“You mean that dingy Cajun joint on Great Jones Street?” my friend asked when I suggested Acme for dinner.
“Well, yes,” I replied. “And no.”
Indeed, the only vestiges of the Noho eatery’s Southern past are its name and blue-and-red signage. The place has been transformed into a sleek and buzzy clubhouse—good luck getting a reservation at a decent hour. Taking a page from the Keith McNally school of decorating, a long marble bar greets guests, ushering them into a high-ceilinged, mirrored dining room outfitted with dark wooden banquettes: classic artsy brasserie. And what’s an exclusive newcomer without its hidden basement cocktail lounge? Do seek it out, though—last door on the right at the bottom of the stairs—and knock back a pitch-perfect Manhattan ($12) while tapping your feet to the beat of the saxophonist.
Mads Refslund, a co-founder of Noma in Copenhagen (a/k/a the “World’s Best Restaurant” for two years running), presents an inventive bill of fare that combines American flavors with the flourish and presentation of what’s being dubbed “New Nordic cuisine.” Expect to see foam and crumbles (or “edible dirt” in cookspeak). Miniature flowers and herb sprigs cameo throughout your dinner. I initially griped at the menu’s undercurrent of pretension and mocked its descriptive categories like “soil” and “sea and land.” I rolled my eyes at the hipster waitstaff with their skinny ties and shaggy beards. But by my third visit, the kitchen’s unexpected flavor combos had won themselves a convert.
All that said, my most delicious meal was a Midwestern love letter: meat and potatoes. Specifically, a New York strip loin with charred onions and scallions basking in a rich Cabernet reduction ($28), alongside creamy mashed potatoes dotted with tiny Funyuns-esque onion rings and bacon vinaigrette ($8). The butter-to-spuds ratio in that bowl would certainly make French chef Joël Robuchon proud—my gym trainer, not so much.
Those with daintier appetites can roam among the many smaller-sized offerings, which twice outnumber the big ones. Horseradish dressing sends a bolt of tingly heat to house-cured salmon ($12), while knobby, charred sunchokes ($12) veil themselves in Gruyère froth and winter truffles, resembling lumps of coal hidden under the first frost. Chestnuts and cocoa elevate what would elsewhere be a sludge of celery root into a lovely, elegant soup ($10). And don’t miss the pearl-barley-and-clams duo ($15)—think risotto-meets-seafood fricassee—which cozies up under a blanket of bubbles that recall cresting waves.
So is Acme on a trajectory to be the next World’s Best Restaurant? It’s not there quite yet. A few plates stumble. On one visit, the walnut-studded sweet shrimp and bison tartare ($13) was so salty it was nearly inedible. Salt-roasted beet salad ($12) drowned in vinegar and was indistinguishable from any other version I’ve had before. And I struggled with the “chicken and eggs” ($20), mostly because I can’t get down with the silky texture of skinless, low-temperature-cooked chicken. But then again, I don’t necessarily want Acme to be crowned the globe’s top table. How would I ever snag a seat there again?