When you see a flatbread entrée on a menu, you think you know what you’re getting.
The same goes for scallops or a side of broccoli. When those dishes arrive at the table at Abigail’s American Bistro, however, you see those dishes at their full potential. Between plating, pairing, and palate, this is dining at the next level. Abigail’s is an intimate, 50-seat dining room, perched on a corner in the little neighborhood of Ravinia. Upon entering, we hung our coats on the hooks in the back hallway and sidled up to the bar. They don’t take reservations beyond their first seating between 5 and 6 p.m., so most evenings at Abigail’s begin with perusal of their cocktail menu and decompressing over a little conversation.
It’s an environment that invites it. On the night we visited, the tables were filled with groups of friends and the room reverberated with lively chat and laughter.
Abigail’s Chef Michael fosters a constantly rotating menu—a new one is printed daily—of seasonal specialties integrating many regional ingredients. Perhaps the spontaneity is part of the magic, because everything that came to the table was invigorating. The Mushroom Bisque arrived with the dry ingredients artfully arranged in the center of the bowl, pickled beech mushrooms, marinated artichokes, slices of winter Périgord black truffles, and tissue thin pumpernickel crisp. The bisque is poured at the table, submerging the ingredients at the last minute to preserve the interplay of textures. The pickled and marinated elements add lovely bright notes that break through the creamy tones of the soup.
Covering a complex spectrum of flavors and textures with a single dish is one of the trademark tricks at Abigail’s, here ranging between tart and earthy and crunchy and soothing, all in a single spoonful.
Next we were treated to a cast iron pan full of their Table Bread, buttermilk biscuits filled with chives and Wisconsin cheddar and baked with a cap of Wisconsin cheddar melted over the top of each.
Fresh from a warm oven, they’re hearty, mildly herby, and have a touch of cast iron-coaxed crunch on the bottom. The Scallops plating is impeccably precise. Each creamy seared scallop is hidden underneath a carefully constructed bramble of roasted baby carrots, with a sweetness that mimics citrus; carrot-fennel puree, whipped like an impossibly light mashed potato; while caper raisin relish, hazelnuts, fennel salad, and dabs of balsamic reduction come together to lend a little gravity and bite. Again, the plate balances the buttery with the bitter, the soft with the crisp, and a bevy of flavors announce themselves as you chew.
Their Lobster Ravioli is thick, tender pasta stuffed with fresh lobster and preserved lemons in a pool of lobster sauce with tarragon oil and oven-dried tomatoes. The lemon and lobster compliment each other very nicely. The ovendrying process pulls much of the sweetness from the tomatoes, and they add a sharp flavor to play off of the inherent sweetness of the meat.
The Crispy Flatbread is topped with different ingredients all the time. On the night of our visit, it blew my mind. Thick, melted burrata cheese coated the perfectly crisp crust, grounding the flavor of the flatbread in the rich combination of mozzarella and cream.
Maitake mushrooms, sweet caramelized onions, and truffle oil brought a depth of mouthwatering flavors, and arugula, fennel, and a hint of lemon all added a light touch of acidity. There were six pieces on the plate. Even with more food on the way, we couldn’t stop ourselves from finishing it.
The Broccoli, however, was the dish that proved just how unique Abigail’s approach can be. It’s a dish full of long broccoli stems prepared in a black garlic vinaigrette with parmesan, spiced pine nuts, bread crumbs, and chunks of thick-cut bacon. Though the inherent wholesomeness of broccoli remained, everything else about it was unlike any broccoli presentation we’ve ever encountered. It’s very smoky and flavor forward with an initially subtle, but slowly building spice factor following each bite. The bacon is an incredible counter texture to the broccoli and just the right bit of saltiness against the delicious black garlic taste.
For dessert we had Granny Smith Apple and Oatmeal Cake in bourbon sauce topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. It combined a bright apple flavor with the satisfying granola feel of apple crisp and then piled on a series of rich, sweet elements to play against the cinnamon crunch. Absolutely heavenly.
Abigail’s is located at 493 Roger Williams Avenue in Highland Park, 847-780-4862, abigails493.com.