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.