Acacia is closing on New Year's Eve. Its 10-year run in Carytown has been the city's most-heralded in fine dining, not just in the local press, but also in Food & Wine magazine, which anointed Dale Reitzer one of the country's best new chefs only a couple of years after he opened the place. That's when business exploded fivefold, and when a reputation became important in a city where few chefs are known by name.
Reitzer, who shares the business with his wife, Aline, says it's time to freshen things with a new location, a kitchen designed to his specifications, and a view that will include water. Details aren't complete, so he doesn't want to jinx a deal in progress, but it's not a secret that he's one of at least three local chefs looking to Rocketts Landing as the next step in destination dining.
Reitzer can barely conceal his excitement about the prospect, even though life has been complicated lately with lawyer and real estate meetings, charity work and the usual juggling act involving two young children, private parties for a few select clients, and scheduled time for workouts and early family dinners before more hours at the stove. After filleting halibut and black sea bass for dinner service one recent night, he paused to consider the passion that has become his business.
Style: Does having name recognition mean you've always got customers?
Reitzer: I fight for it every day. With all the accolades I've gotten, I always wonder -- in another city, would I be busier? There are nights in this town when everyone is slow. Nothing's a given. You can have great, loyal customers and people assume you're just cranking all the time, but you have to work your business all the time and pay attention to details every day. When we opened, I never thought we'd have the success we've got. I just expected it to be a neighborhood restaurant.
How will the new restaurant be different from the Carytown version?
Right now we're focusing on maybe two businesses. One is Acacia and the other would be more casual, to rethink Six Burner in a sense [the Fan District café that Reitzer created and subsequently sold], not exactly but something like that. In Carytown, the big stairs and the big doors tended to scare some people off. We don't want a place that people only come for special occasions. I'm a person who likes the water, and to have a contained restaurant and to be able to control the environmental factors will be great. With a new kitchen, I can take my food to another level, with it being less work that's also cleaner and safer. We'll do more composed dishes, and do a lunch menu that's more similar to dinner.
You're known for working the stove even when you don't have to.
I'm not afraid of work. Doing the job is what drives me. I'm passionate about food, and I still work service every night. How many other owners are expediting? I'm looking at the fish and getting excited because I know whoever orders it tonight is going to love it. These fresh fish, these local vegetables, they're just telling you what to do with them. And now that fall's approaching, we're getting pumped for braising veal cheeks and lamb shanks, doing duck confit. I'm not taking shortcuts with the food.
As you train new young chefs, are you sorry to see them move on?
I've been pretty lucky to have some guys with me for five years. I'd love for all my cooks to be able to travel and work at different restaurants in other places. It's kind of incestuous to work for five different places in the same city. When I hire somebody, I'm not hiring a cook, I'm training a chef. It's not only about cooking, it's about how you treat your delivery drivers. You don't go out drinking and bad-mouth other restaurants. You show respect, you act professional. I tell them how I set up my books and get permits, so when they want to take that step on their own, it's easier for them. It's an all-around education, not a one-mentality education.
Did you ever regret choosing this career?
Maybe in the beginning I had second thoughts. But when I stepped away or took time off, I missed it. This is what I do, my passion. Even on my days off, we're eating at other restaurants, going to markets, looking at magazines and designs. It's a lifestyle that I've accepted. And we've been lucky enough to immerse ourselves in it. Running a restaurant, you get to do everything the business aspect, the creative aspect, working with the food, finding product, interacting with the fishermen and farmers and the purveyors. It's ballet and football, a full-contact sport where you have to have finesse. S