It's hard for people to just pick up and leave a home they've had for more than 10 years, but sometimes a fresh start and a clean break are the best ways to find a new direction. Richmond diners were surprised when chef Dale Reitzer decided to close his longtime Carytown restaurant, Acacia, an entrenched player in the fine-dining scene. It was a chance, however, for Reitzer to re-imagine his menu, overhaul and update the design of a new space and reinvigorate a restaurant that had somehow become constrained by its own reputation.
The move east of the Boulevard was an attempt to strip some of the formality from the atmosphere. That hasn't entirely happened. Acacia Mid-town is a taupe and black minimalist space with a long table in the middle, set with tubs of ice full of open wine bottles. The rest of the wine is stored just past the bar in a large, windowed room that divides the front section from the rear. At the very back, the kitchen is open, and you can see the staff assembling plates of food to be ferried between tables. It's different from the old Acacia, but still an urbane setting with serious food.
Best of all, considering the times, Reitzer has revived the prix-fixe menu. Compliance by the entire table is mandatory at Acacia Mid-town, and the menu is only available at certain times (see below). At $23 and with four generous entrees on offer, Reitzer may have found a niche others might want to contemplate very carefully in this economic downturn. Even New York diners are seeing an explosion of deals, extras and intensified customer service in restaurants where it was once impossible to get a table. Valet parking in a neighborhood where it can be tough to find a spot is another way Acacia sweetens the pot, and it all makes contemplating the idea of going out to dinner a lot more appealing, especially if you find yourself not going out quite as often.
The prix-fixe choices change often, according to season and availability. I go with friends from the Meals on Wheels' Zest Fest to try it out, and between the four of us, we're able to order everything available. The earthy, purAced, white bean soup needs a little salt. But the salad, a nod to Waldorf with apples, raisins and cashews punctuated with blasts of blue cheese here and there, is perfectly balanced between crisp and soft, sweet and sharp.
Fish arrives expertly cooked: The tender sautAced rockfish is surrounded by a sweet parsnip purAce that underscores the lightness of the fish and how very different it tastes from the flounder. The bacon-butter sauce deepens the subtle nuttiness of the flounder, and the accompanying grits speckled with sausage give the entire dish a flash of smoke.
The boneless quail, slightly dry, comes stuffed with both spinach and chicken and is shellacked golden brown with a balsamic glaze. Next to it comes another winter vegetable, celery root, grated and fried crisp into a pancake. Both juicy and tender, the pan-roasted chicken is even better than the quail, and is glossed in a different glaze, mustardy this time, along with a cheesy polenta full of smoked gouda.
Sadly, there are just two choices for dessert. The warm chocolate cake is good but the raspberry sorbet beside it is better. The blackberry clafoutis arrives even warmer, melting its vanilla ice cream and changing it all into a moist, cakey pleasure with the sour-sweet tang of blackberries.
It's a risk to change things once they're established. The new location will make some of the old customers wonder why they should follow, but things such as valet parking, a sleek, comfortable interior, and the option of a prix-fixe menu cooked by one of the very best chefs in Richmond, should remind folks that the new Acacia is still firmly in the hands of the guy whose place up the street we once loved so well. S
Acacia Mid-town $$-$$$
2601 W. Cary St.
Monday-Thursday: 5:30-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 5:30-10 p.m.
Prix-fixe menu available Monday-Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Handicapped accessible and nonsmoking