Note: This post was originally published February 10, 2012
Craft cocktails, with their artisan spirits, seasonal ingredients and filtered ice, are undisputedly the beverage darlings of the restaurant scene.
Chef Ryan McCaskey, however, wants to preserve the art of wining and dining — at least at Acadia, his new upscale South Loop eatery.
Yes, McCaskey offers fancy cocktails — and mixologist/head bartender Michael Simon can be found shaking and stirring away in the front lounge. But McCaskey also set out to create a “serious wine program.”
He even installed a glass window in his 2,600-bottle wine room so guests can have a look at his inventory. And he’s got personable and unpretentious sommelier/general manager Jason Prah working the dining room.
Unlike some fine-dining restaurants that plop a 100-page tome in your lap, Prah’s thoughtful list covers one (double-sided) long card. There’s enough there to interest and excite diners without overwhelming them, he says.
“Don’t worry about finding recognizable names. This is a wine list where you can take a risk and find something you’ve never tried before…it shouldn’t be a frightening moment to open a wine list and have to navigate through it.”
Prah says he took a European perspective when planning the list.
To Europeans, “food and wine are the same thing,” he says. “They don’t think of them as separate entities.” So Prah’s wines are designed to expertly pair with McCaskey’s multi-flavored cuisine — which means the focus is on food-friendly and generally affordable wines from France, Italy and other European wine-producing countries.
“Even though we’re a contemporary American restaurant, 75 percent of my list is Old World wines,” Prah says.
So don’t expect to find, say, a “rich, opulent” California Cab at Acadia, since McCaskey’s heaviest dish — tri-tip Wagyu beef with mushroom conserva and creamy smoked soubise sauce — doesn’t warrant such a big wine. “Ryan has a delicate touch when it comes to food,” Prah says.
If asked, the sommelier would likely pair the popular beef dish with a Tuscan 2008 Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino ($50), a wine that “is not super rich and extracted,” but has “enough structure to play with the fatter elements of the beef.”
“It has enough grip to match with the profile of the dish,” he says.
I also asked Prah to come up with a pairing for McCaskey’s Stonington lobster pie, the restaurant’s top-selling dish and the totally killer entrée I ordered during my visit. He pulled out the Spanish 2008 Cosme Palacio “1894” Rioja, a Viura and Malvasia blend.
The white Rioja has the body of a Chardonnay with mineral and floral flavors, and a “hint of butterscotch.” The Viura’s high acidity cuts through the richness of McCaskey’s decadent bisque-sauced lobster.
The wine “is a knock-out with the dish,” Prah says.
Prah, who changes his list “at least once a week,” also enjoys recommending wines that are in the house, but not necessarily showcased on the menu. Test him out, and he’ll head back to the wine room to pull a “cool wine.”
“It’s a fun way to interact with our guests,” Prah says. “I always love to have a wine up my sleeve.”
1639 South Wabash Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60616