Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I wish I had been to the old Acme to compare to the new (and improved) Acme.  Perhaps then I would get, to a greater extent, what all the fuss is about.  Not that this snazzy incarnation is not an excellent dining establishment.  My food, overall, was superb.  I guess I just payed a bit too much attention to all the hype (and just having come from Atera) was expecting a bit more grandiosity.

Instead, an early arrival for our 8:30 table just had me waiting on foot for 50 minutes before being seated. During that time, I had the opportunity to assess the crowd:  young and vibrant, chatty and well-dressed.  Not quite the foodie scene I had imagined, but appearances can deceive.  Finally, the host appeared in front of us without a word, bearing two menus, and we assumed that meant follow him.   So we did, to the host's station, where upon he promptly disappeared downstairs for a couple of minutes.  Confusedly, we awaited his return, and then- still wordlessly- we were guided to our table.  I'm not sure what was going on.  But that sort of perfunctory dismissiveness reappeared throughout the evening.  Plates were proffered with little explanation (although the menus were sufficient for this), there was no checking in amidst the repast- really there was hardly a smile or a nod.  The most personal attention I experienced here was when the busboy knocked my arm off the table in his attempt to sweep away bread crumbs before dessert.  At any rate, the liveliness and conviviality of the restaurant is depending on its exuberant clientele rather than any of the staff (short for one:  one waitress was spot-on with her dessert recommendation, and also pleasant when providing the menu for it.)

Which is too bad, because it certainly dampened what turned out to be mostly excellent food.  The chef, Mads Refslund, hails from Copenhagen, and supposedly overrode the Cajun Southern bistro vibe in favor of "new Nordic".  Maybe this is why I was expecting a bit more precision and whimsy of this place than what there is (unless I just ordered a bit banal).  What I experienced was more NoMad than Noma, not that's there's so much wrong with that.  But any Scandinavian influence was found more in the chilliness of the staff than on the menu.  Nothing seemed particularly seasonal: there was no asparagus or fiddleheads, no ramps or favas.  The quirkiest thing might be how the menu is divvied up:  Cooked, Soil, Sea & Land provided some guidance that our waiter couldn't be bothered to elaborate.  From Soil came a lightly pickled bowl of beets, enhanced greatly by some roasted slivers of grapefruit: the rinds of which were charred and bitter, the juicy flesh sweet and acidic.  The roasted sunchokes were probably the most creative thing I saw, Atera-esque whole roots, blackened like embers from last night's bonfire and awash in a seafoam of truffle-scented gruyere.

 From Sea & Land, we tried two Seas, first a black seabass with pickled tomatoes, cardamom and vanilla and dandelion leaves spiking out like a Navajo warbonnet.  The fish itself had a crusty coat, its skin inextricable from its snowy flesh.. which is good, because it might be the best part.  I say if you can peel the flabby skin from the meat, you probably should.  If you can't, consider it part of the whole, which was definitely the best approach here.  Less endearing was the syrupy pool beneath, spiked with sweet spices without a good enough starchy or acidic counter.  With the crispy skin edges, though, it tinkered in chicken-and-waffle territory, to good end.  With the tomatoes beneath, not so much.

Not so was the Maine lobster with seasonal mushrooms, again touting nice crusty bits where the meat hit the sear of a hot skillet.  I was inspired by one of the remaining artifacts from old Acme: an enormous lobster statue shadow-boxed at the far end of the dining room.  And by the size of the beast on my plate, it may have been a near relative.   Big snowy chunks (lots of it) nestled underneath peppery nasturtium leaves into a rich stew of meaty mushrooms, so pungent with their inherent umami that I had a tiny blip of a nacho cheese Dorito flavor-memory upon my first bite.  At this point, the noticeably generic bread basket came in handy for sponging up any residual gravy:this is lick-your-plate-clean caliber stuff.  And it should be, as the most expensive item on the menu at $34.  Now, in a white table cloth joint served by a gracious hand, the price would be justified.  But here, I'd cut the protein portions of the entrees down by maybe a quarter and the prices respectively, so when you get your dinner with a scowl, it won't be so impactful.

But then came our dessert menus from a different server, a female of decidedly warmer temperament.  Her recommendation of the Beer & Bread porridge gave her even more props.  This strangely monochromatic bowl dusted with a chocolatey crumb accomplished the mystifying feat of a flavor so decadently rich and heady with a texture of diaphanously cool lightness.  The best moment is a spoonful of salted caramel gelato when it is still solidly frozen, dug  deep into the caramelly rye sludge beneath that emerges with a by-catch of frothy, boozy foam.  (Insert eye-roll here: it's that good.)

But, I wonder, is good enough to override the dismissive staff, raucous noise volume and tedious, inexplicable waits?  Well, probably it is.  But only if Refslund keeps it up.  Any misstep on his part, and the new Acme just might go the same route as the old one.

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