Highs and Lows

After one great meal and one poor meal, the jury's still out on Acacia's new incarnation

The economy has hammered the final nail in the coffins of a number of longtime local dining favorites.

One of these casualties is Acacia—at least the version many Tucsonans knew and loved, the place at St. Philip's Plaza that featured jazz music, tasty (if pricey) entrées and a fantastic patio. That's the bad news.

The good news: Chef Albert Hall and co. managed to save Acacia by moving the restaurant into a smaller and less-expensive—yet still plenty swanky—space, the same spot Sur Real called home for a couple of years.

That leads us to the obvious question: Did the charms of Acacia—now slightly rebranded as Acacia Real Food and Cocktails, and featuring a bigger emphasis on sustainable and all-natural ingredients—survive the move?

The answer ... well, it's not so obvious. But after our dinner visit, my head was nodding in the affirmative.

The digs have been tweaked since Sur Real left. The demonstration kitchen—where, our dinner server told us, many of the dinner entrées are crafted—features seating at a bar where curious patrons can watch meals get crafted. If you just want to sip a cocktail and watch whatever game happens to be on, a spacious bar area is the place to go. If you're hard of hearing or don't care much for loud restaurants, consider yourself warned: When Acacia is busy, you'll have to raise your voice a level or two to be heard.

The dinner menu features some favorites from the old St. Philip's Plaza incarnation, including the Dungeness crab cakes with jicama-fennel slaw ($16); we chose to start our meal with those crab cakes, as well as the calamari with roasted garlic, pepperoncini and Cholula-lime butter ($12). The squid was perfectly prepared—firm without being rubbery—and the tart, vinegary pepperoncini pieces brightened up the flavor profile. The crab cakes, in contrast, needed something to bring out the flavors more. I did appreciate the fact that crab, and not filling, dominated the cakes. The jicama salad—featuring multicolored tortilla-chip strips—was OK on its own, but didn't complement the crab cakes much.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the bread; the sourdough was good, while the whole-wheat was divine.

For my main course, I was tempted by the cioppino ($24), another carry-over from Acacia 1.0, but I was craving meat, so I ordered the petit filet ($28) on our server's suggestion; Garrett chose the rotisserie chicken ($21).

Both entrées were pretty darned excellent; my steak was a near-flawless cut cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and the accompanying potatoes au gratin—a stack of cheesy, tasty, thin potato slices—was a nice side dish. The green beans, however, were gummy and undercooked.

Garrett's chicken—a half-bird—was juicy and tender, and paired nicely with the horseradish mashed potatoes. The small apple-crumble side was also rather enjoyable.

We were full, so we got the chocolate soufflé ($7.50) to go. The texture consistency was a bit uneven, but overall, the soufflé hit the spot.

On weekdays for lunch on up through dinner time, Acacia offers a "casual fine dining" menu. (Acacia's website—which, as of this writing, featured outdated menus—says the menu is also available during dinner hours each day, but it was not offered to us during our dinner visit.) An assortment of tasty-sounding sandwiches, tacos, salads, appetizers, pastas and even baby-back ribs are up for grabs. However, on Saturday and Sunday, before 2 p.m., diners are offered only the brunch menu.

Our dinner visit was delightful, so expectations were high for our subsequent Saturday brunch visit—and, boy, were those expectations dashed.

Only a couple of other tables were occupied when we were seated, and the meal got off to an encouraging start when our server offered us complimentary banana-nut bread. The bread was tasty, but surprisingly dry; perhaps it had been sitting around for a while.

We decided to split the French toast with apricot and cream cheese, served with bacon, as a starter ($11). I ordered the eggs Sonora ($14) for my main course, while Garrett picked the chilaquiles (an overpriced $14) for his.

The French toast was by far the best part of the meal. Apricot was blended in with cream cheese, which was spread in between battered bread slices. Eaten alone, the toast was tasty, if a bit dry; sadly, the addition of warm maple syrup largely wiped away the cream-cheese and apricot flavors. The bacon that came with the toast was high-quality and delicious—but lukewarm.

After we finished the toast, we waited for our entrées. And we waited some more. And then some more. Meanwhile, at least a good 20 minutes passed before I managed to get a coffee refill.

After waiting so long, we were delighted when we saw our server head toward our table carrying a tray with what appeared to be our food. However, another server asked her a question, which caused her to stop, change directions, and converse for a bit. Inexplicably, our server then headed back to the kitchen, only to reappear a minute or two later with the same plates.

Surprise, surprise: On my plate, I had room-temperature poached eggs, room-temperature Canadian bacon and room-temperature English muffins, topped with congealed (and somewhat bland) chile con queso sauce and room-temperature pico de gallo; alongside were room-temperature potatoes.

As for the chilaquiles? They were the same room-temperature story. Scrambled eggs with corn tortillas, cream and other items don't taste very good when not properly warmed.

All restaurants have bad days, or bad parts of days. I have a feeling that we experienced one of those during brunch, and that our dinner visit was a better indication of the new Acacia's normal quality. However, this is just a feeling; thus, the jury is still out on the new Acacia Real Food and Cocktails.

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