Perusing the menu at the recently revamped Acme, it’s evident that Mads Refslund — co-founder of the exceedingly influential Noma — has categorically left the building. Instead of esoteric New Nordic offerings like hay-roasted whole sunchokes and “burlap sack” lobster with wildflowers, it’s newly padded with rustic French brasserie reliables, such as raw oysters, rillettes, carpaccios and tartares.
Which, honestly, makes a whole lot more sense for owners Jean-Marc Houmard, Jon Neidich and Huy Chi Le — whose joint resumes prove that they’re a lot less about pushing envelopes than they are about pleasing crowds (think the decadent ‘80’s-era Indochine, the retro taco and tequila spot, Tijuana Picnic, the vodka-endorsing, fast food burger-serving The Happiest Hour, and its subterranean martini bar, Slowly Shirley). And if a house jam-packed with pretty folk during a recent visit was any indication, the team will be duly rewarded for the significant presto-chango — while dining on Crispy Salmon Skin with Cucumbers is a definite lark every once in a while, most of us would sooner admit to a day-to-day craving for steak.
Brian Loiacono — former executive chef at db Bistro Moderne — has been tasked with totally transforming the back of house, coupling his classic French training with his Italian-American upbringing, to create an appealing, approachable roster of contemporary bistro fare. Not that it’s totally without cheffy flourishes (does the city really need another uninterpreted Caesar Salad?) Instead of being presented like paté in a pot, fingers of Pork Rillette are fried until crisp and paired with a dip of creamy tonnato, spiced with Japanese togarashi. Delivered on a sizzling pan and individually propped on pebbles, clods of bone marrow lurk under the breading for Clams Casino, waiting to be moistened with an accompanying “chowder” sauce. And even Steak Tartare isn’t as traditional as it appears (save for its crown of waffled potato crisps). While still supple within, the velvety tendrils of meat get seared with a kitchen torch just before coming to the table, which also serves to activate its unexpected pedestal of funky raclette cheese.
If there’s one dish that seems like a holdover from Acme’s Refslund days, it’s the enigmatically dubbed Shrimp and Egg Yolk, accented with pickled turnips and shaved celeriac chips. But all credit goes to Loiacono, for a creation that’s a lot less stark Scandinavian than it is sultry Spanish; a collection of fat, garlic-bombed crustaceans, lounging on what amounts to an olive oil-free aioli.
As befitting the new, accessible Acme, it’s something we imagine we’ll find ourselves craving again and again… and again.