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The Magpie. Photo by Isaac Harrell
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The Blue Goat's Polenta-stuffed bobwhite quail. Photo by James DIckinson
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Arcadia’s filet of tenderloin. Photo by Adam Ewing
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Tagreed and Mahmoud Jubran and Mahmoud’s brother, chef Kal Jubran. Photo by Sarah Walor
Despite the struggling economy, or perhaps because of it, an astonishing number of really good new restaurants opened last year (with more getting ready to join the scene as the deadline approached for this issue), including a significant number in underserved neighborhoods. Successfully established restaurateurs such as the Giavos/Dikos family, Kendra Feather, Todd Manley, Jason Alley, Ry Marchant, Paolo Randazzo and Chris Tsui expanded with excellent results, while respected chefs, caterers and promising newcomers launched their own ventures. As writer Piet E. Jones notes, "There seems to be a recognition that when people are going to go out to eat, it needs to be both good and worth the money." We believe that the 15 restaurants featured in this section meet both criteria in spades.
Dining panel included Chad Anderson, Kate Andrews, Lee Chaharyn, Tina Eshleman, Robin Farmer, Brandon Fox, Martin Gravely, Piet E. Jones, Hollister Lindley, Megan Marconyak, Karen Cauthen Miller, Kendra Bailey Morris, Matt Sadler, Paul Spicer and Susan Winiecki
The Blue Goat
5710 Grove Ave., 288-8875
The Blue Goat has everything going for it: a first-class chef, a great location, a stunning interior, lots of parking, locally sourced food, a great wine list and a fresh ambiance. Once you're cheerfully greeted at the door, sit down and admire the seasonal menu. Appetizers (Nibble), small plates (Graze) and larger plates (Feed) make it easy to satisfy varying appetites. Executive chef Kevin LaCivita combines flavors, textures and talent.
At lunch, you'll be hard-pressed to bypass the braised-goat baguette. The braising stock must be made by the chef, because the flavor and salt levels are spot-on. The dinner choices we've tried have all succeeded, and nightly specials shine, including a perfectly seasoned and cooked-to-order steak. And the chocolate pâte is the consummate meal ender for any sweet tooth.
12506 River Road, 784-4800
If you needed a reason to go to Portico, go because it is gorgeous. The small cottage, the sprawling gardens, the country surroundings and the large, heated patio all add up to make this one of the most picturesque restaurants in the Richmond region. And for all its beauty, Portico is not stuffy or pricey. Owner Paolo Randazzo was intentional in making a place that could service a variety of dining needs in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. One side of the menu is full of burgers, salads and pizza, while the other side boasts some of the Italian recipes that Randazzo made famous at his former restaurant, Franco's, such as eggplant puttanesca and seafood cannelloni. It doesn't matter whether you have a sandwich or roasted lamb, the quality of the food matches the splendor of the location.
3061 Lauderdale Drive, 249-4515
Second chances are a great thing. After originally opening as The White Anchovie and experiencing a few hiccups, Todd Manley, chef-owner of two other Pescados restaurants (Midlothian and China Street), transformed his newest seafood palace into Ironfish. Applying the motto of "fresh fish and local farms by Pescados," he has succeeded in bringing his culinary philosophy to Short Pump.
The fresh squid is a sensational starter. Still glistening from its hot oil bath, the tender morsels kissed lightly with cornmeal are tossed with pickled banana peppers and shallots. A squirt of lemon juice adds pizzazz. Other standouts are the crispy whole branzino and big, fat, perfectly seared scallops. Key lime pie with mango whipped cream is a sublime taste of the tropics.
The low-key décor is serene and somewhat minimalist, but with flashes of whimsy, such as the namesake iron fish that hangs near the bar. A large spherical light fixture covered in metal waves just dares you to touch it — and many do.
1301 W. Leigh St., 269-0023
At Richmond restaurants such as Helen's, The Track and Stronghill Dining Co., chef Owen Lane garnered a reputation for dishes with interesting ingredients and unusual combinations. The menu at his new venture, The Magpie, opened with fiancée Tiffany Gellner, doesn't disappoint. Take the familiar corn dog. Re-imagined with a lobster tail instead of a hot dog, Lane transforms a very familiar taste into a tasty indulgence. House-made sausage changes daily and utilizes such diverse meats as wild boar or rabbit to great effect. Not to miss among the entrées (when it's available) is the antelope. Seared in cast iron, this lean game meat pairs beautifully with its accompanying rosemary-currant chutney. Another win for chef Lane.
1700 E. Main St., 417-4005
The second floor of Arcadia is where you want to dine. Within the glow of Main Street Station's clock tower and the flow of light from the busy street below, you are transported to a larger city (even though you can find free parking a block away). Soups are the stars of the appetizers, with Chef Matthew Tlusty's signature carrot-and-dill blend and a luscious sweet Texas onion soup sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. The basket of crusty bread that arrives at the table is a delicious complement. The focal point of the entrées is the Braveheart steak selection, including a 7-ounce filet that is a perfect size, allowing you to indulge in other small plates such as the tender braised chicken thighs with ricotta spaetzle, beet oil and basil gremolata, or sides like the rosemary-roasted Brussels sprouts. Don't miss the single-serving pear tarte tatin, though we'd recommend a switch from eggnog to vanilla gelato.
Mansion Five 26
536 N. Second St., 308-2913
There is often a stereotype of good Southern restaurants being a little rundown or a bit homely, but with great traditional comfort food. Mansion Five 26 breaks that mold and serves great Southern comfort food, updated with some modern twists, in an elegantly restored Jackson Ward mansion. Many dishes, like the meatloaf or pulled pork, are cooked low and slow, creating the truly rich flavors only found in food that's been prepared with a little patience. Crab cakes, a regional favorite, get a modern punch with sriracha mayo, adding some heat to an otherwise mild dish. And Mansion Five 26's Crispy Fried Chicken and Waffles is a top-notch version of this Southern classic.
623 N. 25th St., 658-1935
A meal at the Roosevelt can be many things: It is playful for anyone enamored of the Kentucky Fried Quail and the Buttermilk Panna Cotta served in the mini Mason jar. It is comfort food for others who choose to indulge in the bacon cheeseburger and Coca-Cola cake. It is creative for those who want Southern-style poutine or barbecued pigs' tails. It also serves as a familiar watering hole, with a rail full of small-batch spirits and craft beers properly served by a bartender with an inventive mindset. The Roosevelt and its owners, Lee Gregory and Kendra Feather, have created a place with widespread appeal (as evidenced by their crowded dining room) while maintaining a personal touch.
106 N. Seventh St., 771-1665
What a find! A full-service Middle Eastern restaurant in downtown Richmond. Jerusalem, on North Seventh Street, has an all-Arabic-food menu with many choices and daily specials. There are two other locations in Northern Virginia, but we have lucked out. They make all their own fatayer (meat, cheese or spinach pies), and the makluba served at lunch is amazing: A spiced rice casserole with vegetables, the plate features a braised lamb shank that doesn't need a knife. The service is attentive and pleasant, and the Ladies Fingers dessert, a rolled baklava, was just sweet enough without being cloying. We'd recomend taking a group so you can try everything this little gem has to offer.
1012 Lafayette St., 358-2011
Stella Dikos, who opened the first Stella's in Richmond in 1983 with her husband (the late Stavros "Steve" Dikos), has rolled up her sleeves and is back in the kitchen again after a five-year breather, with the help of daughter Katrina and son-in-law Johnny Giavos, this time in her most stylish and fine-tuned dining experience to date. Back on the menu are the classics, such as Stella's filet mignon, grilled and served with sherry-dijon crab cream; her jumbo lump crab cakes; and Stella's No. 5 Pasta, baked with feta, marinara or meat sauce. Comfort foods of Greece, like moussaka, of course take center stage, giving Richmonders a taste of dishes traditionally served in Greek homes, the kind made with love. Reservations need to be made well in advance, but the latest and greatest Stella's is worth the wait.
416 E. Grace St., 780-0416
If you're a grazer who loves different textures, flavors and the fun of lots of choices, the new downtown restaurant Pasture is the perfect place. It has been a long time since we looked at a menu and wanted all of it. Broken into nibbles, cold plates, hot plates and desserts, it's a pleasure just to read. Savoring some very reasonably priced Tempranillo, we finally decided on the pork rillettes to begin. Potted pork at its purest, porkiest self, this serving came in its own little canning jar with toast and a quince-mustard mixture that melded perfectly. Next, we sampled clams with cabbage, bacon, lemon and butter that were inspired. The Candy Bar dessert was like a chocolate-covered salt caramel. Complemented by smart service and a hip vibe, Pasture brings a shot of life to a fairly desolate downtown block.
3325 W. Cary St., 355-2200
The paint may barely be dry, but new breakfast/lunch eatery C Street, in Acacia's old spot in the heart of Carytown, is getting some positive buzz around town. Opened by Jeffery Ferris and Graham Reeves of Hazel Ruth Fine Catering, C Street takes lunch in an upscale direction. One taste of the beautifully plated white-bean Tuscan soup, dressed with wilted kale and San Miniato sausage, and you'll stop checking your smart phone for calls to return to the office. Salads and sandwiches have a slight Asian influence that keeps the flavors bright in items like the Thai pork burger topped with napa cabbage, while entrées keep it simple and elegant, as with the daily fish (mahi mahi during one visit), crusted in potato and served with braised fennel.
Mediterranean Brick Oven
2557 Sheila Lane, 330-2911
A warm smile greets you as you are enveloped in an exotic aroma upon entering the Mediterranean Brick Oven. Just a quick turn off Forest Hill Avenue brings you to a wonderful lunch experience.
The pizza here is great for the less adventuresome, but don't pass by the best falafel in town. All of the sides are good, the kebabs are perfectly cooked and the kibbeh is a showstopper (think ground meat and spices fried with a crispy crust).
You can't go wrong with any of the carefully crafted Middle Eastern food. Family ownership and traditional cooking make this a sure-fire winner.
327 N. Second St., 343-2009
Downtown's favorite Thai Cabin food carts, operated by Michael and Dana Ng, now offer a dine-in option at prime corner real estate along Second Street in Jackson Ward. Once a home base to prepare goodies for their food carts, Thai Corner provides a chance for Richmonders to sit down during their lunch break and enjoy classic Thai and Japanese plates such as hibachi shrimp (above), pad thai, crispy fish and grilled chicken glazed in a house teriyaki sauce.
La Parisienne Bistro & Cafe
200 S. 10th St., 225-0225
Entering La Parisienne, you can't help but feel you've walked into just another corporate eatery in a downtown office building. Fortunately, the food coming out of the kitchen is anything but corporate. From the Belgian fries, twice cooked for extra crispiness, to the croque monsieur (shown at right: grilled ham and Gruyère with a broiled topping of béchamel), the menu exudes continental bistro and hits it all perfectly. Close your eyes and bite into the saucisson beurre, a crusty baguette stuffed with French salami and butter with cornichons (tart pickles made from gherkin cucumbers), listen to the piped-in French pop music and you might forget that you're in downtown Richmond.
Lavender's Café *
119 E. Main St. , 277-4142
When you eat at Lavender's, it feels a little like you're sitting in chef/caterer Norman Jordan's living room while he prepares your meal. He may not always have the same dishes available, but be assured that whatever he's cooking is going to be good. When we visited, it was a supremely satisfying, creamy crab chowder seasoned with sherry, a hint of nutmeg and a little cayenne pepper for kick. Another highlight was jambalaya (shown at left) loaded with shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken and rice, accompanied by a flavorful broth. To complete the experience, order one of the gourmet teas, served in a fancy cup.
* Lavender's is currently closed to dine-in customers , though it's still taking catering, online and phone orders for delivery. Chef/owner Norman Jordan hopes to reopen the dining room soon.