Who is Ryan McCaskey? At the moment, he's one of many chefs who've kicked around, picking up influences here and there but not yet making a foodie-household name for himself. We would bet on that changing starting in December, though, when McCaskey's restaurant Acadia opens in the 1600 block of South Wabash. The first reason is Acadia's position as the first genuinely swanky restaurant in its South Loop area, answering a demand that must exist among so many new and expensive condo buildings. Second is McCaskey's food, which is aiming for a sweet spot between comfort and fancy-schmancy food, and is priced similarly (starting around $30 for dinner and a beer, he says). Third is one of the all-time restaurant pieces of luck, which is that the vacant lot his floor to ceiling windows face onto, which could easily have turned into a high-rise, is instead becoming a spiffy new city park. Which means Acadia will have one of the few views in town that will actually be more green space than Yellow Cab. (Yes, there will be patio seating in the summer.) Take a look at McCaskey's food and the restaurant under construction, in our slideshow.
Since the restaurant's still under construction, we were treated to a sampling of McCaskey's food at his apartment a block away. He's lived in the South Loop for about a decade and often heard his neighbors grumbling about their being a lack of nice restaurants, so he's excited to be the one providing the answer. Acadia's creamy-white interior will seat about 50-60 (plus a private dining space for 20), with space for another 20 or so in the bar and more seats on the patio in the summer.
The name comes from the summers he spent with his family in Maine near Deer Isle and Stonington, and the seafood menu is mostly made up of things caught and foraged by friends of his in the area. He credits James Beard-winning chef Rob Evans of Hugo's in Portland as first awakening him to what food could be, and cites a long-gone Door County restaurant of the 1990s, The Black Locust, as the place where he really learned how to work in a kitchen. Ironically, his main focus there was pastry, making desserts and croissants, but back in Chicago he worked his way through a wide variety of kitchens whose influences you can detect in his food— a little classical Italian from working for Tony Mantuano at Tuttaposto, a bit of middle-eastern spice from Tizi Melloul, an instinctive sense for fine dining from places as disparate as Rushmore, Courtright's and Vivere.
The restaurant will open with an a la carte menu and possibly add a tasting menu after the first of the year, but McCaskey insists it will stay in an affordable range for a casual evening. "It's contemporary classic food," he says. "It's things you like to eat, with a twist."