate us. Here we go...
As we walked down South Wabash to Acadia, it was eerily quiet. Very little (if any) foot traffic, dark and gritty. Definitely a different feel compared to similar upscale restaurants in the city (i.e. - Gold Coast or Lincoln Park). We kind of like it - made us feel like we knew something others didn't.
But apparently others knew about Acadia as well. The restaurant is very unassuming and incognito from the outside (besides the brand new blue Lamborghini sitting outside its front door - obviously trying to send some sort of signal). Upon entering the restaurant you're greeted by contemporary style and light colors subtly welcoming you. Two women were pleasantly smiling and asked for our names. Almost simultaneously a man appeared and said, "oh yes, glad we could accommodate you". It was Justin, our friend from the phone, seemingly acting like he knew us personally and was genuinely looking forward to us coming (while it was
a little contrived it was welcomed).
We were in an adventurous mood so we wanted to try to get the full "Acadia experience". So we started at the much acclaimed bar area. We opted for one of the specialty drinks which were about $12 a piece. I had the Rum and Kola and my wife opted for some "dreamsicle" concoction. The bar tender immediately went to work on the drinks mixing, straining, twirling, shaking and even using some contraption that made water into soda water.
Although it took some time, once we got our drinks we were satisfied. Both drinks had strong flavors and went down smooth almost as if you couldn't taste any alcohol. The dreamsicle was pretty much what you would think...it tasted like an orange dreamsicle. After the bar we took our drinks to our seats and eagerly looked forward to some grub.
The main dinning area was elegant and simple. Again, a very contemporary design with little decoration. The main design element was something resembling various large metallic bead strands hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. It was dramatic, but functional as it broke up the space well.
We were quickly greeted by our waitress who kindly introduced herself and gave us our menus. The menu was pretty straightforward in it's orientation: "first course" and "second course". Each section had about 10-15 dishes and clearly were creatively conceived using unorthodox mixtures of ingredients.
While we had a couple minor questions, we easily and quickly decided to go with a scallop dish (including wheat berries, coconut, butternut squash, dill, lime) and the "risotto" for our first course.Risotto is in quotations because that's how it appeared on the menu - since it clearly wasn't risotto - here is how Chef Ryan McCaskey describes it on his blog in the test kitchen posts:
This dish is still a work in progress. but for now, it’s a brunoise of yukon potato, mimicking the rice component of risotto. folded into the potato are leeks, truffle, garlic, lemon, chives and creme fraiche. the green apple veil is garnished with shaved truffle, fine herbs, cracked pepper and thyme. some contrasting and textural elements will be added. this dish will epitomize contemporary classic cuisine.
My wife commented that the scallops were the best she's ever had (however, I wouldn't go that far) and the risotto was interesting. Fun texture and definitely a pleasant way to start the dinner.
For the main course we decided on the wagyu beef dish (which included mushroom conserva, herb puree, pommes- maixm, puree, confit) and a bass dish (sorry I can't remember the ingredients). Both dishes were solid. The beef had a big taste and when combined with the various sauces were truly delicious. The bass was very tender and light.
And what meal is complete without dessert? Given that we've been chowing down, we opted to share the roasted pineapple dessert which was described to us as a "playground" of taste and on the lighter side. While we got a kick out of that description, it was good - but not as memorable as the first or second courses.
As typically found at upscale restaurants we were given "complementary" small items between each course. Our favorite was the buttermilk biscuits. Good stuff.
A couple other quick notes to mention:
- While we didn't have any A-list celebrity sightings, we did dine next to Alderman Fioretti and across the room was ABC7's Kathy Brock
- The only hiccup was when we initially got to the dinning a room. A man sitting at a table behind us tried to get up and ended up breaking a leg on his chair. It appeared that he slid the chair back on the carpet and it must have gotten caught. He played it off with a chuckle, but the waiters and waitresses seemed terrified.
- The length of our dinner was about two and half hours (maybe even three hours). However, it didn't seem slow - it had a nice pace.
- While much has been made about the public park that will be built to the North of Acadia, we're not sure how it will integrate with the restaurant. In it's current state, the restaurant seems too upscale for a public park. Maybe the plan is to offer something cheaper during the day? We will be interested to see what happens with this.
- It will also be interesting to see how Acadia's business goes. As described above, it's in a league of it's own in the South Loop. Will it have enough consistent business to be successful? If so, maybe this is the "pioneer" restaurant we've been hoping for.
All in all Acadia was a fun experience and something that is unique for the South Loop. While some were comparing it to Gioco, Opera, Room 21, Tribute, Chicago Fire House, Mercat a la Planxa and Custom House in our opinion it's truly a step above those "rivals" (maybe with the exception of Mercat from what we've heard). The service, the preparation, the attention to detail, the ambiance were done much better. Most importantly, the food was great and seemed much more creative than any other option we've seen in the neighborhood.
Keep in mind that the prices all seemed more expensive and the portions weren't going to leave you stuffed (which is probably a good thing). Regardless, this restaurant isn't about value it's about experience. And for us Acadia was definitely a worthwhile (albeit pricey) experience.
(Images from Acadia website)