Thursday, September 28, 2023 Sep 28, 2023
84° F Dallas, TX
Food & Drink

Quarter Acre is Dallas’ Newest Neighborhood Bistro with a New Zealand Twist

The New Zealander chef, Toby Archibald, has left Georgie to open his own “bistro with a twist” on Lower Greenville. It’s a terrific addition to a bustling food neighborhood.
By | |Photography By Brittany Conerly
smoked beef tartare Quarter Acre
Wisp Campaign: Chef Toby Archibald’s dramatic yet subtle starters include smoked beef tartare. Brittany Connerly

There is a common genre of restaurant in some American cities, less popular in our parts, that I call the “bistro with a twist.” Descriptions of these spots usually begin, “On the surface, it looks like another French-inspired neighborhood bistro. But ​actually …”​ followed by a surprise revelation: maybe that the chef is from Uruguay, every dish contains olives, or there’s a secret corn dog menu.

Until now, Dallas’ leading bistro with a twist was Georgie by Curtis Stone, an Australian celebrity-owned bistro-steakhouse hybrid opened under the watchful eye of New Zealand-born chef Toby Archibald. Now, though, we have Quarter Acre, a Greenville Avenue restaurant with its own fascinating take on the genre. The chef, once again, is Archibald. But this time, he’s executing his own personal, thoughtful menu as owner.

Quarter Acre even looks distinctive. Once the bustling Southern restaurant Rapscallion, the space is now a calming place to be. The dining room’s muted greens, wooden frames, and soft lighting have the feel of a forest patio. An ingenious series of green panels in front of the white brick walls absorbs sound and makes the space feel airy. Round tables in the center of the restaurant are partially cradled by soft, upholstered banquettes and lit by chandeliers made from oyster shells. Some of the accompanying chairs have enormous, furry white throws draped over the backs.

Archibald’s food, soft-spoken but eloquent, is full of small twists on classics. Let’s hope he can win over a city that is not known for appreciating subtlety.

For one thing, Dallasites might expect more of his native New Zealand. True, that country’s fish and wines have made the trip for this menu. But Archibald’s personality shines in smaller ways: his fondness for unusual ingredients such as celeriac and sea vegetables, his list of quirky one-bite “snacks,” and the way he uses sweetness on a plate. Archibald says that he likes to add a touch of sweet the same way that many other chefs use lemon juice or spice, as a finishing flavor to complete a dish.

The result is a kitchen with a distinctive personality. This starts with those one-bite snacks. So far I’ve tried smoked sablefish and caviar on a chip; a humongous grilled mussel with Parmesan crumble; a wagyu meatball that makes for an improbable finger food with a chile-lime dipping broth; and a fried mushroom croquette made with goat cheese and panko, like a savory goat mozzarella stick.

Sea vegetables make their first appearance on the bed of an appetizer of lamb belly. The belly itself is rolled, sliced, cooked until ultra tender, and dotted with a gently spiced romesco sauce. It’s an endearing bite, although the lamb doesn’t need to be served on a stick. (We know because one of ours fell off before it arrived.)

The most striking starter, visually, is the fluffy white cloud of kingfish ceviche. Diced fish is hidden below that cloud, which is made with coconut milk and flavored with lime. Plunge your spoon to the bottom, and you’ll also find a sweet chile jam that rounds out the tropical flavors.

Clams are steamed and served in their broth, which is vivid green from watercress and flavored with shallots, garlic, and wine. The best part: slices of sourdough are hidden under the clams, and they soak up all that gorgeous sauce. Once you’ve finished your seafood, you can tear into bright green slices of bread.

Slammin’ Salmon: Hot-smoked salmon; the cozy dining room; pastry chef Celina Villanueva; a wagyu meatball “snack.”

Archibald’s bread is a personal point of pride; his sourdough starter is seven years old. If you haven’t ordered clams, you’ll still enjoy a basket of herb-and-oat sourdough, with butter imported from New Zealand.

Then, to bring things back to Texas, you might order beef tartare. The beef is smoked; Archibald says it’s his attempt to bring Texas barbecue into a bistro setting. To me, it’s a little more like a trip to a good deli, but I still completely enjoyed it. After the smoke blows off, diners are left with a plate where sweet black mustard, raw and crisply fried shallots, and pickled pearl onions are key players.

Unusually, the best main courses are the ones that sound the least glamorous. I was totally taken with smoky roasted chicken that takes full advantage of Quarter Acre’s grill, plated with sunchokes, crispy chip-like grilled kale, and a creamy miso-citrus sauce. We also loved crisp-edged ricotta gnudi, plated with pulled ham hock and pickled black walnut slices. If you like pillowy gnocchi, gnudi are their bigger, even cheesier cousins.

The charred carrot both is and is not what it sounds like. Yes, it’s a great big carrot as a main course. But it’s also a salad, which on our visit included watercress, herbs, and pomegranate seeds. The carrot—which has been chargrilled, slow-roasted, and then lopped into chunks—is surprisingly soft. When I first took a knife to a piece, the knife pushed the flesh down instead of cutting it. The salad is accompanied by two sauces—spiced yogurt and a sweet maple gastrique.

Quarter Acre’s short rib arrives sliced like a steak, fabulously tender and with an interesting red wine jus finished with thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Alongside it are a fluffy cloud of aerated potatoes and a clutch of roasted mushrooms, pleasingly tart from a sherry vinegar marinade. With such rich meat, acidic veg is a great contrast.

But the iconic main course, the one that’s certain to enter the Dallas canon, is hot-smoked salmon. The salmon is sustainably farmed in Big Glory Bay, off the small island of Rakiura (Stewart Island), at the southernmost tip of New Zealand. It’s so far south that the waters are just 54 degrees, slowing the salmon’s growth.

When the salmon hits the table, it’s so tender and soft that the result is hard to believe. Yet Archibald’s team doesn’t use trickery. They season and gently smoke it for about 10 minutes—and that’s it. For wood shavings, the kitchen is repurposing untreated rough-sawn maple from the dining room’s remodeling. The smoke flavor is delicate but clear. And the accompanying vegetables are delightful: chargrilled baby turnips, lettuce, and sea vegetables, including sea lettuce. Croutons and shallot cream complete the plate, which resembles an autumnal painting of dark greens and salmon pink.

The iconic main course certain to enter the Dallas canon is hot-smoked salmon.

We’ve ordered the salmon three times, and there’s only one possible hiccup: sand or other grit in the sea lettuce. One of my guests got several mouthfuls and even stopped at one point to confirm she hadn’t chipped a tooth. It can kill the mood, but it’s also simple for the kitchen to fix. 

At dessert, another personality shines, that of pastry chef Celina Villanueva. Her Filipina American heritage informs the tropical flavors and Asian ingredients on many of her plates. Expect jackfruit and plantains in a snazzy mille-feuille, or grapefruit in a long, skinny cremeux plated on top of a sable cookie and served with tugs of cotton candy. Southern hemisphere nostalgia foods such as Tim Tams might appear. The only miss we’ve encountered was a sticky toffee pudding that came out squishy and unevenly spiced.

If the food sounds comforting and clever without being too radical, that’s Quarter Acre’s intention. In that way, it’s a perfect match for the elegant setting. Happily, the drinks program works the same way. A small list of specialty cocktails leaves the focus on wines, particularly New Zealand imports. One night, we relaxed into a superb bottle of pinot noir from te Pā Wines, which is Maori-owned. On another, we sampled a delicate, aromatic 2016 pinot from Peregrine.

With imported wine in hand, some customers might wonder why Quarter Acre is not more New Zealand-ish. Archibald avoids citing his home country in describing his restaurant. The walls aren’t decorated with paintings of frolicking kiwi birds. The bathrooms don’t have posters of the national rugby team, the All Blacks, doing their haka dance. The servers are not dressed like hobbits.

For many Americans, this may come as a surprise. We have become conditioned to restaurants evoking other places through superficiality. Our English-style pubs look like pubs, even as they blare classic rock and show basketball games. Many Italian restaurants serve pastiche food within elaborately stuccoed walls. Quarter Acre’s heritage lives in its values, not its veneer. The New Zealand spirit is deep down at the center of the enterprise: the sustainably raised seafood, the unpretentious snacks and desserts, the we’re-all-friends-here hospitality.

It will be interesting to see if Dallas falls for a restaurant where the best qualities are also the subtlest. Quarter Acre deserves the attention. Just in case, a haka poster in the bathroom couldn’t hurt. 

This story originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine with the headline, “A Kiwi Takes Flight. Write to [email protected].


Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

View Profile
Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

Related Articles

The Doc

New EarBurner Podcast: The D.O.C. Opens Up About His Life and His Hopes for Dallas

One of the most important artists in hip-hop history is a Dallasite. He’s found God, plans to launch Death Row South, and is ready to share his life story in a new documentary. And this podcast.
Local News

Fifth Circuit Allows Ruel Hamilton His Freedom Until It Decides on His Appeal

Dallas real estate developer Ruel Hamilton was convicted of bribery in 2021 and sentenced to eight years in prison, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to delay his sentence until it rules on his case.