Dig it – a vegetarian joint with vegan options as well as gluten-free options – only it’s confident, beautiful, and on its way to establishing itself as being creatively masterminded. There is no equivalent to Pietro Leemann’s La Joia in North America. But, Acorn, if properly nurtured, could be one of BC’s best chances at achieving vegetarian culinary notoriety (maybe not Michelin star, but at par for the price point).
Acorn took over the spot where Cipriano’s used to be. Though it had a good grapevine rapport with Main St., I never went to Cipriano’s, since one of my first steps in climbing the culinary ladder was cooking Italian. Call me crazy, but I just won’t pay to have someone else make me pastas and parmagiana(s). It may be a Chef thing.
Anyway, you won’t find Italian on the corner of 24th Ave and Main St. anymore – you’ll find something representative of a frontier in man’s culinary evolution: vegetarian.
The atmosphere of Acorn is a mix of bistro modern and Whistler cabin. An aged-looking wooden roof sets the mood in a firm top-down upper management way. Soft lights overhang tables to punctuate the space’s high ceilings. The whole layout has been stylishly – yet, minimally – furnished with comforting smooth wood. A neat glass of single malt whiskey would look at home anywhere in the place. I had no problem letting my guard down and sprawling out without second thought – perhaps to an embarrassing degree.
Now, for the record, I didn’t announce myself until all of the food had come out. I didn’t introduce myself as a Chef, or writer. I didn’t even look into the kitchen or the washrooms until I was ready to settle with the house. I wanted to remain as shadily objective as possible.
The first notes that put a smile on my face were the opening refreshments. The wine list is small, but well-picked and relatively local. Feeling Epicurean, we went with an organic Argentinian wine – an organic Jean Bousquet Malbec – that’s pleasing crowds these days. Featured beers both came from Vancouver Island – Lighthouse and Driftwood (Driftwood’s White Bark is one of my favourites).
Tap water at Acorn is served chilled in old school glass cider bottles with pressurized caps, as well as carbonated water that they do in house with an on-site carbonator. They have yet to master their system, though I went prior to their official opening. Call me crazy, again, but I can’t stand carbon-heavy imported sparkling waters. It’s an environmental thing, but so is vegetarianism.
One small thing that went a long way was a cocktail called the Lightning Dust (named after an offshoot band done by the female voice in Vancouver’s own Black Mountain) – including: lavender, lemon, agave, gin, soda, and sprigs of cilantro. The simple cocktail nonetheless contained enough soul to win me over. In its ice cubes were frozen blueberries, strawberry slices, and lemon zest. The cilantro sprig was young and crisp. Everything about it looked like the loving summer that Vancouver had been missing – from start to finish. Clearly, I had more than one.
The first volley: beautifully presented polenta fries, which were thick enough to be called croquettes, came out with marinated olives – all on simple white plates. The polenta was perfectly done – served with a mint/cucumber/green pea/wasabi dip that was perfectly between puree and aioli. The olives were well-sourced, and that’s all that they needed to be.
The second volley – mains – sung to the same standard. Thankfully I’d brought a little posse with me, otherwise I would have only been able to try one dish.
One dish was the special –squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, pine nuts and mixed herbs, battered then fried for service, over a cold mixed bean salad, and a garnish of mixed greens, edible flowers that I couldn’t identify, and fresh basil leaves. The bean salad had a friendly balance of seasoning and vinegar. The battered blossoms are still a mystery to me, as the person who’d ordered them refused to share them – take that as you wish.
Another member of my party got a beer-battered halloumi cheese. She was from Toronto, and had to be eased into the experience of entirely-vegetarian cuisine. She enjoyed herself though.
I had a zucchini tagliatelle (kind of like a pasta, but with mandoline’d zucchini instead of noodles) with candied olives that were perched in a rose sauce with a backbone of cashew. The last member in my group had the king oyster mushroom dish, which was marked and moist in a pool of its own jus, with creamed quinoa, pickled shallots and seared cauliflower. I enjoyed mine thoroughly – every single last bite (including rosemary blossoms). I enjoyed the king oyster mushrooms too, however, more so than the person who’d ordered it. It was a little too earthy, but combined well with the pickled shallot and radish garnish.
Shamefully, I didn’t stay for dessert. I will most certainly be back though.
I loved it. A talk with Chef Brian Skinner and part-owner/operator Shira Blustein was dessert enough for the evening. These two are doing well in creating a unique experience on Main St. that speaks of above-average care for detail. I’ll be following up with another article about them once they get in to the full swing of their opening.
~ Hunter J. Moyes