Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The restaurant Acadia (50 C Clinton St.) takes its name from the coastal region of North America, from the Canadian maritime down past Maine. Before we had these countries and all! The food of the region is traditional with French roots, and laden with seafood, corn, and flavour- that is about as much of a sub par history lesson as you'll get from me. 

Even though Acadia talks about doing southern inspired food, there's a feel of uncomplicated maritime fare on their menu, and a downplayed sense of spice (read: heat) in what we order. You won't find big meaty wedges of fried chicken, either- at least not on this weeks menu. Buttermilk, corn and sea creatures are what bring it home.

The space is modern and very minimal. Off white walls, soothing sea grey accents, and deep mood lighting save it from the hyper-modernism of the all white, an uncomfortable look I cannot enjoy. It's intimate here even with the wide open eating area, no dividers keeping tables secluded from one another. It's loud, almost entirely from conversation bouncing along the painted paneled walls, little coming from the open kitchen. The usual clatter and clank of utensils and grill don't reach us, and the spot Jason and I have by the door is surprisingly comfortable.
I have been fantasizing about this menu for a while. It changes regularly, with the seasons or the whim of the chef, but the menu I've been perusing the last couple days and preparing for sounds terribly enticing. Sometimes I'll come to a new place with a strong preconception of what I want, and what will be best- and I hope that my dinner guest will cater to my wants! By some stroke of serendipity all the same things struck us. I've never had grits, Jason suggested them. He wanted to try the chow chow and mirliton, I thought halibut cheeks sound amazing (I am all for a greater use of the under appreciated bits of a beast). Ordering was simple, our overattentive waiter often at our elbow to take orders for food or drink, and easily convincing us to start with some hot house cornbread.

While waiting for the mains, a pickled selection of vegetables was delivered to us to snack on, and whet appetites that were already roaring from waiting for our 9pm reservation. I've said in the past that a simple litmus test of the quality of a restaurant is if they provide complimentary bread as an amuse bouche. This is like that, but so much more inventive! I'm becoming very fond of pickles in forms sweet, sour or salty. This was a selection of crunchy vegetables brined in an acidic soup, with yellow carrot, okra, scapes, celery, fennel, green beans and I think sea asparagus. A wonderful bouquet of texture and taste! They all maintained a strong sense of the flavour of fresh veg, which was remarkable, while having been infused with a new tang.
Dreamy, the Acadia Cornbread (7$) arrived steamy and succulent to our table, shallow loaves incredibly moist and airy. Every table has their bread baked to order, and it still arrived quickly. Incredibly hot! My father used to make johnny cake from scratch that had this Aunt Jemima quality, but better. The texture was just like that, without the over sweetness of johnny cake, which to my palate was perfection. The whip-cream textured pumpkin butter it came with tasted more simple than was implied, the gourd far from overpowering. Jason suggested pumpkin is too often used as a gimmick (think Starbucks revolting pumpkin spice latte). I think that pumpkin should be celebrated for its uses outside of pie! However in this the butter was butter, but better. There were flakes of sea salt that added pops to the whole delicious platter.
Cheeks are round, or so I thought. Looking at a fish head in the market, I would have thought that they would be shallow dollars of feathery flesh, tender but firm altogether. The chunks were actually big! The Halibut Cheeks (12$) came with blue cornmeal crust, pickled prawn, sugarcane chow chow (I had to look this up, it's a relish from the maritimes with cabbage as a main ingredient), mirlitons and buttermilk. I thought the buttermilk sauce tasted lightly cheesy, and hardly noticed the chow chow. It hid under the mantle of the fish and pickled prawn, as a solid and not-saucy base. The fish meat itself was delightful, and I don't understand why cheeks aren't served more regularly. The cornmeal was very salty, maybe over salty. What really caught my attention was the pickled prawn, which was served like a cake of crustacean, pressed into a mold and cut into triangular shapes. It was spongy, light in flavor, a bit like a jelly. The mirlitons were like a sweeter radish, circular flakes.
It wasn't an express intention to choose a meal made mainly of appetizers, but seafood calls and can't be denied. Here arrived the Shrimp Grits (13$), an experimental dish for me. I have heard grits described as horrendous, and as salty oatmeal. I expected a texture of mushy polenta. Not so! The oatmeal association is probably the closest to it's mark. They are smooth, and like everything we've had, piping hot. There is so much texture here I could not have been prepared for. They are creamy and hearty and not at all gritty. Who named this dish? What a misleading nomenclature! These grits are flown in from the Carolinas, and are the best of the best. They are skulking under a thick and heady lagoon of ham hock consomme, and the flavor nearly floors me. We're agreed: these grits are a taste of heaven. Everyone should experience a beautiful flavour like this! A sweet corn taste teases the meaty shrimps from their hiding places in the grits. It all goes together well, the mushroom and cheese taking back seats to the bolder fleshy flavours.
For a hungry start we slow down quick. The dishes aren't large, but they aren't light- I am very impressed and happy with these apps. One last thing hearkens from the menu before we fold our napkins and call it a night, foregoing dessert: the Vidalia Onion Tart (16$). I am always happy to see the token vegetarian item on a menu attempting to do something new. I get so bored of seeing the snore inducing trinity of eggplant-zucchini-red pepper most menus supply. You wouldn't find that on an Acadian menu, anyhow. Instead, you can have this tart, the crust rolled thinner than any I've had in Toronto, floury and delicate as lattice. I'm amazed it holds the onion in. The onions are cooked to a noodly consistency, mild, pungent, moist. One of the appeals that had us order the tart are the caramelized hops and julienne green apple. While the apply mixes in with the greens and Gruyere to top the tart, adding a needed awakening between mouthfuls, the hops are hard to notice. It's a nice little tart, but between light crust, soft onion, and feathery greens, is not very substantial. My one wish is that it had something to weigh it down and suggest more body. Please understand: this criticism is no more than me picking nits, and this meal was wholly divine.

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  1. Nice review. I really like this restaurant and I'm glad to see it getting some attention. I really liked their signature cocktails. Last time I was there I had something that included ginger beer, absinthe, and tequila. And it was damn good.

    I like your blog, too. This is my first time here and I'll definitely be back.

  2. Why thank you! I haven't tried their cocktails, actually...it was all about the food when I went! I want to go back soon, and I'll have to give them a try then. They sound STRONG.