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Acanto is a Crowd-Pleaser; Parachute Continues to Wow; More

Mike Sula and Amy Cavanaugh weigh in on Italian newcomer Acanto and its untraditional Italian plates.

Acanto isn’t the most authentic experience in town, but Mile Sula says it’s a "very good un-Italian restaurant." The menu is fit for "American appetites" with dishes such as a "likeable starter" of "big, chewy" baked clams; a radicchio and white bean salad that’s a "textural exercise;" and polenta topped with cotechino and quail egg with pancetta on the side that would "make an appropriate hangover brunch."

Pastas are just as good: clams and mussels tossed in bright green tubes of casarecci and bright red peppers look like "Christmas on a plate" while duck-egg spaghetti mingles with spicy ground pork, pearl onion and bitter rapini in a creamy sauce. Main courses include suckling pig three ways and roasted half chicken in sweet marsala. For dessert, crostata al forna—shortbreadlike pastry filled with ricotta and topped with orange marmalade and whipped cream "so thick you could walk on it"—is "in the running for [Sula’s] favorite dessert of the year." [Reader]

Likewise, Amy Cavanaugh thinks Acanto is a worthy follow-up to Henri. She starts with a Surf and Turf cheese plate—soft cow’s milk with roasted seaweed—that’s a "funky highlight." A cuttlefish and octopus dish hits "spicy, sweet and tangy notes" while fried artichoke hearts with tomatoes and caperberries has a "nice mix of textures." The pasta special of the night features bigoli atop liver mousse and "crisp and decadent" fried sweetbreads, but oversalting ruins the suckling pig plate. The meal ends on a high note as pistachio gelato is "smooth and creamy" and might be the "best gelato in Chicago right now." [TOC]

Red-hot Parachute gets high marks from Lisa Shames. She starts with "wonderfully crispy" tempura fried sesame leaves and "terrific" salt cod and potato croquettes. Baked potato bing bread is another must-try and best eaten with "beautiful" boudin noir—blood sausage topped topped with endive leaves, puffed rice and peanuts. The huge hot pot offering is akin to a Korean low-country boil, full of mussels, squid, squash, fennel and heads-on prawn for a messy experience that’s "totally worth the effort" while summer squash and shitake mandu is "sure to please those who follow a vegetarian diet." And to finish, a black sesame tea cake with blueberries and blueberry sorbet is "everything [Shames] could ask for in a dessert." [CS]

Spanish seaside spot mfk. "feels like no other restaurant in Chicago" and the "cooking hits the right notes without pandering," writes Jeff Ruby. Fried prawn heads are an "unctuous, irresistible snack" and Manchego and speck croquettes are "tiny tower[s] of flavor." A jumbo scallop surrounded by corn milk grits is a "stunner" of "caramelized gold" with a "silky" interior, while chicken ballotine might be the "most satisfying dish" on the menu. Just about the only miss is a slice of Basque cake that’s "understated to the point of blandness."

Ruby also checks out Boltwood and finds it equally enjoyable. "Technicolor orange" brandade is a "quirky masterpiece," as is a dish of grilled octopus and orange slices. An "impressive bounty" of vegetable options are "pure expressions of whatever’s freshest right now" and include a beet salad with a grapefruit wedges and pistachio dukka; and "gloriously fresh" arugula topped with Parmesan, corn kernals, grilled onions and lemon-chili vinaigrette. And don’t miss out on the chicken either, served with shallots and grilled kale atop spreadable pork sausage in orange chili sauce, "which lends an opulent depth to every bite." [Chicago]


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