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Kitchen Garden

[whitespace] Britt Galler Michael Amsler

Enjoying the relaxed atmosphere: Acre chef Britt Galler has helped craft one of the region's finest new restaurants.


Acre covers the organic field

By Paula Harris

WHAT'S HAPPENING to Healdsburg? Every time we visit the historic downtown plaza, it seems we encounter new trendy tasting rooms, art galleries, gourmet delis, antique stores, and upscale boutiques.

Watch out, Sonoma--you may have met your match!

Check out the increasing number of artsy motifs featuring wine bottles, vine leaves, grape clusters, and vineyard photos springing up in every direction, and you'll see how the place is starting to rival that other touristy plaza in its relentless preoccupation with the almighty grape. A couple of sophisticated new restaurants also have joined Healdsburg's gourmet ranks. Now rubbing potholders with such established eateries as Ravenous, Bistro Ralph, and the Oakville Grocery, are Zin (there go those grapes again!) and the Acre Cafe and Lounge.

Set in a house off the main plaza, Acre has a relaxed, cozy feel. The restaurant boasts a comfortable stainless-steel and wood bar next to a living room with a fireplace and plump sofa.

It's a great place to linger with a glass of port.

Self-described as "Sonoma kitchen-garden cuisine," Acre specializes in dishes using local and organic foods, with many vegetarian selections. The menu routinely changes to reflect whatever's in season. But boring veggie health food it ain't.

The restaurant is a soft blend of pale walls, hardwood floors, wooden chairs, copper-top tables, and oil paintings of country scenes. There also is an al fresco dining area called the Back Acre Grill, which has a separate menu, featuring lamb kebabs, barbecue chicken, and burgers. The grill chef turns out these aromatic items right in the rustic garden. Grilled rib-eye with shallot herb butter, baked potato, and corn ($19) is among the classic backyard grill fare. The steak is succulent and has very little excess fat. It comes with fresh grilled sweetcorn, thick rounds of grilled squash, and a perfect golden baked potato, all steaming and fluffy inside, served with a dab of sour cream.

Recent menu items have included romaine salad with fennel, snap peas, dry jack cheese, and mint with a preserved lemon and roasted garlic dressing; portobella stuffed with fennel, apples, and blue cheese over sweet potatoes; and poblano pepper stuffed with queso fresco and squash blossoms. Carniverous diners also will find plenty of exciting meat, poultry, and seafood choices--and lots more.

The French onion soup ($5) has a vegetable-based stock, instead of the classic beef bouillon. It is loaded with sweet onion slices, flecks of parsley, and white wine. After several spoonfuls, though, the soup begins to taste too sweet. Floating atop is a generous slice of French loaf topped with melting Gruyère cheese.

The pizzette ($8) boasts an ultra-thin crisp crust topped with red pepper, caramelized red onions, snipped olives, and shredded cheese. It is sweet, piquant, and salty all at once. The best part is that wafer-thin crust.

Local king salmon with soy glaze ($17) is a light and imaginative Asian-inspired dish. The salmon, moist and tender, is accompanied by citrus salsa and spicy Thai soba noodles.

The savory summer vegetable gratin over polenta ($14) features generous triangles of grilled polenta, a bit crusty on the outside and with a luscious interior. Layers of zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, shredded cheese, and fronds of fresh dill complete the dish. The gratin has definite possibilities but was served cold, and the cheese wasn't melting.

Warm apple and local berry crisp for two ($7) is great. Squashy warm fruits blend perfectly beneath a granolalike cover. It brings back comforting memories of homemade fare.

The atmosphere is relaxed, the music tasteful and mellow, and the staff friendly.


Acre Cafe and Lounge
420 Center St., Healdsburg; 431-1302
 Hours: Dinner, Wednesday-Sunday, 5:30 to 9 p.m.; till 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Food: Creative cuisine emphasizing seasonal local organic produce
Service: Friendly and attentive
Ambiance: Relaxed and warm, with a choice of indoor or outdoor dining
Price: Moderate to expensive (no credit cards; cash and local checks only)
Wine list: Compact selection, including some intriguing offerings; several choices by the glass
Overall: *** (out of 4 stars)

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From the July 29-August 4, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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