ON THE PLATE: From this Acorn, a mighty tree will surely grow
After doing my best in last week’s column to explain why there were no BC eateries on enRoute Magazine’s just-released list of Canada’s best new restaurants, I pointed out a couple of recent newcomers that represent — so far — BC’s best bets for next year. One was The Acorn, a casual 48-seater that opened in the old Cipriano’s location at 3995 Main St. this past summer.
It’s a naturally good looking room, not in the least bit contrived and sporting a simple, cozy design by Scott Cohen (see also Pronto, Les Faux Bourgeois, The Waldorf). It feels bright, clean and happy.
Owners Shira Blustein and Brian Skinner are keen first-timers. Blustein is a musician (Hard Drugs, Blood Meridian, Choir Practice, Ad Astra) and works the front of house while Skinner is the chef (apprenticed at Bin 941, staged at Noma, and toiled in the kitchen at Pierre Gagnaire’s Michelin-starred Sketch restaurant in London before becoming a chef/instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts). Staffers are knowledgeable, friendly, and even-keeled, even when it’s ridiculously busy, and I’ve yet to hear of an evening when it hasn’t been ridiculously busy.
That the restaurant doesn’t take reservations might prove frustrating to some, but it fills up almost as fast as Vij’s and stays full until late — pretty impressive for a place that has only been open for a few months. (More than once I’ve driven past prior to dinner service and seen a line-up braced against the locked doors).
My party of four arrived right at 5:27pm this past Friday night, just three minutes before opening. Fast forward 30 minutes and the place was packed with a second wave gathering to wait in the wings outside or squeezed in at the tiny bar. The crush continues as late as 2am on the weekends.
But a busy restaurant does not an award-winner make. To me, what really sets The Acorn apart is the quality of the food and the absolute absence of meat on its menus. It’s 100 per cent vegetarian, with many of the dishes going the vegan, gluten-free and raw routes. It’s also the only vegetarian restaurant that I’ve ever really enjoyed.
The food at The Acorn is in another league altogether. It’s unabashed cuisine — creative, beautifully presented and so nuanced in flavour as to excite even my savage gums. No strawberry and heirloom tomato gazpacho with black pepper, fresh basil and creme fraiche would ever cause me to surrender the spoils of cow, but it’s a hollow challenge if I remember the summery bowl with the same fondness and longing that I recall the boeuf bourguignon at Bistrot Bistro, the cheeseburgers at Au Petit Chavignol or the beef tartare at Market in the Shangri-La. And I remember it well, even though it left the menu with the onset of Autumn. It’s since been Fall-fittingly replaced by a chestnut and potato number that is just as memorable.
And so the worthies continue down the menu. The salad of roasted pear and frisee bursts with flavour (studded as it is with blue cheese and soaked in a citrus-treated vinaigrette of caramel and thyme); the golden brown arancini has the sting of its goat’s cheese stuffing blunted by the refreshing sweetness of local apple and the soft tang of mizuna leaves; the tower of beer-battered (but non-greasy) haloumi cheese bricks on zucchini rosti (prettily moated by mashed peas and yogurt) looks and tastes like a luxurious indulgence; and the little gnocchi with rapini in Parmesan rind-infused marinara are perfect, perhaps even destined for Vancouver’s pasta pantheon (to join the dreamy likes of La Quercia’s agnolotti “di Guido” and Cioppino’s legendary Fettucine Bolognese).
So The Acorn is not at all like any vegetarian restaurant we’ve ever had before. The menu changes according to what’s seasonally available (pity we have to wait for that gazpacho), and the kitchen fiddles nightly with a special “Harvest” dish that sees freshly plucked veggies and herbs from local farms shining bright. (On my last visit it was a wonderfully bright pink/purple beet risotto flanked by spools of smoked leek, arugula coulis, thinly sliced radish and shards of toasted almond.)
What’s more, The Acorn knocks original cocktails out of the park. Dig the “Quest For Fire” and “Ad Astra” (each drink is named after a local band that is dear to the owners). The former is a tequila-based quencher flavoured with chamomile, lemon, sage and agave (with a cucumber twist), while the latter is an exotic, blend of gin, pear, juniper and triple sec sprigged with rosemary. There’s also a good selection of beer and wine, plus a late night list of bar snacks that includes an addictive jenga of polenta fries (to be dipped into an aioli of whipped wasabi peas).
TheAcornRestaurant.com | 3995 Main | 604-566-9001