To visit a new restaurant the week it opens is like asking to have a bad night out. Some restaurant critics believe it’s not fair to review a restaurant in the first week—or the first couple of months.
Give the place time to iron out the kinks, they say … But visit Abigail’s American Bistro as soon as you like: The brand new bar and dinner restaurant in Highland Park already does everything right. I visited Abigail’s last weekend, on its third night open, and enjoyed outstanding, meticulously prepared food and impeccable service—at a reasonable price, no less.
Abigail’s is a boisterous one-room bistro, as we learned when we first walked in on Saturday night. Word had gotten out about the “soft opening,” and it’s roughly a mile north of Ravinia Park (and across the street from the Ravinia Metra, for you public transit fans).
Abigail’s is “intimate” in the sense that the people next to you are only a few feet away, but it’s not too loud for normal conversation. For the 10 minutes we waited at the bar, the menu and substantial wine list kept us busy. Every dish that Chef/Owner Michael Paulsen has invented sounds enticing, from fava bean crostini with cured olives and French feta ($7) and rock shrimp buffalo style ($6), to the burger with Wisconsin sharp cheddar and red onion marmalade ($9).
As we got comfortable at a table against the back wall’s banquette, a hot plate of cheddar biscuits with chives, topped with melted cheese, appeared, making our anxieties melt even more.
We started off with sauteed feta cheese in a raisin caper pine nut sauce ($6). The food arrived promptly—a surprise—and the combination of mild cheese and sweet, nutty brown sauce had us lapping up this dish with equal speed.
Then came chicken liver pâté with pickled vegetables and toasted brioche ($6). If pate isn’t outrageously rich and smooth enough for you to begin with, consider that this one is topped with a layer of rendered chicken fat. Wowie zowie.
The service was unblemished—as were our plates, which were hastily replaced twice by our server, without our asking, after she spied some tiny spots. My boyfriend cobbled together a meal from the “neither small nor large” plates: wild mushroom risotto with pan-seared diver scallops and mushroom cappuccino (read “foam”) ($12), and duck confit with honey-onion marmalade, salad frisee, frites, apple smoked bacon and a poached egg ($9).
The scallops were tender, and the combination of duck confit and fries was addictive. I settled on lamb leg with flageolet (a delicate French bean) gratin, tapenade and roasted radicchio ($22). The lamb was medium, as requested, and the addition of the bitter raddichio was a surprising, tasty twist to a flawless entree.
The meal ended with a simple and classic chocolate walnut strudel with vanilla ice cream ($6). We left full and impressed, on Abigail’s night three. The place doesn’t need to soar—it’s already top-flight.