Before I go into detail about my experience at Acacia, here’s the tasting menu we were presented with along with the regular dinner menu:
Heirloom tomato a la plancha, fresh mozzarella, basil, roasted tomato vinaigrette. Paired with 2009 Torre di Luna Pinot Grigio
Bacon wrapped Guaymas prawn, served on lobster and mascarpone polenta with vanilla essence. Paired with La Folette Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay.
Classic Steak Tartare over baby arugula tossed with hazelnut oil on grilled garlic crostini with Wine Guerilla Zinfandel
Hamachi, carmelized cauliflower beurre noisette, red beet foam with Wachau Federspiel Terrasen Gruner Veltliner
Braised Pork Belly, maple glazed white bean ragout, grilled apple chutney with A to Z Pinot Noir
Marinated Loin of Lamb, roasted garlic rostie potato, bearnaise foam, pea tendrils with Creta Roble Tempranillo
Melon Panna Cotta, blackberry puree, candied lemon rind with Paolo Saracco Moscato d’ Asti
White chocolate PB&J petit four
Butterscotch and milk chocolate bread pudding, toasted coconut with Porto Pocas 10 year tawny.
Amazing, right? And, I know it sounds like a lot of food. But, it’s not really. Each course comes on one plate with all three items and they’re much smaller portions. Naturally, I was excited for this. As we sat down and looked over the tasting menu, the maitre’d commented that the tasting menu was amazing, especially the pork belly. And I’m a sucker for pork belly.
I have high expectations for something like this. For one, it’s Acacia. Albert Hall, owner and chef, is highly regarded and the winner of Tucson’s Iron Chef competition numerous times. Two, the menu sounds amazing, does it not?
The heirloom tomato lacked any sort of rounded flavor. It was a little over-drizzled with olive oil and the only real flavor I sensed was the mozzarella. The bacon wrapped prawn was overcooked and also lacked flavor. This is to be expected when you overcook bacon. Shrimp, like scallops, have a small window for doneness. The tartare, besides being poorly assembled, seriously lacked flavor. As in salt. If I’m going to eat something that looks like (and basically is) raw hamburger meat, there better be a good reason for it. I’ve had plenty of tartare. In Tucson, Maynard’s is the place to go for tartare.
The hamachi was my favorite. Unfortunately for my guest, who is allergic to certain fish – hamachi not being one of them (or so she thought) – her mouth started to swell up. But, it was a perfect combination of flavors. the delicate sweetness of the airy beet foam with perfectly carmelized cauliflower beurre noisette and hamachi had me raving about it. The hamachi was a little overcooked, as was almost everything, but flavor-wise, it was spot on. The pork belly was definitely overcooked. I kept checking in with my guest, “is this overcooked? Am I crazy?” She replied, “yes, it’s overcooked and you are crazy,” but at least I wasn’t imagining things. It was almost burnt on the top. The problem with overcooking pork belly is that a lot of the flavor is rendered out, so in addition to being overcooked, it lacks flavor. If you can manage to pull flavor OUT of pork belly, you might as well not serve it. The lamb was full flavored. It was cooled by this point, but the flavor was there. It seemed poorly paired with the wine, however. Every sip made me feel as if I were drinking blood.
The panna cotta with the Moscato was my second favorite. If only my dinner was the hamachi followed by the panna cotta. I did not see any lemon rind. I suppose it is possible it was pureed into the blackberry puree, although that seemed odd. The PB&J, while clever, was forgettable. The bread pudding was deliciously rich and dense.
For the price, I felt let down. I’ve had my fair share of tasting menus and I understand that not everything will be amazing. It was clearly a matter of execution here, not creativity. To Acacia’s credit, I think they’re a great restaurant. The food is usually excellent and inventive. The service is perfect, and their new location is great with amazing views of Tucson. They missed the mark on this one, though.