Acme: Nordic Roots Take Hold in NYC

Chef Mads Refslund

With all of the success of noma and the rise of the modern Scandinavian dining revolution  most notably embodied by the descriptor, “New Naturalism” it was only a matter of time before its direct influences washed ashore in NYC. The first of this wave of Scandinavian culinary influence to arrive was Vandaag (mixing Scandinavian with Dutch) in the fall of 2010. Though it met with some critical success, there was a lag before additional restaurants showing major new Nordic influences arrived. Finally, this winter and spring saw the arrival of two major Nordic influenced restaurants and another pop-up, that is generating serious attention and may yet wind up as a serious, “permanent” restaurant. Atera, which also has strong Spanish influences, has scoped out the high-end territory, while Frej, the Brooklyn pop-up, is by all accounts quite the tasty relatively low cost bargain. The middle ground has become the turf of Acme, the newly transformed restaurant with one of noma’s founding members, Mads Refslund at the helm.

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.

Graffiti Green

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.

El Padron

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.

Sweet Shrimp and Bison

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.

Raviolo

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.

Raviolo

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.

Cuttlefish

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.

Morels

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.

White Asparagus

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.

Beer and Bread Porridge

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.

Fallen Fruits

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!

 


This entry was posted in Bistronomic, Cocktails & Libations, Culinary Personalities, Food and Drink, New York City, Pastry, Regional, Slow Food, Top Restaurant Meals, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Acme: Nordic Roots Take Hold in NYC

  1. Laissez Fare says:

    Interesting. When I ate there shortly after the opening, the shrimp and bison was nearly inedible. A few of the other dishes were okay/nice and the fallen fruits dessert was excellent. Sounds like the food is getting more consistent!

    • docsconz says:

      What was the problem with the shrimp and bison dish?

      • Laissez Fare says:

        It was WAY over-seasoned (heavily salted) and even if you could get through that, the flavors were really out of balance in my (and my dining companion’s) opinion at least.

        • docsconz says:

          Perhaps they honed the dish or it was a one-off problem, but I didn’t find that to be the case when I ate it. Sorry you had that problem.

  2. Jon Seymour says:

    Docs, Having staged at noma early last year, I’ve seen a huge following, and in some instances copying of nordic dished all over the east coast. I Am coming to New York in the fall for the ICC (moreso to try and grab a drink with Sean Brock and Carlo Mirarchi). I m hitting the city with my friend and sous who hasn’t been to NYC before. I had easten at 11MP a couple years ago, and that is Jake’s number one spot to try, but we were also looking at: WD~50 (I’ve eaten there once before), Sushi Yasuda (ate there while Yasuda was still there, any other suggestions?), Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, possibly Roberta’s for a tasting, or the sister restaurnat that is supposedly opening this summer, Momofuku ssam, and Ippudo. Is Refslund overseeing Acme, or actively working there? Also, your thoughts on Atera? I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Kind regards,
    Jon

    • docsconz says:

      Hi John, Thanks for reading and writing. NYC is starting to heat up again and one of the reasons is the arrival in force of the new Nordic influence. Acme is certainly up there, though Refslund, who was there when I was, is utilizing the philosophy of New Nordic cooking rather than directly bringing New Nordic dishes. His food was quite successful. So is the cooking at Atera, which mixes New Nordic influence with the Spanish techno-emotionalism of Andoni Luis Aduriz. To get a tasting menu at Roberta’s, my understanding is that now one must go to the new Blanca, which has been designed expressly for that purpose. I haven’t been yet, but it is at the top of my list of places to try in NYC. NoMad, the new endeavor by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara is probably the hottest place in NYC right now. I haven’t been, but I want to. Contact me directly through the blog, if you would like to continue this discussion.
      Doc

  3. Pingback: The Docsconz Top 25 Restaurant Meals of 2012 | Docsconz

Leave a Reply