While back in Chicago for a long weekend recently, Mrs. Hackknife and I had the pleasure of dining out at Acadia (1639 S. Wabash), a much-admired restaurant that I'd had on our hit list since its opening in 2010. The name refers to a coastal region of Maine and the influence of the ocean is readily apparent in Chef Ryan McCaskey's cooking style, which he classifies as "contemporary American". Chef Ryan grew up in the same part of the northwest suburbs that I did and took a circuitous route to opening his place, beginning in Chicago (including a stint with Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia fame), followed by Maine, Wisconsin, then back to Chicago where he worked in a number of famous kitchens (Trio, Tru, and Cartwright's among them) before setting out on his own. Clearly, the chef and his team have impressed both diners and the food press, earning a Michelin star for three straight years. So it was with that backdrop that the missus and I anxiously arrived for our reservation on a warm Sunday evening in the South Loop.
Acadia's design style can best be described as stark and modern, with meticulous greys and beiges in the dining room mingling with less-austere splashes of color in the form of wall-mounted dioramas that resembled a mossy carpet of tundra (see above).
As is normally the case with contemporary, upscale restaurants, we opted for the tasting menu to get a wide variety of the kitchen's best and current dishes. I have to admit - I didn't take any notes and have not been able to track down matching menus for what we ate that night, so my (sometimes grainy) photos and a few feeble descriptions will have to paint the picture for me.
Our server brought us some delicious biscuits with compound butter, not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the New England coast.
This corn chowder with bits of bacon served in an egg-white bowl was both whimsical and delicious.
Manila clams with leeks and broth
Oatmeal-encrusted oysters topped with a single blueberry and sea foam essence
Salmon and scallion
Flatiron steak with roasted root vegetables - as you might have expected with a cut like flatiron, the meat wasn't particularly tender, leaving the vegetables as the best part of the dish.
Housemade wide noodles (almost like a tagliatelle?) with tarragon, bottarga, and caviar, plus a sinfully-rich cream sauce - I didn't think the original version of pasta carbonara could possibly be improved upon, but I was wrong as it turns out.
Lobster and mushrooms in a savory brown broth
Dessert. I couldn't possibly attempt to relate what we were served here, except to say that it included that wonderful mix of textures and forms that I now realize I really enjoy in a dessert course.
There were no mignardises, but our host presented us with small bags of chocolate-banana bread to take home with us.
Mrs. H. and I agreed that the experience wasn't exactly perfect - the waitstaff seemed to be having an off night (lots of confusion between courses and some uneven pacing) and the aforementioned steak course felt a bit flat. For the most part, however, we were very impressed with the inventiveness, look, and flavor of Chef Ryan's creations, especially those focused on seafood. I have no problem recommending Acadia to others as a fitting tribute to the ocean's deliciousness...