Acacia -- TUCSON -- Report
My husband and I had dinner at Acacia on Thursday night, a postponed Valentine's date. I was excited to go to this restaurant as it had been voted "Best New Restaurant" for 2005, and AAA awarded it 4 stars. Let me put any fears to rest -- the food here is deserving of all the praise. I was delighted with each course I ordered, and can't wait to go back after we've saved up some more pennies!
We opted to eat outside as it was a warm night...it did get chilly a bit, so they turned on the heaters and I warmed right up. The menu reminded me of many places in the CA Bay area...very eclectic, nouveau sorts of things, with interesting flavor combinations. Pair that with the fact that there wasn't a cactus in sight, white-washed walls and tiled roofs on the buildings around the courtyard, and sycamore trees...we felt like we were back in Palo Alto! OK...onto the chow...
We were each served 2 large wedges of warm bread, one was multi-grain, the other white. A small dish of balls of flavored butter came with it -- plain, sun-dried tomato, and olive-oil-thyme. The olive-oil-thyme on the multi-grain bread was my favorite. Nice way to start. Our server was friendly and helpful, water always replenished, etc.
For appetizers, husband had the "flash fried calamari tossed with roasted garlic, pepperoncini and cholula-lime butter." Very crisp, not greasy, but quite spicy. I loved it...it was a bit too spicy for him, not that he quit eating it, mind you. I had the "caramelized shallot brioche with baked brie and fuji apples." I'm a sucker for baked brie. I imagined some slices of toasted brioche, a hunk of baked brie and some nice sliced apples. What was presented to me made me almost gasp, it was so lovely. Instead of slices of brioche, it was an entire brioche "roll" (for lack of a better word) that had been stuffed with brie and then baked. The caramelized shallots were in the dough...the flavor combination of the brioche, shallots and brie with the sliced apples was really swoon-worthy. Every bite I kept saying to husband, "this is SO good!"
For mains, husband ordered the "smoked breast of duckling, huckleberry and sweet soy glaze, purple potato tower." Our server had mentioned the chef recommended medium-rare for the duck, so that's how it was ordered. The plating was lovely, the purple potato tower was an egg-roll wrapper cylinder filled with mashed purple potatoes. Very tasty. The duck was thinly sliced, with a wonderful huckleberry sauce and fresh vegetables on the plate. Some of the duck was less than medium-rare, but most was fine, and the smoky flavor was superb with the fruit sauce. Next time we'll have to defy the chef and ask for it medium.
My main was "wood roasted quail filled with pancetta, mozzarella, roasted tomatoes and fresh basil, oaxacan risotto, braised spinach, steamed garden vegetables." Wow. I've never had quail before. I was given TWO little birds, perfectly cooked. The bone had been removed from the breasts to make more room for the stuffing which was out of this world. Love all of those flavors together. The risotto was rich and buttery (not sure what makes it "oaxacan"...it didn't taste Mexican at all...maybe it's the kind of rice?). The spinach was a tad bit salty for my tastes, though eaten with the risotto, it balanced out the richness there. I took one quail home and just had it for breakfast this morning!
I had asked our server to recommend a glass of wine to go with the quail, and he brought me a petit syrah, that was perfect. I'd not ever tried petit syrah, so that was fun and delicious to try something new.
Desserts. Another 'wow' is in order. Husband had his usual "classic creme brulee." He is incapable of ordering anything else if it's on the menu! So he knows creme brulee, and this was an excellent one..and a nice, deep serving with fresh berries. He didn't say much, except for the first little moan upon the first bite. I didn't dare ask for a taste. His comment was, "the creme is perrfectly creamy, and the brulee is perfectly brulee-y." Can't get much better than that. I had a very hard time choosing my dessert as everything sounded good. I finally opted for the "gianduja-caramel mousse cake." I did need to ask what "gianduja" was. This was the only mis-step by our server, as he told me it was the pecans in the crust. More on that in a minute. What I was given was a beautifully decorated plate with caramel and chcolate sauces in thick stripes on it, and a large wedge of sweet on top that had a buttery pecan crust that was wonderfully crunchy. Then a thick layer of dark chocolate ganache, then what I assumed was the caramel mousse that had a buttercrunch layer in the middle, topped with more ganache. I tasted hazelnut, and thought maybe there were hazelnuts in the buttercrunch, or hazelnut essence in the caramel mousse. The flavors were stunning. Every bite had so many textures and tastes. But truthfully, I couldnt really detect a strong caramel flavor in the mousse, so I thought the dessert was misnamed, which was a bit confusning. Nonetheless, it was incredibly decadent and rich and as much as I wanted to finish it, I had to leave a few bites on my plate. The very good coffee we were served went perfectly with our desserts. We left feeling very satisfied with our experience, the food, and the just-under-$100 bill (before tip) we thought was quite reasonable given the quality of food, the portion sizes, the good service, beautiful surroundings, and the fact that we each had appetizers and desserts and coffee, and I had wine.
We took a stroll around the courtyard and plaza, and enjoyed the night air and Northern California atmosphere in the midst of Tucson. But the name of that dessert kept nagging me (I'm obsessed!) It really should have been called something different as the caramel wasn't the star attraction, and it ought to have least had a description that mentioned the chocolate in case someone doesn't like chocloate, or worse if they are allergic. But this was a minor quibble for *my* experience, as everything had been so 4-star delicious.
This morning I googled "gianduja" and discovered it had nothing to do with the pecans at all, but it's a hazelnut-flavored chocolate from Switzerland. (I'm sure all of you knew that, but this was news to me. I love learning new things about food!!!) Suddenly my dessert made sense! Yes, there were pecans in that gorgeous crust...and the rich, deep dark chocolate ganache layers...but the mousse wasn't caramel, it was made from milk chocolate-hazelnut gianduja; it was the buttercrunch that was the caramel. All is now right with my world again, and I look forward to going back.
My lingering question...should I write a note to tell the restaurant to make sure the servers know what gianduja really is??
Anyway, if anyone is looking for a dining experience that is a "cut above" look no farther. I said to husband I thought this was the best food we'd eaten since we'd returned from Paris last summer...and the 2nd best dinner we've had in Tucson (the first being at the Ventana Room which was truly spectacular art-on-a-plate, amazing, etc.) "Best" in this case meaning the "wow"" factor. I've eated some fabulous tacos, too...but I'm talking fine dining here. :)
I'm sorry that some of you had mediocre experiences at this restaurant. I stand by my praise though...and no, I'm not the owner or an employee or anything like that. It's so funny...I wrote up a review of a wonderful B&B I stayed at in Paris on a travel board (which shall remain nameless) and got accused of advertising...I surely had "lifted" text from a brochure, one poster said. Hogwash!! However I do have friends who say I should become a travel writer...maybe that's the problem; I like to be thorough in my reviews. I wish I had time to own a restaurant or B&B, but I don't!!!! Sorry.. back to the topic at hand...
After hanging around chowhound.com for the past 18 months, I think I've decided that I'm just not as picky/discriminating...whatever...as some. It's quite possible that I could go to Vivace and think the food was better than Acacia. Vivace is on my "must try" list. I went to Primo in June and LOVED it...my review on this board is at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/.... I wouldn't say our meal at Primo was *better* than what we ate at Acacia, though. Just different. And I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences. C'est la vie...and a good vie it is!!! :)
We thought the food was mediocre, too, although our server was very nice. For the price, I like Vivace and Primo much better. I don't think the reviewer is associated w/ the restaurant, though, since her reviews are typically very detailed. I chalk it up to the enthusiam of someone who's never had quail nor gianduja before, not like the rest of us jaded chowhounds. ;-)
Unfortunately, the food is not deserving of the praise. We recently dined at Acacia and found the food to be mediocre at best--for its price points in Tucson. I am a little suspicious of the original reviewer, due to the length and detail of review--perhaps it is the chef or owner? Nothing special.
Enjoyed your review of Acacia. It is one restaurant we want to try. By the way there is another great one to try in the same plaza, Vivace. In addition to great food they also have a great dessert. Their molten center chocolate cake, which has to be ordered when you order dinner, as it takes at least 20 minutes to prepare.