Big Names Come On Strong With New Projects

Chris Nugent’s dish of Angus beef, heirloom carrots, goosefoot, cumin and shallot jus, served at Goosefoot. (Photo: Goosefoot)

When it comes to fine-dining establishments, no one ever mentions the South Loop. The neighborhood’s got it covered when it comes to sports bars and brunch spots, but it misses the mark on upscale cuisine.

There have certainly been attempts such as with the recently shuttered Tribute—which only lasted a few months—but nothing has come close to what Ryan McCaskey is doing at Acadia. The seasoned chef has worked with the likes of Grant Achatz (Alinea, The Aviary, Next), Tony Mantuano (Bar Toma, Spiaggia, Terzo Piano) and Rick Tramonto (formerly of TRU), so we know his skill set is on point. McCaskey describes his cooking style as “simultaneously contemporary and classic,” and winter dishes like Deer Isle shrimp with cuttlefish noodles, black cod with fried clam in bacon vinaigrette, and the Stonington lobster pie are prime examples of what he does best.

The restaurant is sleek and inviting, with a fine-dining atmosphere that doesn’t feel stuffy at all. But the best seats in the house are clearly in the lounge. There are a few tables at the window for those in the mood for lighter bites as well as plenty of seats at the bar. That’s where you’ll find beverage director Michael Simon working his magic.

Simon’s cocktails seamlessly integrate with McCaskey’s cuisine, and he expertly puts offbeat accents on a number of classics. The Juniper Sazerac pays homage to its New Orleans’ roots with Creole bitters. The smoky Mezcal Old Fashioned includes tomatillo agave syrup, charred grapefruit, mole bitters, and house-made coconut and dill ice cubes. And The Aviator gets amped up with homemade lemon meritage soda and an edible violet.

The South Loop has never had it so good. Check out these other new restaurants recently opened by high-profile chefs:

Bar Toma: The Michelin-starred chef Tony Mantuano has racked up all sorts of accolades for Spiaggia, so when he opened a more affordable Italian eatery it was no surprise how successful it was from day one. Wood-fired pizzas, wallet-friendly glasses of vino and a mozzarella bar are just a few of the highlights.

BLT American Brasserie: Named Bon Appetit's Restaurateur of the Year 2007, Laurent Tourondel brings his well-honed flavors and style to River North. While the room is uber-fancy and decked out in decadent colors, the menu is downscaled enough to check out on a regular basis. Menu highlights include the BLT Sandwich "Deluxe" of Taleggio cheese, Applewood bacon, heirloom tomato, truffle paste and pickled jalapenos; tuna tataki maki rolls; and eight different 10-inch pizettes.

Goosefoot: Former Les Nomades Executive Chef Chris Nugent breaks out on his own with this neighborhood-friendly offering in Lincoln Square. The restaurant’s focus is high-quality seasonal ingredients, which is indicated in opening menu dishes like the roasted quail with spiced beluga lentils, ginger and compressed apple as well as the smoked chestnut soup with white Alba mushrooms and truffle essence. He’s offering two menus: eight courses and 12.

The Slurping Turtle: Award-winning chef Takashi Yagihashi has had much luck with Takashi, so it was a smart move to put a few of its best items on the menu at this new River North resto. We could chow down on the duck fat fried chicken every day of our lives, and the crispy curry croquettes are also a big hit. And while most of the noodle dishes pack plenty of flavor, the standout tori ramen with grilled organic chicken and a soft-boiled egg will certainly give your taste buds a boost.

Yusho: Former Charlie Trotter's Executive Chef Matthias Merges breaks out on his own with this neighborhood-oriented restaurant in Logan Square. It focuses on Japanese street food and a strong cocktail program. Menu highlights include whole quail, fried chicken and The Logan “poser” ramen with crispy pig’s tail, duck egg, cucumber and Thai chili.

For more about Steaks see: CHICAGO’S BEST STEAKS & STEAKHOUSES