Jeff Ruby has a stellar, albeit peculiar, experience at Acadia. He thinks the two-Michelin-starred restaurant is every bit as good as advertised when it comes to the food — the flavors are “true” and the presentations “playful.” An opening salvo of white anchovy with ramp pesto and ricotta salata is a “clean, crunchy burst that set[s] the tone.” Butter-poached lobster with tom kha bisque is similarly impressive and inspired by chef Ryan McCaskey’s Vietnamese heritage and his summers spent in Maine as a kid. Better yet, Alaskan halibut topped with butter and pistachio gremolata and balanced with an earthy morel panna cotta is a “masterpiece.”
However, the meal takes an odd turn towards the end. Ruby and his wife are invited into the kitchen and sat at a table set up with flowers and Champagne. Although it’s never confirmed by the restaurant, the Chicago critic surmises that he’s been spotted and is “forced to view the entire meal through a more suspicious lens.” The couple is then treated to a complimentary course of Miyazaki wagyu, which leads Ruby to start “Googling images of dishes” in order to make sure they look the same as the ones he’s been served (they do). Desserts, such as avocado sorbet topped with Yakult pearls, are equally tremendous, yet the whole affair feels “less like a wink than a bribe.” Despite the alleged faux pas, Acadia still earns three-and-a-half stars but Ruby says “even without breaking the rules of the game, they would have won.” [Chicago]
Lettuce Entertain You’s wildly popular Pizzeria Portofino is worth the hype. Phil Vettel says “everything about the place is pleasant,” from the “open-air interior [that’s] done in stone and natural wood” to the breezy patio next to the Chicago River. The food isn’t an afterthought, either, as executive chef Doug Psaltis “seems to be having a lot of fun with this menu, particularly the pizzas.” The pies have “thin, light and crispy crusts, and the heels, aggressively charred by the wood grill, deliver a satisfying chew.” Choices include charred pepperoni, and the Pugliese with fennel sausage, rapini, and pecorino. But the best of them all is an “addictive” focaccia made with “super-light dough stuffed with stracchino cheese.” Other highlights include spicy tuna bruschetta, a “nice appetizer mashup,” and “delicious” grilled baby octopus. Drinks feature “interesting” cocktails and spritzes along with an all-Italian, “treasure-filled” wine list.
Vettel also visits Robert’s Pizza & Dough Co. for some more first-rate pies. The Streeterville restaurant’s “exceptional” crust combines a “thin, charcoaled base that cracks when folded with a blistered heel that reminds [Vettel] of a French baguette.” It’s his “favorite pizza crust, hands down,” and topped with “winning” combinations like shrimp, clams, and calamari; and heirloom tomatoes with asparagus and ramp-onion kimchi. Daily specials dazzle as well, such as a “remarkable” pizza sporting Brussels sprouts, bacon, and balsamico. Complementing the main offerings are “memorable” veal-beef meatballs and arancini “boosted with arrabbiata sauce.” [Tribune]
Café Cancale is an “elegant, shellfish-focused bistro with staying power,” writes Maggie Hennessy. One Off Hospitality’s new spot pays homage to France with “nautical-lite décor and deliciously simple cooking.” Octopus tentacle braised in sweet piquillo peppers and tomatoes delivers the “comforting, slow-cooked familiarity of ratatouille, elevated by the meat’s luscious texture,” while “succulent” mussels bathing in a “tangy broth” are served with frites and half a baguette. The cocktail menu is another hit: “Clean, sophisticated and perfumed with French liqueurs, aperitifs and digestifs.” As the restaurant grows older, Hennessy hopes it ages into an “elegantly timeworn fixture, an increasing rarity for this stretch of Wicker Park.” [Time Out]
Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen “goes deeper into Nepalese regional and multiethnic foods than anywhere else in town” according to Mike Sula. Chef Bhim Rai has brought never-before-seen specialties to town, such as sephaley, a “kind of Tibetan empanada stuffed with minced chicken and peas” and served with a mustardy dipping sauce. Fresh sautéed mustard greens also “steal the show from another Tibetan dumpling known as ting-mo,” while more uncommon dishes include thenthuk – chicken soup with hand-shaved noodles – and kwati, a “seven-legume stew that Rai steeps and cooks for nearly 24 hours.” Among the seafood options, the salmon curry is the most notable, “almost electric in its bright, acidic profile.” [Reader]
Margeaux Brasserie’s new lunch menu combines “old-world classic French leanings with a modern sensibility keenly attuned to sourcing.” Joanne Trestrail calls the restaurant, which is located inside the Waldorf Astoria, a “sleeper—sophisticated, underpopulated at noon and quiet enough for easy conversation.” Steak frites come out “nicely charred but still pink inside” and with duck-fat fries that are “transporting,” and the seared tuna salad “leaves ordinary salade nicoise in the dust.” The “most memorable” dishes, though, are the starters. “Tremendous” steak tartare is dressed with cornichons, anchovies, and capers, while a “live-for-today serving” of duck wings a l’orange is “sticky-sweet, crisp-skinned and lots of fun.” [Crain’s]