The Other Critics

Everybody Loves Acadia; Nagrant Laments South American Execution

Beet salad at Acadia.
Beet salad at Acadia. Photo: Galdones Photography

Three major reviews hit last week for Ryan McCaskey’s South Loop fine dining spot Acadia, and three reviewers were very happy with it, even the ones who were a bit grumpy toward the season’s other fine-dining-in-a-farflung-hood spot, Goosefoot. It’s interesting to see how each of them sees it: Phil Vettel, who gave it three stars, sees McCaskey’s past at Courtright’s and other spots bringing it a built-in following (we have our doubts how well known Courtright’s actually is in the South Loop) and calls the food “camera-ready gorgeous, each component getting its own space on the plate. A medallion of foie gras torchon, topped with crunchy malt, is flanked by cubes of jelled apple toddy, dots of intensely tart lemon and compressed apple slices, representing a three-pronged attack on the liver’s fatty richness.” On the other hand, desserts are “so free-form they border on the haphazard,” but he calls Michael Simon’s cocktails “outstanding, novel.” [Tribune]

Mike Sula, who was cool on Goosefoot, sees a much warmer place here: “I complained of the dispassionate compositions of the latter’s eight-course tasting menu. At Acadia it’s just the opposite—garnishes support and synergize a la carte dishes. They’re both pretty and make sense in total: a coffee-and-lime-flavored “emulsion” (it’s a foam) kisses a pair of seared scallops, while bitty sculpted carrots and mushrooms are planted among them in dabs of pureed coconut. A light sunchoke veloute is poured over puffed wild rice, tea-flavored granola, and cubes of verjus-saturated compressed green grape (which—surprise—taste just like fresh green grapes), and somehow took me back to my last bowl of Cocoa Krispies (c. 1975).” He also notices the weedy industrial setting, calling Acadia “a sleek intergalactic cruise ship docked on an alien landscape,” though when the city finishes putting in a park right next to it, we suspect that will be different. [Reader]

And Julia Kramer sees echoes of an ultra-highend spot: “Stylistically, it’s not unlike L2O. But experientially, it’s quite unlike it: You can laugh here. Loudly.” But she also sees one thing that’s not like L2O at all: “This might come as a shock considering how many times I’ve used the word rich in this review, but reasonable prices are actually one of the most impressive things about Acadia, where a meal will set you back pretty much what it would at the Publican or Maude’s. This brings me to a larger point: What’s happened to fine dining in the last few years, I think, has less to do with people wanting to pay less for a meal (though I’m not discounting this as a factor) than it does with people wanting to enjoy that meal more (or at least differently)—without the pretense of the white tablecloths and the appetizer-entrée-dessert expectation and so on. But diners’ wants are fickle, and after a few years of communing at these communal tables and painstakingly sharing these shared plates, there’s something I find refreshing about Acadia.” [TOC]

MIchael Nagrant tries a new Colombian west side spot, La Parilla, but is underwhelmed: “I’d hoped to discover more of the culture by eating a little dinner. I did and I didn’t… as soft and perfect as the empanadas are, the chicharron con arepa (pork rind with corn bread) is dry, cakey and brick-like, featuring bits of rubbery chew.” Of the main attraction, steak, he says “little differentiates La Parrilla from other South American steakhouses or those fake gaucho shacks I mentioned earlier… I guess it’s not authenticity or uniqueness that matters as much as great execution.” [Sun-Times]

Ken Zuckerberg runs down a bunch of places he’s been to lately, some literally (of Rockit Bar & Grill: “All I had was 2 soups: a french onion and a matzoh ball. They tasted exactly the same, which should tell you all you need to know.”) But he has praise for two: after being unimpressed by non-ramen items at Slurping Turtle, he calls the mushroom ramen at Takashi’s outpost in the Macy’s store “the best damned bowl of vegetable soup I’ve had in years. Huge, filling, flavorful, great textures.” And he has praise for the new chef at Chief O’Neill’s Pub, albeit prefaced with an acknowledgement that he knows him from LTHForum. Still, he makes a good case for ambitious-for-a-bar-on-Elston dishes like smoked shrimp and chips “done in peat [with] a pretty intense flavor, so be warned if you don’t care for things like the smell of a room full of people spoking pot,” and steak fries “done in 100% tallow… they were fantastic.” [Fuckerberg on Food]

Meghan Streit at Windy City Times has a good word for the freshly opened Uptown cafe Baker & Nosh: “part minimalist urban café (polished concrete floors and cool neutral walls) and part quaint Parisian boulangerie (actual bakers working in plain sight and a case full of artisan cheeses and salami for sale). Even in the dead of winter in Chicago, I felt inspired to buy a baguette, a hunk of Camembert and a bottle of Orangina and head straight to the River Seine for a picnic.” [Windy City Times]

And Nick Kindelsperger reminds us of a spot that used to be in our rotation, the unique Mediterranean-middle eastern spot Zebda Modern Deli, which breaks the usual falafel-and-shawarma paradigm with “a menu of Algerian and Mediterranean dishes, with an excellent mix of grilled kebobs and lighter, vegetable-based dishes” such as the couscous salad: “Light and distinct couscous hid hunks of grilled zucchini and eggplant, toasted almonds, and apricots. Lettuce bulked out the dish, while the harrisa dressing had enough depth to pull other elements together.” [Serious Eats Chicago]

If your blog or other site does restaurant reviews, let us know at

Everybody Loves Acadia; Nagrant Laments South American Execution