Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pretty salty at The Acorn Restaurant

The Acorn on Urbanspoon Last Friday I dragged a bunch of omnivores down to the new-ish vegetarian/vegan place, The Acorn Restaurant. Strangely, it's like a Yaletown restaurant with diner ambiance, complete with beautiful food, downtown prices, and hot waitresses; but no skimpy outfits or uniform per se. Table spacing is also pretty tight.

The line-up starts at around 5pm (even though they open at 5:30pm), and shortly after you can expect the restaurant to be full. You can reserve a "family table" tucked in the back. Minimum 6 persons, maximum around 14 but you're quite sandwiched and they probably have to pull over the nearby table. Reservations have a strict 2-hour seating. Our party was on time, done and paid around 7:15pm -- and we hashed out a single bill instead of asking for separate bills, which would have been complicated by the fact that we split five desserts. Our orders did come out quite quickly considering the restaurant was packed.

Lots of orders at the table, including every main and every dessert but I'm only mentioning what I got a good bite of. Medium to smallish portions for a price which is basically a buck or two shy of $20. Still, downtown fine dining prices on Main haven't dulled its popularity.
Overall, everything on your plate has a flavour and you should get it all in with each bite. If there's a smear of colourful sauce. Use that. It's not just decoration.
  • Vegan Beet (appetizer; $10) Macadamia Cheese & Beet Ravioli, Grapefruit, Sorrel, Cider Glaze (GF / V / RAW Option)
    • This was a startlingly tiny appy. Each "ravioli" was basically two thin slices of beet with tasty goop in between. The bigger red beet slices were on-par with a twonie and barely half as thick. I'm not kidding.
    • That said, the pink goop inside (macadamia cheese + grapefruit?) made each portion remarkably tasty. There were only six (?) portions. If you put it all together, everything on the long plate wouldn't fill a shot glass.
  • Mushroom (main; $19) Seared King Oyster Mushroom, Spelt, Cauliflower, Broccolini, Nasturtium, Peppercorn Sauce (GF / V Option)
    • Salty! Not as salty as the zucchini noodles, but overall they're not shy about salt here.
    • The round chunks of mushroom looked strangely like sections of pork sausage. Considering how the halloumi came out, we had a suspicion that this was intentional, to fool omnivores into not missing meat.
    • Overall, this was a boring dish, especially at $19.
  • Halloumi (main; $19) Beer Battered Halloumi, Zucchini Pancakes, Smashed Peas, Yogurt, Lemon Balm
    • The large chunks of Halloumi cheese were maybe two inches long and a square inch in cross section. It looked like a plate of battered fish. The person who ordered it said her batter tasted just like fish and chips batter.
    • The "zucchini pancakes" were shredded zucchini put together in a flat mass and fried like a potato pancake. They looked remarkably black to me. I didn't try it myself but I didn't heard about it being burnt either.
    • A bit of a novelty if you haven't had deep fried cheese. It doesn't come out melted, just softened.
    • Again, not really worth it at $19.
  • Peanut (dessert; $11) Chocolate Peanut Terrine, Berries, Coconut Whip, Raspberry Coulis, Lemon Thyme
    • Chocolate on a very hard bed of crushed peanuts. Careful when cutting this as it's liable to fly as soon as you force your utensil through the very solid peanut layer.
    • Too much nut here for my taste, but that may have been because the dessert just broke apart into chocolate and nut separately. Maybe it would have been easier to tackle and get a bit of everything from the plate to go with each bite if we didn't have to share it.
  • Vegan Chocolate Cake (dessert; $?)
    • Not on the regular menu. Chocolate anything is typically a safe choice and this was a really decent chocolate cake.
  • Ginger Beer ($4)
    • Didn't come in a bottle so this was probably made in-house. Not too much ginger bite. Around the same as a grapefruit juice.
Plating is very good here and inspires you to feel the price is right. Typically each plate is colourful and appetizing. There can be good flavours (despite some mains being on the salty side) but it depends on what you order. It's definitely interesting food, especially if you are a vegetarian-curious omnivore.
I guess my feeling of disappointment comes down mainly to price. Our bill came out to $42.25 per person after tax and included 18% tip (mandatory for parties of 6+), and while everyone had a main, not everyone had an appetizer or separate dessert order.

Yes, the price doesn't tip $20, and their price point is far away from restaurants where appetizers can weigh in close to $20 and mains are near or exceeding $30. But these establishments usually have more than just tasty food. They command a price which includes location, ambiance, service, and typically an unrushed experience where a duo could conceivably linger for three hours or so to have a patient dinner in comfortable surroundings. Not squashed into a diner with the pressure of a line-up outside the door to get you moving.
That said, the counter-argument could be that elitism is a different sort of way to screen your patrons. Acorn's price's can already seem daunting to some, and it hasn't slowed down demand. This is possibly as high as it will go without using meat.

Service was good. Prompt action on e-mail although sometimes there was no acknowledgement e-mail (I updated our party count by e-mail, didn't hear anything back, called them to confirm and it turned out they had already adjusted the count based on my e-mail). I didn't feel rushed by our waitress even though I sensed she may have been nervous about how long we took to figure out what to order.

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