The original Acme was a divey Southern/Cajun bar and grill that closed half a decade ago, which was then swept up in the New Nordic trend in 2013. One year ago it reinvented itself once again, retaining only the the name and address which has proven versatile enough to function in accordance with its new identity, a contemporary bistro with global influence and a decidedly New York appeal. It sadly lost the cool neon sign that had remained even into it's first reimagining, but apparently this new rendition was too cool for old school. The dining room is shadowed and moody, with leather banquettes and an eclectic private collection of
art adorning the walls. Chef Brian Loiacono combines French technique with his Italian-American roots into a menu that basically results in spiffed-up comfort food, cooked with no fear of fat, salt and flavor, but mostly good effect. The best dishes are vegecentric, although even those are not bikini-friendly fare.
Except for the little amuse sent out to whet our appetites: a tiny arrangement of crudités- one carrot, one cucumber plank, one spear of fennel for each of us- served with a lusciously garlicky aioli dusted with a kiss spicy cayenne. A love it when a starter actually provokes your hunger and curiosity, and this one did just that.
And a good whetting was needed, with what was to come. We started with the crispy artichokes, which may have been the best dish of the night, but were perfect examples of assertive dirt candy. Smashed into submission and decimated with the high heat of a hot-oiled skillet, they were then interred into a cool pillow of whipped lemon ricotta, until we ourselves did the decimating. Certainly, they are listed as a House Specialty for a reason, but they are no dainty salad. So too an appetizer of roasted carrots, shrouded in a tahini sauce flecked with crunchy pops of toasted quinoa.... who needs meat with
vegetables this salacious? That said, there is beef in the form of both tartare and marrow bones, a porky pate enriched with fois, and buttery Oysters Rockefeller updated with chives and nettles.
There are a smattering of pastas to choose from, in hearty preparations like a cheesy risotto with black garlic and mushrooms, or pappardelle tangled into a ragu rich with lamb and rosemary ricotta. Entrees showed three fishes, two poultries and a steak in the form a NY Strip, the priciest option at $45. Grilled scallops,
however, at notable $36 appeared voluminous on the plate, but mostly for the mountain of crispy fried Brussels sprouts rather than the three scallops it included. Fat as they were, three scallops could be considered an appetizer portion, and at this price seemed skimpy. As it were, the sprouts, rich as their frying rendered them (in good keeping with fearless approach to vegetables), became too heavy atop the bizarre clod of cashew butter (for lack of a better term) beneath- a good quarter cup of dense nut puree is excessive. I was counting on the elderberries noted on the menu to refresh the dish, but they were M.I.A. as far as I could tell. It made for a strange counterpart to the scallops that were
cooked rather delicately, still slightly translucent within and mildly seasoned. True, anything else would have been overkill, but the dish failed to meld. A roast chicken in comparison was positively spartan. An adequately flavored breast, skin-on, was gently perfumed with orange, perched atop a sauté of mushrooms that tasted faintly musky, faintly....... past due. They were well-cooked but in freshness definitely lacking, as if they were on their last legs before betrothed to the chicken. Little frills of micro-greens decorated both entrees, adding an iota of freshness otherwise lacking. I'm being severely critical here, though, because while both entrees were edible, the pedigree of the restaurant and those involved demands much more. Were this the quality at the original Acme, I might probably have been relatively pleased.
Some of this might have been exacerbated by a staff sporting even less enthusiasm than the kitchen. But some of that energy might have siphoned off into a subterranean lounge below featuring excellent cocktails and a a succinct menu including some full menu items and a smattering of small plates, as well a nightly entertainment ranging from local djs to drag performances. And the highlight of the evening might have been the magnificent wallpaper in the bathrooms. I spent far too much time in there trying to decide which character I most associated with. From this post, one might assume it was the Drudge, but it's not that I was entirely displeased with Acme. I suppose I just really loved its prior incarnation, and the current one just did not live up to expectations. Although we were dining early, the relatively empty dining room illustrated it might not be just me who harbors this opinion. I do think they have the potential to improve, however: the menu is enticing, and those artichokes would be worth returning for. More along those lines, and a little lightening of the hand, and maybe next time I might even stay for dessert.
9 Great Jones Street
tel. 1(212) 203-2121