Acme is located in the east side of Greenwich Village right smack in the middle of NYU. The sign in front of the door has not been changed from that of its immediate predecessor, also called Acme. That Acme sold “Authentic Southern and Cajun’ cooking” according to the sign. It may or may not have been good. I had never even heard of it before, but in a twist of an offbeat sense of humor the sign and the name stayed even though the food is anything but Southern or Cajun’.
The room is not huge. It has a bit of a retro feel to it with some light tones, plenty of wood, tight tables and a checkerboard ceiling. The lighting, as is typical in most mid-range, scene styled restaurants, was stingy. Like at Empellón Cocina, that is a pity, as the food deserves more respect. It has enough visual appeal to warrant more light to appreciate that aspect of Refslund’s cooking. The plates are attractive without being constructed in the artful fashion of those at noma or Atera, Acme’s more highbrowed cousins.
I went with a friend to sample the food. I admit to a small fear that the place was going to be all style with little substance. While there is plenty of style, Refslund’s food is the real reason to go. It is tasty and novel – really tasty and very novel. As for style, chatting with Dave Chang, who came in for a bite at the bar and saying hello to Meryl Streep as she brushed past my table, afforded more than enough style for me.Downstairs at Acme, there is a private club. We didn’t get to go, but that didn’t matter. The cocktails upstairs were pretty tasty in their own right. My Graffiti Green was a blast! Almost a neon green, the drink, sporting ingredients like gin, green bell pepper, basil, lime and agave, was totally delicious. I would have stuck with it for the evening had my curiosity to try others not superseded my enjoyment of this fine cocktail. My friend had an El Padron made with Blanco Tequila, fresh grapefruit, cholula, lime and orange bitters. It too was good, though in this age of ubiquitous riffs on Margaritas, not nearly as exciting as the Graffiti Green.
The menu of Acme was set up in a fashion quite similar to that at Empellon Cocina, perhaps the restaurant that to me most resembles Acme in terms of organization, if not cuisine. There is a progression from the top left of the menu over to the bottom right suggesting how to order – one from column “A”, one from Column “B”, etc. At Acme the labels of the columns through the progression go from “Raw” to “Cooked” to “Soil” to “Sides” to “Sea/Land.” All of the dishes are essentially small plates designed for sharing, though the plates listed under “Sea/Land” are a bit larger and priced accordingly. Again just like at Empellón Cocina, everything on the menu appealed. It was difficult to choose, but somehow we did. Amazingly, all of our choices were winners. Based on that, I suspect that there are few, if any, losers on the menu.Refslund did not try to bring noma or his more recent restaurant MR and simply repeat them in NYC. While his approach was the same, he adapted his pantry to the USA. His Sweet shrimp and Bison might be one of the world’s ultimate surf and turf, mar y montaña dishes. This was sweet sour, piquant, soft, chewy, crispy and very, very savory. It was delicious. I love Italian food as much as anyone, but the last thing NYC needs is another Italian restaurant. Still, we had to try Refslund’s “Raviolo” that came with a Nordic twist. This was essentially an interpretation of the egg raviolo made famous by a few chefs including Paul Bartolotta and Michael Carlson, to name a couple who’s versions I have tried and enjoyed. Refslund’s twists were twofold. First, he used a duck egg rather than a chicken egg. It is that much bigger and that much richer. Secondly, and more importantly, he added the Nordic device of pickled vegetables, specifically pickled fiddlehead ferns, which added a certain novel brightness to this otherwise classic dish. The Raviolo was from the “cooked” portion of the menu. Our next course skipped to Sea/Land and was another mar y montañadish. Cuttlefish can go with many things, but one ingredient that I would not have intuitively paired it with is cabbage and another is gruyére cheese, but I guess that is but one reason why Mads Refslund has an international reputation as a chef and I don’t. His summer cabbage was “slow-grilled” as was the cuttlefish. With hints of thyme in the background and just enough gruyére flavor in the foam to make it interesting, this dish was a textural tour de force. The flavor combination may not be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. It is clear from the dishes that we were eating that Refslund brought with him a strong sense of seasonality. A “special” offered that evening was duck-stuffed morels that came with exquisitely sliced and exquisitely flavored matsutake mushrooms. Abetted by some raw greens, this was an umami bomb exploding with flavor and savoriness. Our savory selections circled back to the “soil” portion of the menu for these wonderful white asparagus blanketed with a fresh bergamot hollandaise. The bergamot was a wonderful touch, adding a flavor that is both familiar to anyone who drinks Earl Gray tea and yet somewhat novel and elusive in this context. Refslund likes to tweek dishes with surprise elements and claim them, rightfully, as his own. Like the other dishes of this meal, it was fun and delicious.
The dessert menu, though shorter than the regular menu, was equally interesting. We shared the two that most intrigued us.The Beer and Bread Porridge certainly doesn’t sound like a dessert, but when it comes with salted caramel ice cream, it is a knockout. This was just sweet enough to be considered a dessert, but savory enough to rock my boat. The texture and consistency of the porridge and the ice cream was smooth and spiritually warming. While the porridge provided a sense of welcoming warmth (not literally), the fallen fruits dessert exuded coolness. Wheatberies are an of the moment ingredient and were used to great effect in this dish within a brilliant green granita. Add to that bits of dried pears, this wound up to be a stunning dessert and a totally refreshing way to finish our meal.
Acme is not important in the way that Atera is important. It is not trying to breathe new life into a limited NYC fine dining scene. It is, however, important, nevertheless, in the way that any restaurant bringing delicious, fun and novel food to the City is. With food like this, it is no surprise that it attracts diners like David Chang and Meryl Streep. Go!