A few weeks ago, I made a short weekend trip to Chicago – one of my favorite cities in the world! I know I’m from NYC and now live in KC, but Chicago is seriously amazing – the extensive food, arts, and culture scene would keep me busy for ages. Not to mention that the city itself is picturesque, with its location right on the lake. I can’t wait to make a return visit!
Although our schedule was pretty packed, we did have an evening free for an indulgent dinner. We were lucky enough to score reservations for Acadia, which not only received two Michelin stars, James Beard recognition, and numerous distinction, but also has a reputation for delicious yet unpretentious fare presented in a welcoming, non-stuffy setting. We were psyched for the experience! And since we were making the trip, we went with the 10-course tasting menu. I mean, why not!
My eating buddy for the evening and I both agreed after the meal that it was one of the best tasting menu experiences either of us has had. So, I can’t wait to share my photos with you! Unfortunately, the printed tasting menu lists only the featured ingredient of each course, so the details I provide below are from my memory. But, let’s be real here – you’re mostly here for the pictures anyway, right? Let’s get started then 🙂
Before we got into the “official” menu, we were presented with a trio of amuse bouche. As is the case with many of my write-ups, you’ll know by now that I devoured the first amuse course before realizing I didn’t take a picture. The first amuse was truffle cookies – I mean, can you blame me? Featuring savory Parmesan cookies sandwiching a truffle infused goat cheese filling – they were amazing. If I were sitting on my couch at home instead of at a nice restaurant, I would have wanted to devour approximately twenty of these.
Our second amuse, lobster rolls, was equally delicious – and, might I add, super cute presentation-wise:
Our third and final amuse, the Aleutian crab, was accompanied by caviar whose flavor reminded this now land-locked girl of the sea. Yum.
Onto the “official” tasting menu!
First Course: Shetland Island Salmon
Light and tender, this first course whet my appetite and piqued my interest for things to come!
Second Course: Melon
The melon course was a refreshing way to work ourselves into the full tasting menu. Fresh watermelon, tomato, mint microgreens, edible flowers, and a berry gelee provided a smorgasbord of flavors and textures.
Third Course: Caviar
Served with shaved radish, turnip, cauliflower, smoked fish, and creme fraiche, the caviar course was as delicious as it was beautiful.
Fourth Course: Brioche
The brioche course featured smoked butter – yes, you read that correctly. Smoked butter! In fact, the butter was brought to the table under a mini dome so that the smoky flavor could be absorbed right to the very last second.
Fifth Course: Barramundi
Barramundi is often featured in South East Asian cuisine, and I’m excited to see this fish become more popular in American and “Western” style restaurants. Acadia’s take on barramundi featured lobster meat and a rich lobster broth. Yum.
Sixth Course: Carrot
The carrot course presented the vegetable in a variety of forms – roasted and pureed, for example. I admit I finished off all the accompanying crunchy noodles. No shame!
Seventh Course: Turnip
Best way to up the ante on a turnip course – add a perfectly seared scallop. Yes, please!
Intermission (in a way):
The highlight of our evening was when General Manager and Sommelier Jason Prah invited us “behind the scenes” to the kitchen, where we met Chef Ryan McCaskey and his culinary team. Unlike many people, my celebrity sightings consist of chefs, not actors or athletes. It was such a pleasure to talk to the Chef and GM about the inspiration behind the Acadia menu, their culinary research trips, and their favorite things about Chicago. It was also a wonderful experience to see the team at work – unlike many chaotic and ear-splitting kitchens I’ve seen, Acadia’s kitchen had more the reverent atmosphere of a learning workshop or laboratory. A lovely table was set up for us with refreshing melon drinks, candles, and this Japanese inspired flower arrangement:
But take a bit of a closer look, won’t you? What seems like a flower arrangement is actually a cleverly arranged snack for us to nosh on! The “flowers” are actually chicharrones seasoned with instant ramen flavor packets. I got a kick out of learning about Chef McCaskey’s inspiration for this creation – how he (like many) used to snack on the uncooked ramen right out of the package, how the flavor packet would be added to everything. Why not try adding the flavoring to pork rinds? The result – crunchy, flavor-packed deliciousness. I especially appreciated the “highbrow meets lowbrow” contrast between the presentation and the food. I admit I ate a bunch of the chicharron flowers. If it’s good enough for Chef, it’s good enough for me!
Upon returning to our table, we were presented with our “bonus” course – the A5 Miyazaki Beef supplement:
We initially debated whether we should add the A5 Miyazaki Wagyu supplement. As I’m sure most of you will agree, ten courses is plenty enough for anyone. However, I had never tried Miyazaki before, and hey – we were in Chicago, why not? I’m extremely happy to report that the beef far exceeded our very high expectations.
For those unfamiliar with A5 Miyazaki (as I was), the class of cow from which this beef originates has been deemed “Champion Cow” of the Wagyu Olympics (no, I am not making this up), and it is customary to present sumo champions with a Miyazaki cow (also not making this up). Miyazaki Wagyu has beat its more renowned relative, Kobe, in numerous beef competitions (seriously, all true) and is considered by many to be superior to Kobe. Served rare to to preserve flavor and marbling, the A5 Miyazaki Wagyu was literally the best beef I have ever had. As if the meat itself weren’t enough, it was served with a generous portion of uni. Be still my heart! As I say that all mozzarella should be buratta, all beef should be A5 Miyazaki Wagyu. Unfortunately, until I win the lottery, my dream for substituting this beef for all of my beef consumption will need to go unrealized.
Eighth Course: Corn
A corn course is one thing. A corn course with dumplings, lobster meat, and creamy sauce is another. Sign me up!
Ninth Course: Rabbit
Wowser. The rabbit course did not disappoint. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the addition of summer peaches only enhanced the depth of flavor. I was sad when this dish was gone, even though I knew I had only myself to blame.
Tenth Course: Biscuit
I know – I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but these biscuits might have been the best I’ve had – flaky, buttery, topped with coarse-grain sea salt, and served with butter churned from Acadia’s very own milk cow. Yes, you read that correctly – the restaurant has its own specially designated cow!
Eleventh Course: Berkshire Pork (first photo).
I know – bonus course! The Berkshire pork was perfectly prepared – juicy, crispy, just the right amount of fatty, and served with fingerling potatoes.
At this point, we had completed the savory portion of our tasting menu, which meant only one thing – time for dessert! With previous tasting menu experiences, the dessert courses were considered in the final count. Well, either that was not the case here or Acadia was being super generous with a 14 course menu. Without further ado – the dessert courses.
Dessert Course 1: Cucumber
This first dessert course was the most refreshing of the trio, showcasing a Key lime curd, cucumber sorbet, and a meringue kiss.
Dessert Course 2: Maine Blueberries
The second dessert course, a panna cotta flavored with Maine blueberries, was especially delicious. I was very much looking forward to trying this course as Maine blueberries are one of Chef McCaskey’s, who began his culinary career in Maine, favorite ingredients. The blueberries were prepared in a variety of ways – fresh, syrup, and freeze dried. Blueberries can sometimes be a little tart for my liking, but these berries were super sweet and clearly harvested at the height of the season.
Course 3: Madagascar Chocolate
The chocolate ganache “noodles” were a fun “play with your food” touch, and the accompanying fruit (cherries, raspberries, and blackberries) added the perfect counterpoint to the sweet richness of the chocolate.
In case three desserts were not enough, we were presented with these mini-desserts to cap off the evening. I admit they disappeared at an alarming rate….
As we were leaving, we were presented with mini bags of granola to savor for breakfast the next morning. I *may or may not* have dug into it that evening…
And there you have it – one of the best tasting menu experiences I’ve ever had. If you live in the Chicago area or are planning to visit, I cannot recommend Acadia enough. The food is absolutely fantastic, the presentation breathtaking, and the service superb. I know there are a ton of amazing restaurants in Chicago, but I have a feeling I’ll find myself back at Acadia at some point :).
Acadia 1639 S. Wabash Avenue Chicago, IL