Newly opened Acadia, in the South Loop of Chicago, has been garnering quite a bit of positive attention for its food, but no reviewer has neglected to include a gushing word or two about head bartender Michael Simon's inventive, humorous, and sophisticated cocktail program. An alum of Chicago's Graham Elliot and a sommelier by training, Simon thinks about the terroir of spirits when he creates drinks, as well how he might be able to expand on the complexity of ingredients by re-using them in different applications within the same cocktail—like, say, adding a touch of absinthe to the syrup of his Juniper Sazerac, or exploring the flavors of orange several ways in the making of his Cognac Dreamsicle.
The results can be astounding. Flavors register loud and clear, which you sometimes don't get with drinks that use blunt sweetness as a crutch toward approachability—a corner-cutting method to serving cocktails that Simon abhors. He much prefers sweetness for the sake of balance, and sweetness that's derived from the inherent qualities of the ingredients he works with.
Simon's close connections to the kitchen also show in his well-made house syrups and liqueurs; he occasionally turns to the experience and talents of Acadia's chefs to help deepen the flavor of these products. Yet for all the technical bravado that goes in to making Acadia's cocktails, they don't succumb to fussiness. Practically every cocktail is rooted in a classic preparation—whether it's an update of Ada Coleman's Hanky Panky or the Aviation-inspired Aviator cocktail. He's simply finding room for improvement. And, evidently, the sky's the limit.