Can a restaurant be tall, dark and handsome? Because that’s what Acabar is—a fairytale prince with epaulettes draped over his broad shoulders, ready to whisk you away on his Arabian horse. With its massive gold doors, sweeping painted ceilings and seductive lighting, Acabar enchants with expertly curated ambiance, but the food doesn’t completely follow suit. While the spice trade-inspired menu offers a variety of exceptional dishes, there are also a handful of mediocre ones, made more disappointing by their steep prices. As a whole, the dishes cover a spectrum of Asian, Mediterranean, North African and European flavors, served mainly in small, shareable plates, with a few larger items like roasted chicken and sea bass. Unexpected gems include pickled cherries and smoked grape garnishes, macaron ice cream sandwiches and an item called Porn Bread.To drink? A cocktail list inspired by popular libations of the past, from Archaic, (1783-1830) to post-Prohibition and they’re as stiff as they are old.
The hosts and wait staff are refreshingly warm and welcoming. Once you reach your table, you’ll notice both silverware and chopsticks, and that most everything is served on silver platters—foreshadowing your extravagant, around-the-world experience. Many dishes on the menu sound so unique, it’s hard to imagine what they’ll taste like, but branching out is the point here. We recommend taking the small plates route to try as many flavor combinations as possible, and the more you order, the higher your chances of choosing the good ones. Six small plates are substantial for a party of two.
The courting stage: You’ll be encouraged to start with the Porn Bread ($12), cornbread laced with bacon and cheddar cheese that slides out of an iron tube upon arrival, making everyone at the table feel a bit awkward. Slather it with honey butter and enjoy the comforting yet ordinary down-South flavors. Braised lamb flatbread, a chef’s special offered on occasion, features goat cheese, pistachio and arugula, and the layers of exciting Greek flavors are perfectly balanced. This dish should be featured full-time. The steamed buns ($15) are a showstopper: bao filled with rich, crispy pork belly, made even more satisfying with the addition of zesty kumquats. Plus, they’re served in twos and fit snugly in the palm of your hand: delightful. Then, the skewered, spicy prawns ($14) with labneh are charred, crisp and interestingly spicy, equal parts flavor and heat, and served on a tiny bed of nails—the kind a Swami might meditate on, not the rusty toolbox variety.
Then, things get comfortable and boring. Now that you’re thoroughly impressed and ready for more, in comes the charred octopus ($16), which you expect will be tender and packed with flavor, but is actually rubbery and devoid of all taste but deep sea. It could use more char, a few more tentacles and a lot less garbanzo beans, which is quite unfortunate given the resources at this place. As for vegetables, the roasted sunchokes ($15), highly recommended by the server, are garnished with pickled, smoked grapes, but taste about as exciting as a potato side dish with barbeque sauce. Depending on your palate, they could be a bore or a welcome break from the spice explosion.
But don’t fret, dessert fixes (almost) everything: End your meal on a high note with the macaron ice cream sandwiches ($8): crème fraiche-cardamon ice cream hugged by sweet, light macarons. Like the steamed buns, they’re smartly served in a pair—having to share one of these would be a travesty.
Acabar works for a decadent date or a celebration with friends, but there’s no need to eat here more than once. If you’re someone who wants to get every penny out of your tiny, $15 plate of octopus, head downtown to Mo-Chica. Inversely, if you’re a person who values flashy ambiance over food quality, by all means enjoy yourself. While not every dish on the menu makes culinary magic, the imagination and atmosphere are redeeming, and really, where else can you sit down to a meal of archaic cocktails, sexual bread and an ice cream sandwich made with one of the world’s most expensive spices?
Drink this: The Ti Punch, harkening back to the 18th century, is as strong and old fashioned as it gets.
Eat this: Steamed buns, skewered spicy prawns and macaron crème fraiche-cardamon ice cream sandwiches. Confirm the ice cream flavor with your server, as this particular selection may not be available every night.
Sit Here: Anywhere in the dining room is great for prime people watching. You might spy a famous face. Or, take a seat by the fire pit near the entrance.
Park Here: Valet or street parking.
Conversation Piece: For nearly four decades, Acabar was a Moroccan restaurant called Dar Maghreb, best known for its floor seating and belly dancing shows.