Restaurant: The Acorn
Cuisine: Vegetarian/Late Night
Last visited: November 25, 2012
Phone: (604) 566-9001
Location: Vancouver, BC (Riley Park/Little Mountain)
Address: 3995 Main Street
Price Range: $20-30 (Mains $17-19)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5–4 (based on what I tried)
- Vegetarian only
- Vegan friendly
- Raw friendly
- Gluten Free friendly
- Sophisticated menu
- Casual, but nice
- Bar open until 2am
- Daily late night menu at 10pm
- No reservations
- Tue – Thur – 5:30 pm – 1am
- Fri – Sat – 5:30 pm – 2am
- Sun – 5:30 pm – 12am
**Recommendations: Walnut & Portobello Pate, Kale Caesar, The Acorn Autumn Harvest and Chocolate Peanut Terrine are also recommended, but I haven’t tried them yet.
The vegetarian scene in Vancouver, BC isn’t that impressive compared to other West Coast “foodie cities” like Portland and San Francisco. For a Lululemon, yoga-loving, semi-hippie, semi-hipster, eat local, health conscious and active city, it’s actually quite surprising. For the last year or so the Vancouver food “trend” has been nose to tail dining, but even so this is only appealing to a niche market. Taking full appreciation for pork belly and deep fried BC Spot Prawn heads is scratching the surface of “nose to tail”, but that’s another story. So when The Acorn opened just a few months ago I considered the concept quite refreshing and smart. It is a vegetarian restaurant with vegan, raw and gluten free options, but with Vancouver-style.
By “Vancouver-style” I mean that it was casual, but nice. It has a nice bar, urban feel, and then old school cafeteria chairs, which I found quite random. I actually expected to see a communal table made from a tree that had fallen from a natural disaster hand carved by the owners themselves, but no, it was nowhere to be found. Again, it was refreshing. The restaurant has had rave reviews since it opened so it was no surprise when there was a constant line up at the door. The restaurant is quite small and the seating feels tight, but I still found the atmosphere pleasant and I didn’t feel like I needed a membership to eat there.
I also didn’t feel like I needed to be vegetarian to eat there or to appreciate the food. If you know me and this blog then you know I am a carnivore. Actually you probably thought “Who bribed her to come here?” when you first saw “vegetarian restaurant” in the post. Yes, I do love meat and seafood and eat the entire animal – innards and all. Almost all the time I will order these dishes first because more often then not I think “I can make this at home” for vegetarian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love vegetables and get my recommended 3-6 servings a day, but most of the time the vegetarian options I come across in the city have no heart.
Just by the looks of the food at The Acorn you could tell it was a professional chef with a clear vision. After doing some research I learned that Chef-owner Brian Skinner interned at Noma with world renowned Chef Rene Redzepi. *Chills*. I can’t say I was surprised, but that just elevated my expectations and now I feel like he’s capable of more. Sure, not every chef that interns at one of the world’s best restaurant can go out on his own and kill it, but it is promising. I also learned that he is not a strict vegetarian, which makes me really wish he offered some meat dishes. On the other hand I respect the philosophy of the restaurant and the fact that it is sophisticated dining, not fine dining. His professional culinary training isn’t in vegetarian cooking, so it makes what he does here even more impressive.
As a carnivore, I thought The Acorn was quite good and it’s ahead of many Western vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver, but there’s still room. I loved the set up of the menu and how each dish was a celebration of one ingredient which was also the name it had on the menu. I also liked how manageable and controlled the menu was and it offered a good variety. The ingredients were treated with care and the avante-garde presentation was impressive, but I couldn’t help to think that they were holding back – and that’s before I knew Chef’s resume.
At times the flavours were shy and delivered more on the menu. I felt perhaps the attention to costs limited the potential of a dish and attention to detail, although on the surface it looked and sounded fancy. Some dishes did seem slightly pricey, but fair on a wider scale. Also it claims to have a seasonal menu, but not all the ingredients were seasonal. To be honest I’m not strict on this “rule”, but it took away from the concept and some of the non-seasonal ingredients could have been easily avoided or replaced.
It takes true talent and skill to master a vegetarian menu because most vegetables and fruit are 80%+ water. It’s not easy to maximize and enhance their qualities while respecting their natural flavours and raw beauty. While they’re great in their natural state, it requires creativity and technique to make them memorable and worth dining out for. And throw vegan, raw and gluten free in the mix, this is no walk in the park – unless he’s foraging. However, the Acorn breathes life into vegetarian food and while I did want more, I wasn’t disappointed and I treat it as a
vegetarian restaurant I would go back to. For me value isn’t necessarily in the obvious protein, but in the quality, execution and flavour of a dish, and of course feeling full and content afterwards.
Additional note: The professional photos are from The Acorn website. I have to give a shout out to their photographer. They are stunning photos so I couldn’t help using them on here.
On the table:
- Macadamia Cheese & Beet Ravioli, Grapefruit, Cider Glaze (GF/V/RAW Option) $10
- So it didn’t look quite like the photo above with one piece less, but it was close enough and I was shooting in the dark with a point and shoot.
- My first experience with raw beet ravioli was at OrganicLives (see here), and this one was similar in concept.
- This was highly recommended and while it was light and fresh I considered it more like a beet salad.
- Perhaps it was because I’ve had something similar that I wasn’t blown away, but all raw versions of beet ravioli tend to look like this.
- It had all the components of a classic beet salad – cheese, beets, nuts and vinaigrette.
- It was all raw so the beets are crunchy and not as sweet as they would be if they were cooked.
- I’m not sure if they make the Macadamia cheese in house, but it was the best part for me.
- It was the texture of pâté and it was creamy, smooth and rich like a fluffy, nutty and buttery cream cheese.
- Macadamia nuts are so fatty and oily and the flavour of this was too.
- I wish it was mixed with cashews or almonds for dynamics and it was possibly creamed with coconut oil, so it was very oily (not greasy).
- I could taste the Macadamia nuts, but I wish there was more of it in the ravioli.
- I also would have liked actual Macadamia nuts sprinkled on top for texture.
- It was served with a lightly dressed fennel salad and the grapefruit segments were a nice change from orange which goes great with fennel.
- The cider glaze was tangy and slightly sweet and it cut the richness of the Macadamia cheese.
- I enjoyed the dish, but it felt short of an ingredient or flavour. Some avocado puree or wedges would be great, but that’s just my own tastes.
- Beer Battered Halloumi, Zucchini Pancake, Smashed Peas, Yogurt, Lemon Balm $19
- This was very good if you have only one stick of Halloumi, so I hesitate recommending it unless it’s shared.
- It looked pretty much like the one on the website and it was a very generous and substantial portion.
- For one person it’s heavy and it might get repetitive.
- It was the vegetarian version of “Fish n’ Chips” and “Mushy Peas” and I found it quite smart.
- They’ve done this in vegetarian restaurants in the UK before, so it’s nice to see a version of it in Vancouver.
- The Smashed Peas were fantastic and if you think you hate them, try them again here.
- It was simply buttered cooked peas, but they smashed them so they had texture and weren’t “mushy peas”.
- They were frozen peas, but I like frozen peas and they retained their sweetness and didn’t overcook them.
- It would have been nice with some mint, lemon balm or basil, but simple is good and it was done right.
- The zucchini pancake on top was executed like a rösti and this was how they interpreted the “chips”.
- Rösti is a Swiss side dish and it’s comparable to a hashbrown or crispy shredded potato pancake.
- This zucchini pancake tasted like a potato pancake to me and it was made from shredded potato and zucchini, although the zucchini was near undetectable.
- It was fried crunchy with a moist centre and it was well seasoned and very good.
- Polenta fries would have been nice too, but with the 3 large pieces of beer battered Halloumi, I was glad to see something lighter like a rösti.
- The Beer Battered Halloumi reminded me almost exactly of Halibut fish and chips.
- They were very meaty and almost heavier than fish and chips because it was cheese.
- Halloumi is a semi-hard goat and sheep’s milk cheese and the cheaper versions are made with cow’s milk.
- This one wasn’t gamey at all and it’s a very mild cheese with a salty flavour and layered rubbery texture.
- It’s almost like a firm buffalo mozzarella or squeaky cheese curd in flavour and this one did squeak in my teeth.
- I guess it’s comparable to “mozzarella sticks”, but the cheese has a high melting temperature so it doesn’t melt and doesn’t become ooey gooey.
- The fish and chip batter was a very classic flour batter and it was crispy all around and fried perfectly golden brown.
- It’s a great batter and not too thick or doughy.
- I found 3 sticks of it a bit repetitive and indulgent though so I would have liked either different marinades for the Halloumi, different seasoned batters, or even different sauces.
- It was served with a thin yogurt sauce with seemed more like a lemony Ranch or Tzatziki than in did a tartar sauce.
- The lemon balm (lemony minty herb) was in the yogurt, but it wasn’t that detectable and there wasn’t anything really memorable about it.
- There were no pickles in it and I think it would have been great with capers or just more flavour.
- I loved the idea of the dish, but I was hoping for more layers in flavour.
- This could very well be the “vegetarian dish for meat eaters”.
- Raw Zucchini Lasagne, Lemon Sage Cream, Spinach Coulis, Pine Nuts (GF /RAW/V) $17
- I found this portion on the small side so I found it pricey and I wouldn’t be full after having it.
- It was very light and salad like, but the presentation and colours were beautiful.
- It was almost like a de-constructed vegetarian lasagne and the concept was interesting.
- I think my “tick” with this was that zucchini and tomatoes are not seasonal and it was the “Autumn Menu”.
- It could have been a squash and beet lasagna, but tomatoes just lose their flavour if they’re not in season.
- A raw preserved tomato sauce would have been okay and good though.
- It was thin layers of raw zucchini and tomatoes and I think there was some lemon sage cream in between to hold it together.
- I would have loved the macadamia nut cheese in between or something more substantial than lemon sage cream, which seemed yogurt like.
- I couldn’t taste any earthy sage in the lemon sage cream, and usually I prefer sage with richer ingredients and flavours.
- There is no dairy in this though (vegan dish), but it had dairy like flavours and characteristics.
- I did like the texture and flavour of the pine nuts, but I kept hoping for a basil and pine nut pesto instead of spinach coulis.
- They might have deconstructed it to accommodate nut allergies.
- Spinach coulis can be very bland so I prefer basil and herbs and it was a bit watery tasting. I think it had some parsley too.
- Spinach is such a classic ingredient to a regular lasagne, but separated and as a sauce it wasn’t that great.
- The dish was a bit acidic for me although not sour, but it is probably something I wouldn’t order again because it didn’t seem like a main.
- Olive Oil Cake, Apple Puree, White Chocolate Frozen Yogurt, Lemon Balm, Candied Olives (V Option) $9
- I tend to really like vegan and raw desserts because they often use coconut, seeds and nuts which I love.
- The desserts could have been desserts you would see at any restaurant though and they were not stereotypical “vegan”.
- All 4 desserts sounded great, but I like to try original things so I picked this.
- Adding oil to baked goods is a “baker’s cheat” to keep it moist and give it a longer shelf life, but I’m okay with it here.
- Normally I don’t like it, but when it comes to olive oil cakes then I’m on board because it’s for flavour.
- I also like sweet and savoury, but this was more sweet and tart.
- It did embrace “olive” as an ingredient and the cake was fragrant with fruity good quality olive oil flavour.
- The Olive Oil Cake was a sponge cake meets a coffee cake and it was moist and I think made with ground almonds and yogurt.
- It was tender and crumbly and denser than a sponge cake, and almost like a pineapple upside down cake, and I wish they served it warm.
- I would have loved a layer of lemon balm custard or pistachio mousse in between to break things up a bit.
- A caramelized crispy exterior on the cake would be nice too.
- There was a lot of apple puree which was well made and very natural in flavour.
- The White chocolate Frozen Yogurt I thought was lemon yogurt flavoured gelato and it was very creamy, smooth and tart.
- I couldn’t really taste the white chocolate or taste the use of lemon balm besides as a leaf garnish, but the overall dessert wasn’t too sweet which is good.
- The Candied Olives were like salty raisins and they were a bit hard rather than moist and I didn’t find them sweet at all.
- I would have liked them to be more incorporated into the dessert, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t like them and leave them on the plate.
- Using black olives in desserts could become a “dessert trend” for 2013. I’ve seen it a few times in the last year and I like it.
- It was that salt and sweet contrast and more interesting than the tiresome salted caramel (although still tasty).
- It was a good fair sized dessert with quality ingredients.
- If you like this I would also recommend the Olive dessert at Cioppino’s which is incredible.
- For more olive desserts see Nectarine and Olive dessert and Goat Cheese Black Olive Macaron.