Curtis Duffy has no shortage of ambition.
He is striving for the highest level of fine dining at his new West Loop restaurant, Grace. No expense or effort is spared in the execution of artful cuisine, presented in a gallery-like dining room.
Over the course of a four-hour, nine-course meal, we raved about the synergy of pineapple and parsnip; tasted chestnuts and shaved Perigord truffles that sang of winter; and fell hard for crisp, deep-fried sunchoke skin.
If price is no object, Grace is a must. Duffy is one of a miniscule number of young American chefs who choose fine dining over an upscale-casual route. His drive is commendable, and his vegetable-focused Flora menu ($185) is elegant and artistic, a rare departure from the protein-heavy norm of high-end tasting menus.
But what the restaurant is missing is a distinct personality, a compelling point of view expressed by way of the plate, that makes Duffy's efforts feel relevant or sufficiently exciting in light of the cost of the experience. We felt similarly about the beverage pairing ($110), which underwhelmed with its uninspired reliance on Old World wines.
Duffy clearly has abundant skill, so our hope is that he soon ventures beyond his artful, cautious approach, challenging himself to create evocative food that's playful, daring or gutsy.
Only then will the impressive, unequivocally superb Grace have a chance of being transcendent.
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