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Acacia Mid-town's hazelnut dacquoise cake. Photo by Beth Furgurson
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The restaurant business is arduous, to say the least. To combine creativity, consistency, style and great food takes true talent. Those skills are abundant at Acacia Mid-town, home to the genius of Dale and Aline Reitzer. Having moved from Carytown to just east of the Boulevard three years ago, this is one of the loveliest places in town. Soft lights, a muted palette and gentle jazz all come together here to create a charming evening.
Dale Reitzer's culinary talents are well known, from his work with Jimmy Sneed as head chef at the former Frog and the Redneck to his selection as one of Food and Wine magazine's Best New Chefs in America in 1999 to being named a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2010 and 2011.
This gem of the Richmond food scene continues to turn out fabulous meals with some of the best service around. And with many house-made ingredients, top-shelf liquors and originality of recipes, the bar offers marvelous choices for a pre-dinner cocktail. The wine list is extensive and thorough, and many delicious vintages are available by the glass. The creativity and construction of the cocktails is stunning. Every sense comes into play: color, touch (mine had a silver straw/spoon) and taste. I selected Going Overboard, a mix of Flor de Caña seven-year rum, Angostura bitters, house-made orgeat syrup and lime. It was balanced, sweet, spicy and bordering on addictive. Handsome Hubby, a bourbon drinker, had more than 10 craft bourbons to pick from.
We savored our drinks while perusing the delectable menu. I am hard-pressed to pass well-fried oysters, and these were just perfect. A spicy mayo drizzle and snappy coleslaw balanced the dish. For the main course, my husband went for the pan-roasted beef skirt steak with roasted fall vegetables, bacon, kale and red wine sauce. Cooked precisely to order, the meat was obviously a high-quality product, and the sauce was wonderful. It didn't dominate the dish but complemented the flavor of the beef — something that's harder to do than it looks.
Both my friend and I had the crab cakes, Dale's ethereal combination of lump crabmeat and almost nothing else. Accompanied by cheddar-cheese grits and local greens polished off with bacon and raisins, this meal was a 4.5 on a 4-point scale. Our server knew the wine list well and selected for me a glass of white Burgundy that was stellar with the crabmeat.
I visited the table next to us to quietly quiz the three diners. One gentleman agreed that these were the best crab cakes he'd had. A visitor from out of town told me that his rockfish was cooked to perfection. And the third diner raved about the roasted, bacon-wrapped duck breast. Every plate was completely cleaned.
For dessert, I ordered the coffee caramel cup, consisting of coffee and salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sponge cake and malted milk froth. The contrasting textures and sweet/salty combinations were just plain heavenly. Handsome Hubby and our friend decided on the hazelnut dacquoise cake, with dark chocolate feuilletine, milk chocolate mousse, gianduja ganache and raspberry sherbet. The kitchen graciously made the dessert gluten-free for my husband by removing a component, and both he and our friend thought the elegance and subtlety of this dessert was delicious.
Not only does Acacia Mid-town serve one of the most delightful meals in Richmond, it also offers occasional wine dinners where the chef matches food to wine with a skill that amazes me. The menus are different every time, but I have a wonderful memory of savory custard over uni (sea-urchin roe) that brought the ocean alive in my mouth. You can tell that Dale is having fun with these meals, and it cannot help but be a real treat when a chef of this caliber has fun with first-rate ingredients.
Both the dining room and a side room have a clear view of the kitchen, so you can watch this finely tuned team in action. And with Aline Reitzer masterminding the service and the front of the house, it all appears effortless.
It's tempting to get swept off your feet by the latest hot restaurant on the scene, but this old flame still burns bright. Amazing food, expert service and an elegant environment add up to a pearl of an experience. Consistency at this level of dining is something to be treasured.
2601 W. Cary St., 562-0138
Prices: Small plates, appetizers and salads $4 to $11; entrées $17 to $28; desserts $7. A prix fixe menu, including an appetizer, entrée and dessert is available for $24 during serving hours Monday to Thursday and from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Hours: Open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.