When word spread that Toby Archibald, a chef who’d formerly worked at Bullion and Georgie by Curtis Stone, would be opening a restaurant inspired by his New Zealand heritage, I wondered what that might mean. What does New Zealand cuisine look like, and how does that country’s style translate when its food is served in flat, sunny Texas?
Quarter Acre opened Dec. 30, and I couldn’t resist visiting in its first week to learn more. This is a first bite, not a formal review; we’ll have that in the spring or summer. But for now, here’s the important news: there’s no other restaurant in Dallas quite like Quarter Acre. This is already a distinctive, interesting place with its own point of view.
You’ll encounter unusual ingredients at Quarter Acre. You’ll have the opportunity to explore wines from New Zealand and Australia. Desserts are influenced by flavors from Oceania and Southeast Asia. And then there’s Archibald’s own personal sensibility, a palate that enjoys smoke, sweetness, citrus, and seafood.
“I looked around the city and thought, what can I bring?” Archibald says. “I’m from New Zealand. Play the cards you’re dealt. I like to cook slightly differently, so why not? I think it would just be silly of me to open something that was already here. That’s not who I am. I’m not from here. We want to be a little bit different.”
But Archibald cautions that he does not want diners to think of Quarter Acre as an explicitly New Zealander restaurant. Yes, ingredient choices and the gorgeous nature-inspired atmosphere pay tribute to his homeland, but it’s not exactly a themed spot. To that forest-like dining room, with its soft green and cream tones, the restaurant adds a layer of Texas spirit. Rapscallion, the southern spot that used to occupy this space, lives on in the presence of its wood-fired grill, which Archibald uses at every opportunity.
“One of the things I didn’t want people to think about the restaurant was, ‘we are a New Zealand restaurant,’” he explains. “We have like three things that are ours [as a nation]. One of them’s fish and chips, and you’d probably say that’s British. One of them’s pavlova and the Australians claim that. And one’s roast lamb, and that’s a little bit British too. But we have a way of cooking and dining down there. We’re such a new country in relative terms. We embrace lots of cultures. We are really close to southeast Asia, we have a large population from India and Pakistan, and a lot of that finds its way into our cuisine.”
Those influences and the country’s fruit-growing culture contribute to his style. But Archibald’s own journey also shows, including a smokey beef tartare inspired by Texas barbecue. When he moved to Dallas and feasted on barbecue, he says he began to wonder how he could sneak smoked brisket onto a French-style fine dining menu. The answer is in Quarter Acre’s smoked tartare, which he originally served at Georgie (and which, full disclosure, I haven’t tried yet).
On our first-week visit, my table got a clear sense of Archibald’s culinary style. Our course through the menu was almost entirely based on seafood: a snack of smoked sablefish and caviar on house-made potato chips, seared grouper paired with sea beans and grilled cauliflower, and hot smoked salmon with croutons, turnips, sea lettuce, slivers of Buddha’s hand, and shallot cream. (Sea lettuce is what it sounds like: a seaweed that’s a lot like lettuce. Buddha’s hand is a citrus fruit that gets its name from its memorable shape; the pith reaches out like a series of fingers.)
We also sampled an appetizer featuring roasted celeriac. Celeriac, or celery root, is one of the most underrated vegetables out there. Since celeriac superfan Sharon Hage closed York Street in 2010, its appearances on Dallas menus have been tragically rare: in a salad at Wayward Sons, roasted with meat at Bullion. Archibald complements the cooked root with a sweet hazelnut sauce and a salad-like tangle of paper-thin strips of celeriac and its more familiar offshoot, regular celery.
Another distinctive menu feature—and if you feel like I’m just listing interesting facts about Quarter Acre now, maybe that’s your sign to book a table—is the short list of two-bite “snacks” to start your meal for $3-5 each. Mini snacks are now officially a Dallas trend, with Quarter Acre joining Rye and El Carlos Elegante. I’m all in favor. They’re fun.
“They’re really popular,” Archibald says, in case any other restaurateurs want to join the snack party. “I didn’t anticipate it being as popular as it has.”
Yet another personal touch: the “lolly bag.” The tiny two-bite dessert snacks that often arrive at the end of a high-end dinner are served here in tribute to the bags of sweets New Zealand kids get at their neighborhoods’ corner shops. Quarter Acre’s lollies are tastes of Archibald’s childhood: Russian fudge (“it has absolutely nothing to do with Russia,” our server added) and miniature Neenish tarts, lemon tarts topped with two-toned icing. (I’ll link to the Wikipedia page for Neenish tarts because I think the photo and caption are very funny.)
The dessert menu, by the way, lets you get to know a culinary voice aside from Archibald’s. Pastry chef Celina Villanueva’s desserts often reflect her Filipina heritage, with touches of tropical fruit and, right now, an ube (purple yam) ice cream.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for Quarter Acre, as the seasons change and the restaurant establishes itself on Greenville. The kitchen and service staff are already impressively dialed in, and Archibald’s vision and culinary style are very clear. Those are good signs. But there’s more to come: enormous, dinosaur-like chunks of beef rest in a dry-aging cabinet, waiting for their moment. A patio will debut in springtime. More greenery will arrive indoors and out.
And the restaurant hasn’t put up a sign yet. It’s nice to visit a new place that has its priorities straight. Get the customer experience right from the first day, and you can put up a sign later.
Quarter Acre, 2023 Greenville Ave., Ste. 110