Clearly I love food. Anyone that follows my blog or my tweets on Twitter understand this more than most. I love to eat, I love to dine out, and I love to experience new cuisines and restaurants. I have a low tolerance for bad food and no tolerance for bad service. Of course I can’t write a blog for every restaurant that I visit. So I’ve decided to do a series of comparison reviews. In some, the connection will be obvious. In others, perhaps less so. In the first of the series, I set out to find two restaurants that were of similar quality in food, decor, value, and service albeit different cuisines. In this case, also looking for strikingly different levels of activity and, likely, different levels of competition and long-term success. For the first pairing, I chose two upscale restaurants.
Today I focus on the first of the upscale restaurants, Grace, one of the West Loop’s premier dining establishments. As a comparison, I dined at Acadia and will subsequently do a full review of that South Loop spot.
A tale of two city restaurants … Grace and Acadia
Part 1: Grace
652 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661
Summary: Recommended / Special occasions only.
This is one of the restaurants I have wanted to visit since moving back to Chicago. Everyone has heard of Chef Duffy’s fascinating and tragic history and rise to where he is now. You kind of want this place to thrive. But, this is Chicago, so backstory or not, the food and service must be stellar. And I was impressed. The food was spectacular. It was showy without being too over the top (I don’t really want a pillow on my plate). And I left more satisfied than when I dined at Alinea, albeit less so than L20 or Everest.
Very interesting presentations of each course. We all had the menu with meat and lots of it. We loved the heirloom tomato dish with a delicious whirl of sauce. There was an amazing oyster dish that my friend Sherry thought was superb. An artichoke dish could have been skipped but the meat dishes were amazing, including both lamb and beef. Wine pairings were good but not great, and I have yet to find a wine guy as good as Dan Pilkey, formerly of Ria. It is perhaps because of him that I find so many not up to par. (Let’s be clear here, I am not an expert and they certainly know more than I do, but the good ones bring you along with them and the wines fit perfectly with the meal.)
When I dine at these showy places, I often worry that the emphasis will be so much on presentation and flare that the food will be bad. Or, that the temperature will be off. That was not the case at Grace, and all of the dishes came out at good temp and high quality.
Service was exceptional and well coordinated, albeit a bit practiced and “obvious”. My friend summarized service as “quite good but a little bumpy given the prices. Could have been more precise.” I agree. At Les Nomades, service is amazing and the servers are there when you need them and almost invisible when you don’t. Here, and maybe this is more due to newness of the restaurant, the service seemed too much like they practiced and wanted to get it right like a routine. I kind of want them to seem a bit more like they are simply happy to serve us. Overall, I think service was great. Nothing we needed was ever held back, transitions were smooth, and timing was on point. If I felt they were happy to be hosting us, I would have felt a tad better.
One note: The sommelier, as I mentioned above, was good but not the best. IMHO, she needs to learn to be less intrusive and a bit more nuanced in her interactions with the diners.
This is a beautiful, understated, classy establishment. I love the open and airy kitchen with bright woods and colorful spices on display. It’s fun to watch the activity in the kitchen without being overwhelmed by it as can be the case in some restaurants (I sat sweltering in front of the kitchen of Little Goat recently.) The room is small and thus not many patrons. You can have a conversation without screaming or worrying that your neighbor hears every word. Everything is tastefully presented.
This is a very very very expensive place. And I knew that of course before dining. It is in line with most places of this style and caliber but I still feel it is pricier than it needs to be. One caveat is that it has been a few years since I dined at Alinea and thus cannot vouch for whether that place and others have also gone up significantly. But, you get what you pay for and Grace is an experience more than a meal.
Grace is a great addition to the West Loop culinary scene and its nice to have another high-end restaurant over there versus in the Gold Coast / River North area. Grace is ideal for a very special date, not business in my opinion. More for celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary. Given the prices, this clearly could not be a regular dining spot for most people and I personally would not see myself returning anytime soon given the tremendous number of other choices in Chicago, many of them significantly less pricey. That said, the chef’s story, the great food and tasteful decor, and the strong level of service make this highly worth trying if you are a foodie.
Stay tuned for review of Acadia in part 2 of this tale of two city restaurants.
More on the chef >> http://graphics.chicagotribune.com/grace/
In relationship with #foodies,
Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections
For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.