Acme, NYC

September 4, 2012

Acme was a restaurant well below the radar. It has been around for some time, but hasn’t ever appeared in Zagat. It used to feature “Authentic Southern and Cajun Cookin’.”  In January of 2012 it reinvented itself under new ownership which already had several restaurants emphasizing fashionable trendiness, including the longstanding Indochine. NY restaurant blogs immediately started reporting how hard it was to get a reservation and which celebrities had been spotted there. Normally we would not have considered going, but Acme‘s new chef, Mads Refslund, was an attraction. We had dined with Trine at his MR restaurant in Copenhagen in 2008 and found it creative and interesting. So Linda and I went to Acme for dinner on August 19, 2012. 

Refslund was an equal partner as chef with René Redzepi in the research for and early months of noma, but he decided that the arrangement would not work long term. Then as the chef at MR, he earned a Michelin star, but had to close when his financial backer went bankrupt in early 2009. Three months later he reopened MR as a fish, seafood and vegetable restaurant, but it closed after a year. He had been consulting around the world on The New Nordic Cuisine until the Acme opportunity came along.

The sign out front has not been changed, which must confuse some people.

At 6:30 on this Sunday evening in August, Acme was almost deserted when we arrived. We were seated at a comfortable corner banquette with a view of the small dining room and the end of the long bar.  By 8:00 the restaurant was full and tables were being turned over.

Linda started with a glass of Stéphane Coquillette NV Champagne; I had a glass of prosecco. The menu has five selections in each of four categories: Raw, Cooked, Soil and Sea/Land. Our affable waiter explained that the first three categories were small plates designed to share as appetizers and that the fourth was dishes more like conventional main courses. There is a separate dessert menu.

Our first shared course was
Raw foie gras &  langoustine
white walnuts, burnt lemon

This dish was picked up virtually intact from MR‘s second incarnation as a seafood restaurant. The foie gras had been frozen, shaved and thawed; it had a buttery texture. The flavor was very mild as it did not benefit from the caramelizing foie gras gets from searing or the truffles, or whatever, added when making a terrine etc. The raw langoustine underneath also had a very subtle flavor. The combination was elegant, but didn’t seem like an inspiration. Fortunately we still had some of our apéritif sparkling wines, which went very well with this.

The wine list is quite diverse in prices and eclectic in origins. We ordered a bottle of 2006 Domaine Les Luquettes Bandol red.

It was pleasant and went well with the varied cuisine.

Pearl barley and clams
scallops, artichokes, roasted sunflower broth

Pearl barley had been stewed in a broth that tasted of nutty roasted sunflower seeds and clam juice. Under the foam, which provided a marine look to the dish, were artichoke slices, large sea scallops and a few chewy cherrystone clams. The barley was good, but there was too much for the limited amount of the other items.

Duck in a jar
pickled vegetables

My plate after serving from the jar.

I guess that the jar is supposed to make this look like something preserved for the winter. The duck meat was nice, but ordinary. I didn’t like the pickled vegetables, which seemed to have been made with a low quality, harshly acidic vinegar.

Linda’s main course was
Chicken & eggs
new potatoes, fried eggs

Eggs are poached and then fried, which is a nice cooking stunt, but doesn’t add to their flavor. The chicken was very tender and good, and the underlying potatoes in the cooking juices flavorful, but the dish not very interesting.  Our waiter had said it is the most popular main course. Good, mild comfort food.

My main course was
Black sea bass
pickled green tomatoes, cardamom, vanilla

The sea bass was fresh and perfectly cooked, with a crispy skin and firm, moist meat. Once again, I didn’t like the harsh quality of the pickling of the green tomato slices underneath, but the touches of vanilla and cardomom were very nice.

Sweet corn ice cream, raspberries, meringue

The ice cream, and the runny custard around it, both had a good flavor of seasonal fresh sweet corn. It was enhanced by the caramelized corn kernels. The fresh raspberries were a perfect fruity, slightly tart counterpoint, but the meringue balls, which resembled small marshmallows, were excess.

I don’t know what Refslund has in mind with this type of cuisine. While it is mostly American in inspiration, it isn’t generally locavore or seasonal. There are a few Scandinavian touches. The ingredients are quite ordinary. It may be that he simply needed a regular job after more than a year without one and is providing what the owners want. Acme is certainly a commercial success. His role may be more as a consultant, although he holds the Executive Chef title.

The dining room staff seemed somewhat amateurish, but we had no problems with slow or rude service as others have reported and were done by 8:30. We were glad that 6:30 on a Sunday was the only time we could get a reservation. The noise level was deafening by the time we left. The table jammed up against ours had been occupied. We will not be returning to Acme, but we hope that this is simply a stop for Refslund so that he can establish himself in a real restaurant in New York.

To see our meal at MR in Copenhagen click here.

2 Responses to “Acme, NYC”

  1. Henry Says:

    Exactly our experience when we went shortly after it opened. Reading your commentary left me feeling that finally someone “belled the cat.”

  2. Blair Says:

    Often times it is posts like these that I find the most informative. Avoiding a dud is more important than finding a hidden jewel in a city like New York with excellent food on almost every block.

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