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A creative menu, attentive service and delicious dining make Acacia worthy of visiting as often as possible.

A Polished Gem

In an old church in the heart of Carytown, beckons to diners at both lunch and dinner, and is widely considered to be an upscale choice for either. Acacia is really made for dining on balmy nights in late spring when a light breeze sweeps down Cary Street ruffling the linen tablecloths on the terrace. That is when Acacia is in its prime, post-winter and pre-mosquitoes and stifling heat.

On a recent Friday night, we climbed the steps and entered the oversized front door, stepping into an elegantly makeshift foyer defined by a lush, heavy curtain suspended on a curved rod overhead. The drape keeps the cold night air from swallowing whole the little dining room within. It also adds atmosphere, as if the place needed any — its low light (a little too low, actually, when it comes to reading the menu), randomly placed wall vases and café intimacy make it a great choice for romantic tete … tetes.

Reservations are strongly encouraged, and, fortunately we were able to snag one just a day ahead. We were seated right away and were served our glasses of wine after a brief wait. Though the tone of Acacia is linen napkins, the clientele ranged from coats and ties to Reeboks and babies in high chairs. There were foursomes toasting birthdays, and friends enjoying a night of wine and conversation. And due to the close proximity of the tables, we could enjoy most of their conversations as well.

Acacia's menu features basic elements styled in their special way. Sea trout, grouper, rockfish, tuna, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and cannelloni were all offered along with some tempting starters. I chose the roasted sweet potato soup ($5.25) and found it to be a steamy purée with a nice, delicate flavor. Bottomless Pitt ordered the confit of duck leg appetizer ($8.75) that was so substantial and delicious that it could well have been an entrée. It was served with homemade gnocchi, sautéed apples and brown-butter balsamic sauce: fabulous. Craving something green, we opted to share a romaine salad ($6.95) and were happy with the fresh greens, homemade croutons and grated Parmesan that topped them.

My dinner of braised shank of lamb, topped with rosemary sauce and served pink and sliced atop garlic mashed potatoes ($21.95), was a true treat. The lamb was tender, and although our waitress had not asked me how I'd like it prepared, it was exactly as I would have ordered it. The portion was perfect as well — I was pleasantly full at the finish. B.P. adored his grouper ($20.75) as much as I loved my lamb. Served with grilled asparagus, red-wine onions and roasted fingerling potatoes, the generous portion of fish was moist and flaky.

Since we hadn't been packed full with dinner, we ordered dessert. B.P. had blackberry clafoutis, a mini-cakelike pastry, and I had crŠme br–lée — both were sweet endings for an all-round quality dinner.

Acacia is, for most, a special occasion kind of place. With entrées priced in the high teens and 20s, most of us could not afford to make it a regular hangout, especially when you throw in appetizers and wine. But it is, without a doubt, worthy of visiting as often as possible. For creativity of preparation, attentiveness of service and depth of flavor, this is one of Richmond's culinary gems.

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