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Still tasty 

Hillcrest’s Acadia continues to impress with a creative menu and diverse wine list.

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We sometimes forget about Acadia, and we're not sure why. It has so many things going for it — those that come on the plate and those that surround it.

Owner-chef James Hale keeps things fresh and fun with a menu that changes regularly. He demonstrates a deft touch with sauces, sides, preparation styles and creative combinations, skill born of his training at long-gone Spaule and Andre's Hillcrest, and honed in the nine-plus years he's had Acadia.

Perched at the corner of a rather non-descript complex on Kavanaugh, Acadia features a smallish dining room that is at once classy and comfy. And when the weather's right, its expansive deck is unrivaled for atmosphere. Service is stealthily attentive. The wine list is billed as “the city's most eclectic,” a claim that will get no arguments here, particularly for a reasonably sized collection. To wit: the six reds offered by the glass hail from France, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Oregon and California, and there are some cult favorites dotted across the much-larger by-the-bottle list. Wine Spectator must be impressed; it has bequeathed its Award of Excellence on Acadia five years running.

And if all that's not enough to reel you in, consider the fixed-price Monday-Tuesday deal — three courses for $23.50 with the full menu available for mixing and matching. It doesn't take a math major to quickly calculate that the sum total of his courses will blow right past $23.50.

We'd imagine this deal has become a mixed blessing for Hale. While the price he charges has crept up a bit over the years, it likely hasn't kept pace with food costs. And while we believe there's been a compromise in portion size — our crawfish “cakes” appetizer was singular when it arrived — these still can't be big-profit nights. But after eight years of training patrons to expect this bargain, there's likely no turning back.

None of those attractive features would have kept Acadia in business since 1999 if what the waiter delivers isn't top-notch. Our pan-fried crawfish cake was meaty and well herbed, accented perfectly with a dollop of horseradish slaw (we would have loved a bowl of it) and a spicy red pepper coulis. Another appetizer featured two pan-seared scallops that bordered on not-quite-cooked enough, but translucent centers aside, the pepper crust provided a nice kick that was properly tamed by the peach-ginger puree on which they sat. The accompanying curried orzo salad, like the horseradish slaw, had us wanting more.

A chef's skill, the reason you pay him to cook for you, goes beyond his ability to properly prepare an item. It centers also around his skill to match it with the right accompaniments and to balance creative taste combinations. Hale does all that very well.

When billed as “wild,” salmon typically tastes less fishy, and we're more likely to give it a whirl. Grilled nicely, our filet was still richly flavored, with the pesto creme fraiche softening it up even more. The roasted garlic potato cake? Another helping, please!

Restaurant duck these days ain't your uncle's Humnoke haul — the rich, succulent taste of a bird grain-fattened on a farm substituting for the tough gaminess of a mallard drake bagged on a frosty Arkansas County morning. The large, pan-seared breast we were served might have been a bit bland on its own, but the green peppercorn demi-glaze provided some serious zip. The buttery potato hash studded with wild mush-rooms made it four-for-four — keep it coming.

Creme brulee is almost ubiquitous in nice restaurants, and Acadia does the chocolate version as well as most. But the star of the dessert show was a Southern classic — blackberry cobbler a la mode, the crust-to-juice factor and the fact the berries held together fairly well elevating it beyond the country cafe norm.

Times are tough, and fine restaurants' revenue trends prove it. Acadia offers a low-cost offering that is appealing even in a bull market. But deal or no deal, Acadia has everything it takes to appeal. Quietly and without much fanfare, it has established itself as one of the city's best.

Acadia Restaurant
3000 Kavanaugh, Suite 202
603-9630

Quick Bite
It's hard to beat Acadia's prix fixe Monday and Tuesdays. Unlike similar nights at other fine dining spots, Acadia's full menu is open for mixing and matching. For $23.50, diners get four courses from a consistently appealing menu. You'd be hard-pressed to find that elsewhere.

Hours
5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Other info
Credit cards accepted. Full bar.

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