This week’s Best Bite: Highlights from an 11-course tasting with wine pairings, Acadia

Caviar, Acadia
Siberian Osetra caviar with black garlic, eggplant, and chive flowers; pairing: 2002 Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Champagne

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: This post is a little overdue, since the occasion for this special meal was Father’s Day, but the stunning presentations and nuanced flavors are still fresh in my mind. We opted for the tasting menu with wine pairings and thus were able to see the full range of technique from Chef Ryan McCaskey.

Mini lobster rolls, Acadia
Mini lobster rolls on a bed of moss

We began with several snacks, including truly adorable miniature lobster rolls whose buns were made of pâte à choux (the foundation for cream puffs, and a staple of any pastry school curriculum). It was also a fun way of alluding to the full-size lobster rolls for which Acadia is lauded. Before we transitioned into the first course, Chef came out to our table to deliver their signature biscuits with butter and sea salt. He greeted us warmly, and also settled a friendly dispute between my dad and me over the origin of the flatware (I was right; it was French!). Soon after, the first course appeared in a shimmering bowl, complete with a pearl spoon that matched the opalescent oyster shell in the center. Hints of black garlic, chive, and eggplant added bite and depth to the salty caviar within the shell. After seeing plating that was so beautifully in tune with the glitzy champagne-and-caviar theme, we knew we were in for a treat.

Yellowfin tuna, Acadia
Yellow fin tuna with smoked lardo, toasted hijiki mayonnaise, and turnip dashi

The yellowfin tuna course arrived as what was essentially a deconstructed spicy tuna roll, if you subtracted the rice and added miso soup. Light and clean, it was a nice segue into the vegetable course that followed. That dish showcased asparagus – purple, green, white, and French varieties – with richness from truffle and egg yolk, plus an incredibly crisp Italian white wine to go with it.

Asparagus, Acadia
Asparagus with green sorrel, chamomile, truffle, egg yolk, and brioche; pairing: 2013 Cascina Chicco, Anterisio, Arneis, Roero, Piedmont, Italy
Lobster cappuccino, Acadia
Lobster cappuccino with sherry bisque, chanterelle, and truffle espuma; pairing: 2012 Sans Liege “Cotes-du-Coast,” Rhone-style blend, Central Coast, California

The lobster cappuccino was one of my favorite courses, its luxurious foam and umami-rich broth served in a dainty teacup. This course also had the most interesting white wine pairing of the evening: a Rhone-style California blend with a round sweetness that was a perfect counterpart to the sherry and lobster. Another seafood standout was the lubina, a mild whitefish joined by clams, fennel, and pungent chorizo powder for a bouillabaisse effect.

Lubina, Acadia
Lubina with canellini bean, manila clam, castelvertrano olive, fennel, and catalan broth; pairing: 2012 Pedres “Thilbas,” Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia, Italy
Bone marrow, Acadia
Bone marrow with peeky toe crab, veal cheeks, and textures; pairing: 2011 Wineck-Schlossberg, Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace, France

I was excited to see a bone marrow course, and was impressed by how it stood out from other marrow preparations I’ve had in the past. Served in a pristine white bone, the dish was a study in sharply contrasting layers: jerky-like veal at the bottom, shredded crab in the middle, and fatty marrow on top. We then paused for a dense, herb-flecked miniature waffle as another intermezzo.

Herb waffles, Acadia
Herb waffles with butter, sea salt, and chive blossoms
Smoked ribeye, Acadia
Smoked ribeye with pickled wild onion, green garlic, morel condiment, and beef jus; pairing: 2008 Andrew Will, “Champoux Vineyard,” Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington

By the time we got to the beef course, the petite portion of smoked ribeye (cooked to a flawless medium-rare) was as satisfying as a full meal of steak and potatoes. This dish felt the most classic, even down to the fantastic Cabernet pairing. After the steak, I was still eagerly anticipating the foie gras course, since I ate the best foie of my life on my only other visit to Acadia nearly six months earlier. While I do have to admit I liked January’s preparation better overall, this one struck the same kind of balance between the foie and an array of aromatic (celery and fennel), fruity (strawberry and rhubarb), and sweet (white chocolate) accompaniments, paired with bitter aperol to cut through all the sweetness.

Foie gras, Acadia
Foie gras torchon with celery, white chocolate, strawberry, rhubarb, fennel, and black olive; pairing: Aperol Spritz
Miel, Acadia
Miel with citrus, honey, and huckleberry; pairing: 2007 Domaine de L’Ancienne Cure, Monbazillac, France

Finally, it was on to the desserts. A dome of not-too-sweet Japanese cheesecake with honey and berries was creamy and citrusy, while a nutty profiterole with banana and chocolate became even warmer and more comforting as I sipped the cinnamon-leaning amaro paired with it. All in all, one of my favorite meals in Chicago so far, and well worth keeping in mind for any special occasion.

Profiterole, Acadia
Profiterole with black walnut, banana, and hot chocolate; pairing: Cardamaro, Amaro, Italy

The details: Acadia, 1639 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago.

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This week’s Best Bite: Foie gras, Acadia

Miso-cured and grilled foie gras with pineapple, chocolate, almond cookie, unagi, and malt
Miso-cured and grilled foie gras with pineapple, chocolate, almond cookie, unagi, and malt

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Pardon my gushing, but this was one of those dishes that only comes along every once in a while, the kind where you sigh over every bite and can’t even put together the words to describe how good it is because you’re in such a state of bliss. I love foie gras, and Acadia’s preparation has set a new standard for me. The thick slab of miso-cured foie rivaled the size of my iPhone, and captured the flame-licked meatiness of a grilled steak – that is, if a steak melted into richness and practically disappeared on your tongue. Compressed pineapple underneath hit a bright, juicy note, and the accompanying smoked banana puree, almond cookie crumbles, and unagi sauce all came together in beautiful, if unlikely, harmony. And the chocolate nest was served at the perfect temperature: each curlicue kept its shape on the plate, but softened into a coating as soon as it hit the warm foie. Executive chef Ryan McCaskey clearly has a deft hand in showcasing sweet flavors while still maintaining balance. This foie gras was the second course of a spectacular dining experience that I would recommend for any special occasion.

The details: Acadia, 1639 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago.

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2013 Best Bite #11: Brioche french toast, Longman & Eagle

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Brioche french toast with foie gras frosting, pistachio custard, macerated strawberry, and candied granola
Brioche french toast with foie gras frosting, pistachio custard, macerated strawberry, and candied granola

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: Much like Lula yesterday, Longman & Eagle is another neighborhood favorite that inevitably made the list again this year. Any brioche french toast that involves strawberry, pistachio, and granola is already a winner, but there was one last ingredient that took it to a totally new place: foie gras frosting (yes, you read that right). Adding subtle balance to an otherwise sweet dish, this silky, umami-boosted buttercream would have won over even foie-squeamish eaters.

View another Best Bite from Longman & Eagle.

The details: Longman & Eagle, 2657 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #13: Kentucky-fried quail, Longman & Eagle

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Kentucky-fried quail
Kentucky-fried quail

Why it’s a Best Bite: It’s tough to pick just one dish from Longman & Eagle, one of my very favorite restaurants, but this one especially wowed me. The Kentucky-fried quail was nicely battered and juicy, covered with just the right amount of peppery country gravy, but it was really the crumbles of foie gras-enriched corn bread that put the dish over the edge. That unlikely union of two of my favorite flavors made every bite sing. And let’s face it: everything tastes even better at an outdoor table on a perfect early-summer evening.

The details: Longman & Eagle, 2657 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.