Caviar and beef tartare
Mini lobster roll
Hysop ice cream
** (2 stars)
I have struggled to figure out how to give Acadia three stars, which Yelp defines as “A-OK”, and I just can’t do it. It was not okay, and here’s why.
Acadia is trying to operate at the Alinea, Oriole, Grace level, and it’s not even close. At this level a meal needs to be an experience. The food needs to make you pause in wonder. We found ourselves doing a lot of wondering last night, but not in a good way.
The decor is fine. They’re definitely going for an Alinea vibe. And the service was fine, too, although we got the impression they’d sent someone over to Grace to take notes, and then imperfectly shared them with a less experienced staff. But the problem was the food.
Course after course we were presented with gorgeous dishes–some of the prettiest in town, no doubt–that went nowhere. Rather than ingredients coming together to create something greater than the individual parts, there were a series of disjointed, sometimes even flavorless creations that left us wondering if the chef had gone on vacation and left the restaurant on autopilot.
We knew we were in trouble when we started with not one but three amuse bouches, not one of which was special. They included a meat with caviar on it–not the last time this mistake would be made. Who does that, and why? The flavors aren’t complementary, and each ruined an otherwise fine ingredient. A two-bite mini lobster roll was just that, but not a particularly good lobster roll. And the “pizza” was a nice cracker with some cheese on it. This would probably have been the best choice as the amuse bouche course.
Bread service consisted of a bite-size pretzel roll with truffle butter. Honestly, you can get a better pretzel bite at Bar Louie, and I found myself yearning for their mustard.
The first true course of the night was good quality salmon. As with nearly every course, something was poured on it table-side. This was a delicious broth of osmanthus and charred pineapple, which did nothing to enhance the salmon, but was wonderful to sip from the bowl once the salmon was gone. The course is accompanied by a durable bialy.
A bowl of shaved ice appears, and vinegar is added. Hmmm.
Cuttlefish and cucumber is an attractive dish, but with very little flavor.
A scallop is not seared quite enough to make it interesting, although one of our party of three likes the weird dehydrated crispy/gummy orange segment served with it.
The pretzel roll reappears, this time without the truffle butter. Was the first one a mistake? This one is accompanied by a dry, too tough miniature biscuit. Seriously, I can make a better biscuit with Bisquick. This one looks like a huge amount of effort went into it with nothing interesting to show for it, a metaphor for the meal itself. The breads are accompanied by a dish of buckwheat groats soaked in a generous amount of butter, one of the most savory dishes, and one that required nothing to be poured onto it.
The lobster course is the most successful. Although the small lobster tail is a bit tough, the lobster bisque (poured over the plate, of course) is delicious, and really complements the other flavors on the plate, especially a half spoonful of corn nibblets. This is what all the courses should have been like.
The last savory course is a nicely cooked piece of pork cheek which has plenty of flavor without the dollop of osetra caviar ruined by being placed on top. (Again, who does that, and why?)
Three desserts follow, all along the same lines of a bowl with ice cream or chocolate pudding topped with random flowers and bits of this and that. They are all fine, and the fact that most ingredients don’t compliment each other would have been overlooked save for the preceding parade of mismatched items.
About halfway through the meal we lapsed into a sort of stunned silence. Having been to nearly every fine dining restaurant in Chicago, how could this possibly be? I suppose the tip-off should have been that we were able to purchase tickets the night before. And in fact the room was half empty, so word may be getting around. It’s certainly hard to imagine repeat visitors.
So let’s talk about the tickets. When I purchase a meal and wine pairing through tocktix, I don’t appreciate an attempt to upsell me as soon as I sit down. If you want to offer an optional wagu, add it as an option on tocktix.
Nor do I appreciate the effort to sell me additional wine or cocktails to “start” the meal. With a nine-course wine pairing for $125, it shouldn’t be 15 minutes before the first wine shows up. Every other restaurant in town brings out a sparkler with the amuse bouche. There’s a reason. And the high-acid, mineral-focused wines didn’t really match the food anyway. For the same $125 Oriole manages a pairing of entirely old world gems, so it’s not impossible.
In short, this meal didn’t remotely justify its $1200 price tag.
1639 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60616