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Acacia House

Columnist: Karen Hart
March, 2018 Issue
Columnist

Karen Hart
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Acacia House
1915 Main St.
(707) 963-9004
St. Helena, Calif. 94574
www.opentable.com

California Bistro
Open Daily 11:30-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Main Entrees: $26-$59
Wine/Beer/Specialty Cocktails

Built in 1907 and nestled in the heart of the Napa Valley along Main Street, you’ll find a charming Georgian-inspired house at the top of a hill, known as Acacia House, which opened in May last year.

Freshly painted and lit up at dusk, this home offers an iridescent glow from the road and seems to be painted with stardust and starlight. Once you step inside the front door, there’s a definite sense that if walls could talk, this home would have many stories to tell. “We’ve had guests visit who grew up in the house,” says Michael Ploetz, director of food and beverage. The original fireplace is still in place, and over the years, the house has been used in various ways—once sectioned off into apartments, once a real estate office and as rumor has it, once a brothel. “There is a lot of history here,” says Ploetz.

Alex and I arrive on a Thursday evening, and the hostess seats us at a table next to a window. Acacia House offers an elegant, down-home Southern vibe, but its décor is both modern and warm. The property that is home to Acacia House is named “Las Alcobas,” and you’ll note subtle nods to its Mexican heritage on the menu. Our server for the evening is Geoff Michalski, who suggests we begin with their “world famous” house favorite—Las Alcobas Margarita. I found myself smiling, and being somewhat skeptical that it could be all that, but he was right. Best margarita ever. Beautifully presented in a martini glass with etchings on the side, it’s served with a salted foam and topped with lime zest— a refreshing take on the usual margarita with the perfect balance of lime and tequila.

Soon after, we were offered an amuse bouche—which means “fun mouth”—a savory flaxseed cookie with mascarpone cheese, roasted leeks and Aleppo chili powder. Next, Michalski delivered a selection of starters, beginning with another house favorite—the chips and dip—paired with a sparkling wine. This is a fun, elevated, take on chips and dip, served with gaufrette potatoes and caviar. We also sampled the hamachi crudo, a Japanese amberjack fish in a finger lime vinaigrette and crispy Sonoma Coast seaweed and the foie gras on toasted brioche with fermented blueberry.

For the main course, we asked Michalski to lead the way. He brought the special for the day—steak frites and the chef’s signature dish, ibérico pork schnitzel. The steak was cooked to perfection with a nice crisp, topped with a dollop of herb butter, and served with a side of fries in a mint julep glass. The pork schnitzel is beautifully presented with Brussels sprouts petals, giving it a fresh element. Unlike the usual schnitzels, this one is elegant and light, not heavy. “This dish has been on the menu since day one and has developed a cult status,” says Chef Chris Cosentino. “It’s a unique presentation for ibérico pork and becomes ultra decadent by adding the caviar dressing.”

Cosentino grew up cooking with his grandmothers, Rosalie and Helen. He also worked on commercial fishing boats as a young boy in New England. Later, he graduated from the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island before working at some of the most beloved restaurants in the country, including Red Sage (Washington, D.C.) and Rubicon (San Francisco). As for his culinary philosophy, Cosentino is inspired by Napa Valley and the diversity of grapes that have been transplanted there. “The food at Acacia House is directly influenced by these wine grapes, and their countries of origin—France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany,” he says. “Each of these countries has a rich culture of food and wine, which allows us to make a truly unique dining experience.”

Portions at Acacia House are generous without being over-the-top, and the attention to detail is extraordinary. The wine list is extensive and offers brief stories about how they were crafted and the winemakers who shaped them. Like many restaurants in the Napa Valley, there was a downturn in business after the October wildfires and there’s still a perception challenge, says Ploetz. “We had a good momentum through the harvest and still feel the effects, but I think we’ll come through quickly.”

For dessert, we shared what is known as the “cake,” created by Curtis Cameron, executive pastry chef, and yet another ode to its Mexican heritage. Made with three types of milk—trés leche—then layered with a Greek yogurt cremeux, burnt white chocolate, cinnamon ash meringue, and served with burnt cinnamon ice cream and candied orange zest. Light and refreshing, yet decadent, this slice of confection was a sweet ending to an exquisite meal.



 

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