Hundred Acres, from Cookshop and Five Points proprietors Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer, continues those restaurants’ emphasis on seasonal, farm-fresh, locavore dining, but pares its food down even more, eschewing all but a few essential ingredients. Such minimalism can either be a recipe for transcendence or horrible failure — it all depends on the skill behind the stove.
The restaurant is where the owner’s prior venture, Provence, a fussier French restaurant, once stood. Heavily renovated, the rambling, attractive rooms recall an elegant early America with fine woodwork and a front wall that opens completely to the street in nice weather. More modern touches abound, from a glass-ceilinged semi-outdoor space to geometric lighting and an elegantly rowdy bar. And, of course, the art. Huge, hi-res plasticized photographs portray timeless squalor, evanescent Bowery flophouses, the haunts of those very different from Hundred Acres’ crowd. They made me feel guilty more than hungry.
But that subsided with a few bourbon-spiked ice teas and vodka lemonades, refreshing and herbal but lacking in alcohol. Our starters of asparagus fries and corned beef tongue worried us more, as it was clear that the hoped-for transcendence would not come. The simple asparagus fries, whole spears prepared as tempura, were greasy and poorly trimmed. Having no sauce save a lemon wedge, they failed by merely being imperfect, though a more simple preparation with no breading might have worked. The corned tongue was better, prepared flawlessly and sliced thin, served with expert multi-grain bread. But its ramp mache sauce was overly sweet, obscuring the garlicky ramps in their short, much-loved season.
Entrees, too, suffered from a lack of care in execution. Scallop and turnip kabobs ($18) were under-seared, under-fresh and under-seasoned, saved only by a pleasing basil chimichurri sauce. And rabbit loin ($18) wrapped in bacon was unforgivably tough, cooked so that even the bacon yielded no juice for the unnecessarily slaughtered bunny. A pairing of warm, mustardy potato slices clashed tartly, but grilled spring onions displayed the farm-fresh flavors every dish deserved.
I have no doubt that the meal I was served, if cooked by Chef Meyer, would have been something to behold. Clearly, it wasn’t. And besides feeling that I had not eaten terribly well, I felt like it wasn’t a good value — even though it has some of the most reasonable prices in town. I still have hopes for what this restaurant could be; its mission is a beautiful one. But right now, it only proves the adage that simple is not easy.