Quarter Acre Blends Skillful Fare With A Side Of Whimsy | Dallas Observer

Quarter Acre Blends Skillful Fare With a Side of Whimsy

The vibe of Quarter Acre is straight out of New Zealand, and the skillful yet whimsical menu is a unique twist compared to some of Dallas' more formulaic restaurants.
Quarter Acre's menu is both classic and innovative in a casually sophisticated space.
Quarter Acre's menu is both classic and innovative in a casually sophisticated space. Alison McLean
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Toby Archibald tells a story about working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London several years ago. His parents were making the trip from Archibald’s native New Zealand to visit London, so he made a reservation for them at his restaurant during their stay. He told them to pack some slightly nicer clothes. “Think beach wedding,” Archibald told them.

Once in London, however, his parents canceled the dinner Archibald had arranged. It wasn’t until a year or so later, when Archibald was back in New Zealand with his family, that he asked his mom why they didn’t come to his restaurant.

“She told me, 'Well, we didn’t want to embarrass you,'” Archibald said. He told his parents he only suggested apparel choices to make them feel comfortable among the other diners, but the point stuck with him.

“I had been trying to work at every amazing restaurant I could find,” Archibald recalls of his early career. “But if my parents don’t want to come to the restaurant I eventually open, then what’s the point?"
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The dining room at Quarter Acre is seaside come-as-you-are.
Alison McLean
Archibald’s 6-month-old Quarter Acre, which occupies the former Rapscallion space on Greenville Avenue, delivers on his goal of a restaurant with a come-as-you-are vibe. Archibald and his team transformed the small dining room into a soothing space of soft lighting and beige hues, punctuated with splashes of blue and green. And on the tightly edited menu, familiar and classic dishes are interspersed with playful interpretations that reflect Archibald's laid-back demeanor when it comes to food and service.

Once diners are seated and have drinks in hand, Quarter Acre's servers ask that they make all of their appetizer, side and entrée decisions at once. Then the servers will handle the pacing of the courses. It's a process that's done with dexterity, and we never felt rushed to finish a course or sat idle before the next one. Every visit starts with a charred sourdough made from a 7-year-old starter that Archibald began when he lived in New Zealand. The bread is phenomenally tangy, and the charred bits and rich butter served alongside provide a brilliant contrast.
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Crispy pork belly over a light avocado whip.
Alison McLean
On our first visit, our choices slanted to the traditional. Quarter Acre has a quartet of snacks to start off a meal, similar to the one-hitters we recently had at El Carlos Elegante. It's a trend we hope to see more of, and new restaurants can study Quarter Acre's options for lessons in doing it right. A crisped pork belly bedded on a light avocado whip ($4) is a gem, the richness of avocado and pork balanced with a dash of lime acidity. The mushroom croquette ($4) is also worthy of your attention, with pickled enoki mushrooms serving as the foil to pecorino and goat cheese.

More playful is the compressed watermelon lollipop ($4) that appeared on the menu on our second visit. We ordered two, which arrived on skewers rising vertically from a rocks glass filled with pink salt. It's fun to look at, but much more entertaining to pop in your mouth. You'll be surprised that the deep red hue is actually a hibiscus foam that encapsulates the melon.
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Fried quail with a wonton wafer and peanut cream with a smear of blueberry puree.
Alison McLean

Moving into appetizers, we tried an asparagus dish ($20) topped with trout roe and fennel, paired with a delicately pureed duck egg and blended to an impossibly smooth texture. It was good, but we were blown away by its replacement on our second visit, a chicken-fried quail ($21). The formality of the asparagus has been replaced with a battered quail that is chock-full of light-hearted whimsy: topped with a fried wonton wafer piped with a peanut cream, then a smear of blueberry puree. It's best to try to get everything into a forkful, where the full effect of a fried-chicken-on-peanut-butter-and-jelly motif comes together.

Not all the dishes stand on one side or the other of the classic versus playful line. The kingfish ceviche ($24) straddles both sides; a traditional ceviche with lime hides under a brilliant white coconut foam, like a culinary game of hide and seek. Again, dig all the way into each bite and collect the foam and the fish underneath for each mouthful.
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Hot-smoked salmon.
Alison McLean

We struggled to find a weak link among Quarter Acre's entrees. A sous-vide short rib ($48) falls apart in the mouth in a swell of rich beef flavor. And the hot-smoked salmon ($42) is a customer favorite for good reason. Archibald learned of Big Glory Bay salmon during one of his visits back to New Zealand, and he found a West Coast supplier. There's a subtle sweetness and smoke to Quarter Acre's version that balances perfectly with the rich and buttery fish.

With a Kiwi at the helm in the kitchen, not ordering a lamb dish would be a travesty. Quarter Acre's lamb shoulder ($45) is cooked to a perfect ruby medium, and a drizzle of herbed yogurt provides a creamy counterpoint. A house-made lamb sausage punctuates the dish, served alongside the chops on a bed of fregola pasta and cucumber. For a lighter option, the ricotta gnudi ($35) is a standout, with bits of ham hock providing a salty zing alongside a walnut gastrique, and the soft, pillowy gnudi is an ideal vessel for soaking up the flavors.
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Banoffee pie with bananas and dulce de leche.
Alison McLean
Exuberance continues on the dessert menu. The banoffee pie ($14) is a sweet blend of bananas and dulce de leche in a flaky crust. And the Snix ($14) is just what you imagine from the name alone, a playful combination of a Snickers and Twix, kissed with a chef's flair for the dramatic. Once again, dive in with abandon to get all the chocolate, peanut and caramel flavors in every spoonful.

Archibald tells us that Quarter Acre's main inspiration lies in the restaurants he's familiar with back home. "If you go to New Zealand, all the best restaurants are like this," Archibald says. "This is a very Auckland-Wellington-Christchurch feel. If I was doing this down there, I'd have to do something to differentiate myself."

In Dallas, Quarter Acre stands out just fine, with a menu that's equal parts classic and innovative. It's gracefully executed and served up without the formality and stuffiness of traditional fine dining. Yes, it's on the spendy side, but in line with other exquisite meals in the city. And there's no need to don your Sunday best if you don't want to. Mom and Dad will fit in just fine.

Quarter Acre, 2023 Greenville Ave., No. 110, Tuesday – Thursday, 5–10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 5–11 p.m.
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