The pristine kitchen here has six long counters, under which are 14 refrigerators. Curtis Duffy likes a quiet workspace—demands one, actually—and the hum of 14 refrigerators would’ve driven him nuts, so he put the compressors in his basement and on the roof of the building next door. No hum. The best restaurants do whatever it takes behind the scenes to ensure success, and all the diner sees is the polish of an operation that makes it look easy.
To call Duffy’s Michelin-bait offerings stunning is not quite right. Anyone who knows the man’s towering ambition expected nothing less than excellence. What’s amazing is that he exceeded expectations. Grace’s two prix fixe dinners ($185), 10 to 13 courses assembled by the 17 silent chefs visible behind a huge picture window, are modern masterpieces full of esoteric ingredients (African blue basil, Iranian pistachios, a “new” ancient grain called freekeh) in brilliantly composed dishes that dance between opposites (cold versus hot, solid versus powder, sweet versus sour) and are served on striking surfaces (such as a slat of a whiskey barrel).
A good example of what Duffy is up to is the poached chestnut purée with Périgord truffle shavings, roasted almond milk, and red sorrel on the seasonal vegetarian menu: an intense shock wave of flavors not the slightest bit busy or cutesy. This goes galaxies beyond what he accomplished at Avenues, where he first impressed us in 2008.
Though Grace’s neutral space looks sharp, it isn’t especially memorable—except for the four unisex bathrooms reflecting the four seasons. And while general manager Michael Muser skillfully runs the dining room, his servers, striving for playfulness and authority, look like they could use a shot of something to loosen up. Nonetheless, it’s exhilarating to see a talented chef like Duffy at the height of his powers with ample resources and support behind him, if only because it happens so rarely. Savor it: No other new restaurant in Chicago comes close.