Fine dining thrives in Chicago with Acadia

January 28, 2012 8:28:14 PM PST
Ryan McCaskey has spent the past two years planning, building and re-thinking fine dining. The result is Acadia, on a non-descript block of South Wabash in the South Loop.

He realizes planning something this ambitious - in a recession - comes with risks.

"But then I also said to myself, after 20 years of cooking and working towards this goal, I feel like this is my shot," he said.

Rather than subjecting diners to a multi-course tasting menu, lasting hours on end, his philosophy is simpler.

"Coming in, having an appetizer, maybe a nice little cocktail, a glass of wine, an entree and dessert. And that's fine," McCaskey said.

Beet salad is nothing new, but in McCaskey's hands, it is something altogether different.

"How do I make a beet salad that's been seen, been done, that even has the same flavor profiles, but do it in a way that's a little bit interesting or hasn't been seen before," he said.

"The beets are roasted with a little bit of vanilla," McCaskey said, while plating the dish.

A goat cheese "noodle" snakes its way through the plate, with beet gel, orange puree and a chocolate "soil" for contrast. "It's like the outside of an Oreo cookie," he said.

Foie gras is served in a chilled torchon, coated in malt the texture of Rice Krispies; bits of compressed apples, fresh savory and mache greens add notes of contrast to the fatty-rich dish. The name Acadia refers to McCaskey's summers in Maine, so lobster is a must. But instead of a rustic pot pie, he deconstructs it, beginning with a gorgeous tail..

"(It's) really nice and buttery, very clean tasting," said McCaskey.

Then root vegetables and roasted pearl onions.. plus a sour cream-infused puff pastry "cap." On the side, some pomme dauphine.

"Eclair dough, that's been folded in with mashed potato and then lightly fried, and we put a little chopped tarragon in there as well," he added.

At the table, a rich, unctuous lobster bisque is poured around the plate, which will surely mean extended bread sopping and licking.

"It's so funny that we think of lobster as a very high-end luxury ingredient and item, but driving up the coast of Maine, it is literally in stands up and down the side of the highway," said McCaskey.

Over the last couple of months, some of the area's finest restaurants have announced they're either closing for good this year or re-concepting, and then re-opening later, as a more casual incarnation. And it's good to see fine dining is not dead in Chicago.

There is no multi-course tasting menu at acadia, lasting several hours.. You just choose whatever you'd like from a limited number of courses.

1639 S. Wabash Avenue