When I stepped into the spotless white kitchen at Acadia I felt connected to the pulse of the restaurant and its rhythm was metronomic. While I chatted with Chef and Owner, Ryan McCaskey I noticed everyone working in tandem, and immediately found myself peering over newly appointed, Executive Pastry Chef Mari Katsumura’s shoulder, as she carefully arranged delicate pieces of candied kumquat. Her artistry was visually obvious, but my taste buds quickly became acquainted with her brilliance upon my first bite of a pre-dessert, simply called, “Grapefruit”.
The finesse with which it was prepared made it difficult for me to pierce the beautifully toasted and whipped marshmallow with my fork, but I did. The creamy and sweet marshmallow paired well with the tartness of the grapefruit that sat underneath it, and the fennel produced subtle notes of licorice, creating a melting pot of flavors unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a dessert. It was a marvelous introduction – and gone in 3 delicious bites.
The next pre-dessert, “Coconut Custard,” was inspired by layered custard that Katsumura had eaten in the malls in Japan. This juxtaposition amused me. I could see the parallel, but it was so much more. The graceful plating of the green apple sorbet, coconut panna cotta, jasmine jelly, basil seeds and shiso were matched by its cool and refreshing taste. It cleansed my palate instantly.
As soon as I finished, “Banana” was presented and it was a visual masterpiece. Garnished with candied kumquat, the banana ice cream, chai and deconstructed mille-feuille (a vanilla slice, custard slice) wound around the plate. The banana flavor was present but it did not overtake the dish in an unpleasant way, it was subtle and enjoyable.
But the pièce de résistance came in the form of “Avocado.” Presented on a jet-black plate, at the heart of the dessert was an avocado candy shell sprinkled with Kyoto coffee. As soon as I applied pressure to the shell, it instantly cracked and exposed a soft and delicious center, that wedded harmoniously with vanilla and basil in a way that can only be described as brilliant.
While, for me, “Avocado” was the crowning jewel of taste, the most visually captivating creation was the “Japanese Cheesecake”. This tour de force was breathtaking. Made with Anjou pear sherbert, buckwheat graham, almond crunch and honey, biting into this delightful dessert felt like the first day of spring. Bright, innovative and bold – each ingredient was treated with care before it reached its penultimate destination on the plate. Every crumb had a purpose.
From conceptualization to creation, Mari Katsumura showcased a rare artistry and an innate ability to pair unexpected flavors that dazzle the taste buds. Her aesthetically driven desserts are presented in a focused and remarkable way. I think she has found her home at Acadia and I can’t wait to see what she dreams up next.
1639 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614
Featured Image Photo Credit: Anthony Tahlier