Acadia

(Holly Zaharchuk)

You should probably bring a date, because Acadia is all about the pairings. Harmony, complement, and dichotomy define the cuisine and atmosphere of this new South Loop spot by the corner of 18th Street and Wabash. A little elegant, a little homegrown, Acadia is a unique experience in accessibly upscale dining, which is absolutely unafraid to defy your expectations.

The sage, dark chocolate, and soft gray hues of this minimalist space echo the ease and sophistication of its food. High ceilings and tall bare windows (which nevertheless provide extensive views of the overgrown neighboring lot) create a sense of openness. And don’t be suspicious of the sizeable fleet of wait staff milling about the dining room–their attentive service is unobtrusive and complements the ebb and flow of conversation, courses, and amuse-bouches.

These petite hors d’oeuvres were some of the most delightful bites of food that arrived all evening. Our first was a chilled parsnip soup, puréed and presented in a tiny teacup on a rustic stone slate. The soup itself was luscious and sweet with smoky, nutty undertones, which were accompanied perfectly by the seaside tang of the roe, the herbaceous crunch of the watercress, and bright punch of lemon.

Between our appetizer and entrée came four small, flawless biscuits served with sea salt and a dab of butter. No one at the table uttered a word between the first bite and last; those fluffy concoctions alone make the trip to Acadia worthwhile.

Our appetizer, a play on risotto, was imaginative but not entirely successful. Miniature matchsticks of potato replaced the classic Arborio rice in this dish, which was prepared with leek-infused cream and apple. The dish, while creative, failed to reach the bar set high by our first amuse-bouche: the texture of the sauce which clung to each grain of potato was lovely, but the saltiness of the dish ultimately overpowered the delicate sweetness of the apple.

The entrée course delivered on the promise of excellent pairings. The highlight by far was the swan creek duck paired with sour cherry gel, foie gras flan, and gingersnap. The fattiness of the duck skin was artfully rendered and seared with a fabulous crust, and the flesh itself was a succulent medium-rare. The rich meat harmonized with the tart fruitiness of the gel and the piquancy of the gingersnap. The whole experience of the duck was enriched by the earthy flavor and silken texture of the foie gras.

The Deer Isle shrimp and wagyu beef were at once both familiar and inventive, executed skillfully and with purpose. The shrimp dish–paired with playful cuttlefish “noodles,” a wonderfully acidic squid-ink vinaigrette, and a dash of chorizo powder–was a witty take on shrimp scampi. Elevating the traditional meat-and-potatoes meal, the wagyu beef retained such elements of a steakhouse dinner as three distinct preparations of potato, a mushroom conserva, and delicate drops of fennel gel.

The rabbit, recommended by our enthusiastic waitress, promised excellence but did not quite accomplish it. The components distinct from the rabbit itself—an herb spaetzle with spring peas, pea shoots, and baby carrots bathed with a luxurious coat of butter and nestled atop eggplant puree—were incredibly delicious and satisfying. However, the star itself was completely overpowered. The chef created a rabbit sausage, which was formed around the rabbit loin and then wrapped with bacon. While I have no reservations about the brilliance of bacon, I desperately wanted to taste that rabbit sausage.

The meal came to its conclusion with a milk chocolate cremeaux. The presentation left something to be desired, but the flavors kept my spoon going back for more. The cremeaux itself–which enveloped the tongue with a heavenly texture and undertones of caramel–was simple and delicious, but complemented by far too many additions (buttermilk cake, dehydrated Meyer lemon chip, Meyer lemon gel, huckleberry gel, candied hazelnuts, and shards of chocolate-hazelnut candy bar covered the dish). The dessert would have been improved if only the huckleberries and candied hazelnuts had adorned it, as those elements created a tasteful harmony of richness, nuttiness, acidity, tartness, and sweetness.

Acadia’s ambitious pursuit of creativity remains rooted in a dedication to the warmth and happiness of a thoughtful meal. Yet it seems that its strength lies in its simpler dishes, where the chef refines each ingredient’s natural flavors through his adaptations and pairings.

Acadia, 1639 S. Wabash Avenue. Wednesday-Thursday, 5pm-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 5pm-11pm; Sunday, 5pm-9pm. (312)360-9500. site.acadiachicago.com