Tiffin Project

Acorn Brings Modern Vegetarian to Centre Stage

by Hunter Moyes on July 24, 2012

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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

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Crystal July 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm

The Acorn is gorgeous (love all the mirrors!)
While what I had was delicious, I was kind of disappointed that there was hardly anything that didn’t contain dairy (and is that organic or factory farmed cheese/cream etc?). This means that there is very little difference between this ‘vegetarian’ restaurant and various other restaurants where there are only one or two things that someone on a plant-based diet can eat. I would like to return regularly, but not for the same dish over and over again. I still keep my hopes high that this lovely ‘vegetarian’ hot spot will start to offer more ‘animal-free’ options.

Jay July 31, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I tried the Acorn and it’s good to see a new place that offers vegetarian and vegan options.

I would like to see more animal free options – perhaps in the line of Millennium from San Fran, or Candle 79 from New York.

I’d like to return but not for the few animal free options – in today’s world and ingredients availability in Vancouver, there are plenty of animal free dishes to make that will astound!

Pretty please Acorn… :)

Jay

canadianveggie July 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I loved the Acorn. My wife and I are both vegan and we had no problem finding vegan options on the menu. In fact, I want to go back soon to try the vegan items we didn’t order. Of the 5 mains, 3 are vegan and 1 more has a vegan option. Only the halloumi can’t be made vegan.

Cassidy August 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

What are these people talking about? I checked out The Acorn after reading this article. The food was incredible! I’m vegan and only 4 of all 16 menu items are NOT vegan. That’s more than a few animal free options, all without ‘fake meat’ which is as bad for you and the environment as real meat. I’ve been to Millenium and Candle 79 many times and The Acorn is way better. Vancouver is lucky, though in typical Vancouver style I guess some don’t realize it yet.

Hunter August 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I’m going to have to agree with CanadianVeggie and Cassidy on this one. I didn’t find that there was a lack of vegan options at all. Acorn has more vegan options than, say, the longest-standing vegetarian restaurant in the city — The Naam (even percentage-wise, given the size of the two menus).

This concept is a difficult one to pull off – and, appeasing vegans is tough. I think that the right balance is there on the menu.

You’ll be able to see more attempts at this concept soon too – Heirloom is opening up on South Granville (talked to one of the wood workers who’s currently doing the interiors today – who did most of the work in Tacofino’s new location)(but not the awesome lighting), and there are rumours of another vegetarian restaurant on its way on Union St. by Main. Stay tuned!

Newer veggie August 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

The Acorn is just OK. The second best option for a vegetarian/vegan meal currently in Vancouver but will need to refine some of the hiccups experienced during my first three visits. I’ll return for now since it has little competition but if it doesn’t sharpen up the details I’ll probably look elsewhere when other vegetarian locations crop up. To me, it’s not on par with non-vegetarian restaurants in delivering the complete experience. Just because you serve to a captive audience doesn’t mean you can overlook the details. My gut is they’ll improve as they know their competitors are opening up shop soon.

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