Acreage Ciderhouse and Eatery
Another 'local treasure' is it worth it?
I have been unimpressed with food for awhile now, as a chef it is very hard to get that wow factor, especially after working in the industry, eating in five star resorts, Michelin, etc. but I digress. The element of dining out has changed a lot since covid, and while my expectations are at an all time high, always, I tend to neglect the fact that yes, restaurants are short staffed, and yes, please give it up to the cooks that have stuck through it all during this shit show of a year (or two). Customers are always rude, ungrateful, I see both sides, but I love dining out and being that customer that understands the industry. Is it hard to keep my thoughts quiet? yes. Is it hard for other people to dine with me? yes, probably. Is it hard to want a full experience amid covid? yes. Is it hard to keep my thoughts quiet when I see restaurants STILL USING STYROFOAM?! yes.. I want to coach them all, I want to show them the ways of finer things, I want to make sure their costs are in line, but I sit and take it in, and just boast to my partner that sits there listening patiently.
About a month ago I tried to make a reservation for Acreage as it says on their website, "Reservations STRONGLY recommended". There were no reservations available but I figured let's go and check it out, everything in this town is dead usually and we will probably get a table, or be able to sit at the bar. We drove up the long and winding road to get there, and saw the lines of cars on both sides of the road. I asked 'is there a wedding going on??' We were in awe of the amount of people dining both inside and outside. The place was packed! Totally understood why reservations were needed, we didn't get a seat and left. I made reservations a day ahead the next week. As their website says, I would definitely recommend making reservations.
To QR code or not to QR code, that is the question
QR codes are the way of the future, I get it. I have one for my website and for my business, but at the tables, at restaurants I'm always turned off. While it is a great quick service fix for covid times; less human interaction, the issue lies in just that... less human interaction. The element of service and personal touch is lost, and as with dining out the saying goes, when there's bad service, there is bad food. So when there is no service, I fear the inevitable with the food. I like QR codes for those establishments that feel like a QR code, bars, quick service, some place that I know I don't want to deal with servers.
We were sat at a high top table, and were told our waitress would be right with us, but we saw the QR code so we began the task of pulling out our phones to look at the menu, an arduous task when someone wants to enjoy the scenery of the restaurant, wants to see the design elements of the menu, the fonts, the colors; all things that tell the story of who this restaurant is. The waitress soon came over and I asked if we could order with her. She graciously told us whatever we feel more comfortable with, I was relieved and said YES I want to order with you! Immediately felt better about the place. Good service, praying for the food.
We are not drinkers at all, but when in Rome. We ordered the bartenders special of hand picked ciders, which seemed as if they were perhaps the most obnoxious flavors they had, maybe just to stand out a bit; rose, hibiscus, chili, chocolate and caramel. The chili one ended up being my favorite, the others were not exciting, but yummy none the less. Ciders, I get it, can't really go wrong.
Being an avid diner, and knowing the industry; I am one of those people who look around a restaurant as soon as I enter, looking at who eats here, the vibe, the plates, looking to see how the food looks as its meeting the pass, what is ordered the most, if people are finishing their plates. Honestly a great way to see all this, and sometimes catch a glimpse of the kitchen is this; as soon as you give your name to the hostess, whether you made a reservation or not; ask where the bathroom is, and take the longest way to get there, it gives you time to creep around, and possibly get a glimpse of the kitchen. It is your first interaction with waitstaff working the room, you get to check out all the dishes on the tables, and you get to see how clean the bathroom is before you dine there, a tell tale sign of their hospitality. I saw the salmon being plated in the pass as I did my walk about, I knew it was something I wanted to order.
After getting sat and perusing the menu, I noticed that it was small but everything seemed packed with flavor, I knew this was bar type food that was meant to be eaten while drinking and enjoying company. Small bites and plates, but substantial. I wanted to try everything but we settled on mussels and eggplant to start. We love mussels and though we are in Colorado, hello landlocked state, I order them often just because I'm waiting for the dish that wows me here. Being from the east coast, they are a staple and being trained in classic French cuisine, I know the perfect taste I am searching for. The only reason that these mussels don't get a perfect score, is that they didn't serve it with a spoon so I could eat every, last, drop, of the amazingly delicious broth. While there were elements of classic flavors, the dish was made brighter by the sweet peppery broth, the spice was just enough and left me wanting all of it. The eggplant fritters were less exciting although delicious. Panko breaded and fried left them nice and crispy, the sauce to dip them in was killer. Again, needed a spoon just for that.
For entrees we settled on salmon and pork. The salmon was something I saw as I entered the restaurant, and knew I had to order it. My partner chose the pork shoulder, I was in love. The pork shoulder was tender and the sauce reminded me of the best barbeque sauce that I would be able to get in Virginia. The best. I could have eaten three portions. The polenta corn mixture underneath was good, a perfect pairing. The pork lacked when the sauce was not covering the meat, it was dry and tasteless, just be sure to cover it all in the sauce and you will be over the moon. The salmon was cooked perfectly, the skin crispy, the portion perfect. The accompanying accoutrements paired lovely, though a tad sweet for my taste, I think I would have rather a generous serving of the pork, but all in all delicious.
Then came dessert, I had my eye on the cider donuts since I first found this restaurant online. Being a New Englander from birth and growing up there I appreciate anything made with cider, and wanted that New England flavor again. Unfortunately they missed the mark entirely, I didn't finish them. They tasted like baking soda, either the recipe was not scaled correctly, or it was old batter. I am sure if it is made correctly and fresh they are delicious, most times I would leave disappointed at the last bite, but the flavors of the previous dishes were so good, I still left on a high note.
As I'm writing this all I think of is the staff in the kitchen, and how we as chefs take critisim, or not, and also how we like things black and white. It's good or bad, it's cooked correctly or not, it's plain and simple. So this is for the chefs; bury me or don't I only can edit/advise from what I saw that night and here are my notes.
-Could the bread on the mussels be a little thicker?
-Could the salmon be seared a little harder, the accompaniments are too sweet, the chutney on the salmon delicious, the other could have benefitted from an added spice, or something less sweet. Maybe this was too sweet after eating the spicy mussels and pork? but all together if the pork had an added layer of a sweet and the salmon had an added layer of spice would have perfected it more.
-The fried spinach or basil on top of the pork, uninspiring, and unnecessary, if you are going for crunch maybe fried onions which are also over played, I get it, but so is this.
-I just picture the scooby snacks of the pork dish being the go to kitchen food, eaten out of a metal bowl, over the trash can, with bits of the corn mixture, tons of sauce, and bread to dip it in. Ah, the scoobs, how I miss them.
-The doughnuts tasted like baking soda, the maple syrup sauce was a wash of marshmellowy blah. It was either too much baking soda or old batter. killed me, because that's the main reason I wanted to go here, I'm sure they are not like this all the time, it was either a bunked recipe or an old batter. I'll be back because I think when they're done right they must be killer.
All of it
It is refreshing to eat a delicious meal, it takes a lot to surprise me, to excite me, but blame that on the industry; the amount of food I've eaten and flavors I've tried are part of the gig, nothing personal. Being away from the kitchens make me miss the fact that I could eat this delicious food whenever I wanted; amazing product, skilled culinarians by your side, all of the tastings, all of the flavors, all of the time. Besides the doughnuts; this meal brought it all back. Acreage by STEM Ciders in Lafayette Colorado is more than a restaurant, it's the place I would take friends and family that were visiting the area to show them the quintessential local offerings and wow them with the chef driven flavors and stunning mountain views. So yes, this local treasure is worth it. A million thank yous to the culinary team, keep on succeeding Acreage. I wish you all the best, I'll be back for the pork, but please tell me the barbeque sauce isn't pre packaged.