Sometimes, even the best laid plans go awry. Take Accanto. On one hand, you have an incredibly sweet, well-intentioned, hardworking Italian-American family like the Rubinos, looking to add a fine-dining option to their little corner of Logan Square by opening Accanto next to their other businesses, Lucky Vito’s and Tini Martini. On the other hand, you have the chef they’ve brought on to help them succeed: Domenico Acampora, hailed on the website, by early press and by the servers themselves as a Michelin-starred chef. Acampora is a native of Milan who spent most of his career cooking in fancy hotels in random locations: Edsa Shangri-La in the Philippines, Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, Conrad International Cairo, Hotel Gran Dominicus Bayahibe in the Dominican Republic—the kind of places where guests don’t mind paying as much for their global fusion cuisine as they do for their deluxe suite. He also cooked at NYC’s wildly priced French-Italian legend Le Cirque, but that Michelin star comes from a Restaurant Ama in Milan, which is no longer in business.
Maybe it’s all that international experience, but Acampora seems pretty disconnected from what’s been happening in American dining the last few years. The food feels dated and overinflated, an idea of what fine dining is supposed to look like for diners who want the entire globe on their plate. Trouble is, the flavor combinations just don’t connect the dots. It starts when a little salad of flavorless papaya and bitter mint shows up alongside a play on shepherd’s pie, unseasoned hunks of lamb topped by lightly torched mashed potatoes. It ends when a chocolate lava cake (it’s dubbed tortino here, but it’s the famed ’90s cake nonetheless) sits across from a scoop of mango ice cream, proving these two don’t play nice. And in between are example after example of discord, dishes that make it tough to swallow prices around $16 for starters and $29 for entrées: A hard slice of unripe tomato is stacked with incredibly rich guacamole, both just getting in the way of really tasty lump crabmeat in lime dressing. A warm gazpacho with a few crispy sage leaves is delicious on its own, but as the base for a pile of beer-battered calamari rings it makes a mess of things, turning the calamari’s greasy coating soggy. Both of the risottos are executed perfectly, maybe only as a man from Milan can do. But a scoop of pear sorbet turns one excessively rich risotto sickly sweet, while another is foiled by lemon zest, which obliterates the saffron and overpowers otherwise awesome braised short rib. Even when he’s crisping it into a disc for an appetizer, Acampora has a way with risotto, but once again the other half of the dish—this time an overcooked and underseasoned venison chop—doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
These jumbles just don’t add up with the whole Michelin-star thing. Especially the final jumble that was the turbot napoleon. A beautiful pan-roasted turbot fillet arrived stacked over braised cabbage and topped with plump mushrooms sautéed with little nibs of chestnuts. What’s the problem? Not just that the dish is fall on a plate and we’re into late May, but that it is advertised as including seared foie gras. And in my opinion, the little slivers of liver on the plate weren’t recognizable as being from a well-fed duck or goose. I’d know the taste of sour beef liver any day (thanks, Mom), reinforcing the theme here that things may not be what they seem.