The Acorn puts artistry into its all-vegetarian fare

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      Just after the Acorn Restaurant opened for dinner on a recent weeknight, one of the servers made a point of going to every table with an urgent message: the farmer who provides the new spot with zucchini blossoms had just called to say he wouldn’t be able to get them in in time for that night’s service. You know you’re dealing with stuff that’s fresh and local when you get an update like that.

      Besides focusing on seasonal foods from nearby farms, the Acorn is also strictly vegetarian, with several dishes having vegan, gluten-free, and raw alternatives. Those terms can sometimes scare off people who don’t buy organic everything, prefer boxed mac ’n’ cheese to quinoa, and would rather eat a hamburger than Tofurky, but the food at the Acorn is so flavourful and exquisitely prepared that even the most ardent pork belly–addicted types would be missing out by skipping out. And avid gardeners would do well to visit the place to get ideas on how to turn their backyard crops into inventive, nourishing meals.

      Owned by manager Shira Blustein and chef Brian Skinner, whose most recent gigs include Copenhagen’s Noma as well as London, England’s Sketch and Viajante, the Acorn occupies the Main Street location that housed Cipriano’s for so long. It’s been completely transformed with crisp white walls offset by softwood browns and the soothing bright greens of tropical plants. The washroom even offers a nod to nature, with the sound of chirping birds singing in over the speaker. The whole place has a Zen feel to it.

      Among the restaurant’s suppliers are East Vancouver’s Fresh Roots Farms, SOLEfood Farm (a social enterprise that offers agriculture-related job and training opportunities for Vancouver’s inner-city residents), and Barnston Island Herbs. Hannah Brook Farms in Ruskin provides the aforementioned zucchini blossoms that were to star in the evening’s Harvest, an ever-changing dish that on this occasion would have also featured other seasonal, local vegetables in an arugula-basil pesto.

      We weren’t disappointed by that main having been struck from the list, though, because we’d already decided on other items, one of which took our breath away. Skinner’s artistry is at its most striking in the Zucchini, which has white, blue, and purple edible blossoms along with red and yellow plum tomatoes and candied olives brightening a big mound of tagliatelle “noodles” made from the summer squash. It all rests atop a thick foundation of rosé sauce made with tomatoes and cashews.

      I was surprised the dish was served cold, but a second glance at the menu proved this minor shock was entirely due to my own oversight. In brackets after certain menu descriptions is the item’s dietary standing, and the Zucchini came with this one: “(GF/RAW/V)”—meaning gluten-free, raw, and vegan. I’m not sure how I missed that, but I suspect this number would be equally as satisfying cooked, maybe with that arugula-basil pesto.

      The Halloumi is as eye-catching as it is tasty too, three big sticks of house-made, beer-battered, deep-fried cheese topping a tower made of bright green smashed peas and a fried zucchini pancake.

      Local strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries along with house-made ricotta cheese dot the refreshing Berry salad, which goes beyond the usual leafy greens with interesting additions such as squash leaves in an orange–poppy seed vinaigrette. This is a good match with the artichoke-and-preserved-lemon pâté, a comforting starter served with garlic-tarragon crostini and chunky walnuts.

      The only dish that disappointed was the Peanut, a raw dessert consisting of a maple-peanut terrine with a little bit of chocolate ganache, raspberry coulis, whipped coconut, lemon thyme, and sea salt on the side. It was oddly flavourless, maybe because it was served very cold. Next time I’d get the lavender crème brûlée. (I’d also try the peach- and basil-infused white-wine sangria, though there was certainly nothing underwhelming about the Kettle Valley Pinot Noir.)

      The Acorn has a late-night liquor licence and bar menu, which will appeal to those looking for a healthy midnight snack. More than a welcoming hangout, though, it’s pushing the boundaries of vegetarian cuisine, abandoning predictable dishes based on brown rice and tofu in favour of progressive plates with personality. Dinner for two with four drinks, two starters, two mains, a direct-trade coffee, and a shared (but unfinished) dessert came to $109 before tax and tip. I love burgers, but I’ll be back.



      A fan but...

      Aug 8, 2012 at 12:31pm

      A big thank you to Acorn for elevating vegetarian dining in this city. It's a much needed addition. Zucchini is top notch and the salads are quite tasty. Staff does well in tight quarters though I'm usually bumped 2-3 times a meal as I'm a taller male. It's hot in there and my red wine has been served too warm on two separate occasions. It is summer but still not acceptable. Some dishes have great flavours but are inundated with startches (potatoes and rice?!) so hopefully that gets looked at as the menu evolves. Again, thanks for putting yourselves out there and am excited to see how this place grows.


      Aug 8, 2012 at 1:56pm

      Sound delicious, and expensive for vegetarian... $109?

      how soon is now

      Aug 8, 2012 at 3:51pm

      $109 for "four drinks, two starters, two mains, a direct-trade coffee, and a shared (but unfinished) dessert" actually seems pretty reasonable, no?

      High Hopes

      Aug 9, 2012 at 9:55am

      We were in the other night and largely ignored while our server and the manager chatted with their friends at another table. We'd been really excited to try this place out. If you're going to flirt with a fine dining price point, you have to make an effort at service.

      Opinion on value

      Aug 9, 2012 at 1:36pm

      Price is a relative concept. $110 bucks for that meal is not outrageously expensive, assuming the food served was of an adequate quality to quantity ratio. That will vary based on each customer's experience. Personally, I felt the food costing wasn't balanced. My dining partner had a harvest plate consisting of potatoes, squash, two zucchini blossoms, and a few olives with two sauces for $18. Sauces were well built, vegetables well cooked but no cohesion or depth to the dish. Where were the goodies from the market that they attested to on the menu? As an eater, that dish lacked value.The other dishes were solid, zucchini being a stand out, save for the collard roll which was a vegetable cutting exercise that did nothing as an end product. A huge disappointment. Taking a comparable, say the vegetable and nut sushi from organic lives, it's not even close in quality or price.

      Good Value for Innovative Food

      Aug 9, 2012 at 3:26pm

      I disagree with the value comments. I went in with my friends for a birthday celebration and found the prices for the food to be excellent. It's funny how we equate price with volume over quality. What are people expecting? A barrel full of vegetables? I had the Harvest and I can honestly say I've had nothing like it before. The zucchini blossoms were rich and filling. Any more food on the plate would have been unhealthy, especially with dessert and drinks! Organic lives is outrageously expensive for what you get, plus it's got as much ambience as Macdonalds and it smells like fermenting fruit. Hooray to The Acorn I say for breaking the mould! Boo to those misers who don't aprreciate innovation.

      innovation? seriously?

      Aug 10, 2012 at 1:33pm

      Two zucchini blossoms (raw), 3 patty pan squashes cut in half (baked), 4 med-small potatoes (baked), 6 olives (purchased), and a pair of sauces is not innovative. Sauces were the only redeeming or compelling part of the dish. Value is a balance of quality and quantity. That incarnation of the dish, not the entire experience, had neither.


      Aug 13, 2012 at 7:23am

      Great article! This place looks wonderful. I will be trying it soon.


      Aug 13, 2012 at 4:59pm

      I was very unimpressed with Acorn on a whole.
      Of course a lot of thought was put into the design and 'feel' of the place, but other than that I felt it fell short in almost every capacity.
      Being a vegetarian and sometimes vegan I find other than a few institutions on the Drive, 'vegetarian', 'vegan' or 'raw' restaurants often disappoint. Acorn is no exception.
      For starters, the servers were the most awkward and socially askew beings I have encountered collectively in along time. Polite, yes. Robotic, YES. Auditioning for the next performance of something, YES. It was weird. And it wasn't just one or two.....
      The food-gross. I can and do make better vegetarian and raw fare on my own. And so do many people I know. Sometimes when you take something that is so simple and basic and delicious on it's own and over conceptualize and complicate it, you ruin it. This is definitely the case at Acorn. The collard green roll was tasteless, awkward-completely fell apart, dry, pointless to tell you the truth. The zucchini Tagliatelle was swimming in 4 times too much was novice to say the least. The photos on the website do not reflect what to expect when your dish arrives....Gluten free....hardly. There weren't actually that many things other than salad that were gluten free.
      If you love food and are a vegetarian/vegan/raw foodie-don't even bother. Or wait a few months for them to 'iron out the kinks'.....


      Aug 15, 2012 at 7:17am

      I looked at the menu and the meals don't seem to be balanced at all.