Shitshow Week 2014: Avoid This Veggie Tasting Menu: The Acme Experience

Eater Staff
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[The dining room at Acme]

There's no question that New York City is home to the finest canon of tasting menus in the country. But the one two Eater editors endured this month, unfortunately, is not among them.

The Acme vegetarian tasting menu, launched late last month at the Noho restaurant, seemed incredibly promising: It lacked tofu, offered eggs and cheese (a rare occurrence on the typical vegetarian prix fixe), and best of all completely avoided vegetables masquerading as meat dishes— e.g., "cauliflower steaks."

The price was right, coming in at $65 for 10 courses, and the restaurant itself, headed up by Danish chef and Noma co-founder Mads Refslund, received at one point two stars from Pete Wells of the New York Times, who praised the "gentle and thoughtful cooking."

Gentle and thoughtful our meal was not. Below, 18 ways the vegetarian tasting menu at Acme fizzled:

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Our whole "tabe" participated.

1. The hostess did not have the mostess. Despite having reservations, arriving on time, and re-emphasizing our interest in the tasting menu— not to mention that only a handful of tables were occupied when we walked in— the hostess acted as if it was a hassle and a hardship to seat us.

2. Failed Dunking Dynamics 101. How exactly should anyone dip large, raw hunks of turnips into a paper-thin layer of goat cheese coated with a film of parsley powder without looking like an idiot?

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Brown eggs. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

3. The mansplaining. The egg course, which happened to be delicious, featured cauliflower and dashi— a Japanese broth often made with dried fish. When we asked our server to double check the dashi's ingredients (to make sure it was vegetarian), he decided it would be more appropriate to stand there and slowly explain that dashi is in fact a "savory Japanese broth with good flavor."

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Sad onions. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

4. Tepid onion cups. Course number seven was literally a plate of onions cups. Served lukewarm and slippery, topped with currants and nasturtium. Inedible.

5. The Organic Ave course. The carrot soup felt like a fancy juice cleanse garnished with flowers and served in an earthenware bowl over a bed of ice.

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Thin carrot soup, raw carrots from Brooklyn. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

6. …that came with a raw carrot. "From Brooklyn," of course. Just a large unpeeled carrot next to bowl of fancy carrot juice.

7. The blind taste test. It was impossible to tell the difference between the [undercooked] beets and the [off-puttingly warm] cherries without biting into them in the course entitled "roasted beets with sweet and sour cherries." Russian roulette on a plate.

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A lot of food for course nine. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

8. The DIY course. The ninth course was a build-your-own Johnny cake dish with too many topping choices— from cactus to mushrooms to three types of sauce— and too-thin crepe-like cakes to wrap them in. Weirdly, this was also the most filling course, even though it came out second to last. It was as if the kitchen knew the rest of the tasting sucked and scrambled to make sure diners didn't walk out completely starving.

9. It also had cactus. On a "Nordic-influenced" menu. See also: The strange, strange plum-and-sumac corn on the cob that showed up as course four. The plum sauce was shellacked on and yet somehow managed to give corn zero flavor.

10. Post-game meal planning. It was around course six that we started plotting our next move. It didn't appear as if the menu was going to redeem itself, and we were hungry. Table next to us appears intrigued by our discussion.

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Ricotta dumplings and asparagus. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

11. The hide-and-seek course. The ricotta dumpling to asparagus ratio was essentially 1:100. The few gnudi that showed up were quite good after we managed to find them under the semi-cooked rounds of asparagus floating in a slick, flavorless broth.

12. The Pinterest dessert. In this apparent spin on an oft-searched Pinterest dessert, the "frozen" crème fraiche was not, in fact, still frozen. The strawberries also came coated in a dehydrated fruit powder that brought back bad memories of Warheads. The dessert left a sour taste in our mouths— especially when a look at the menu informs that the non-veg tasting's dessert came with Mast Brothers chocolate.

13. The price was not right.This meal was only $10 less than the non-vegetarian version, which featured ingredients like foie gras, langoustines, oysters, and the aforementioned bougie chocolate. Instead of high-end ingredients, we received sloppily cooked side dishes (looking at you, onion cups) as full-on courses.

14. The pacing. We had just managed to get halfway through course number one when our server brought out course two. He brought out plate three mere minutes after. Barely 15 minutes into our meal, we had the first three courses on our table. It's as if the team forgot the point of courses.

15. The pacing, part II. And then the server had to ask us if he should slow things down. And then he did, and then it took far longer than necessary for the next three courses to come, and then all of a sudden we had courses seven and eight come out almost immediately.

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Watermelon with vinegar and smoked sea salt, smoked cheese with parsley in the background. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

16. The salty watermelon stick. The second dish felt like a popsicle out of a nightmare, with all the sugar swapped for salt. Think a long frozen cylinder of watermelon, like a biopsied cross-section, doused in large, coarse sea salt flakes.

17. The plating. Two things to note about this tasting menu: Every course that wasn't served in broth [so excluding the soup and the gnudi] had the two portions plated together, for sharing. Also, six of the nine savory courses were also available as selections on the menu. Seven if you include the onion cups served with a monkfish entree as part of the regular offerings.

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Course eleven at Morgenstern's. [Photo: Khushbu Shah]

18: The escape. $200, tax, tip, and grumbling stomachs later, we left for Morgenstern's with the couple from the table next to us, ready to eat ungodly amounts of ice cream.
—Khushbu Shah and Sonia Chopra
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