Photo by Brittany Claud
The middle of the James River might seem like an unlikely place for a sleek, technology-focused restaurant to originate, but that's where Adam Bell came up with the idea for S@mple, which opened in Richmond's Uptown neighborhood in January.
Bell says he developed the concept while fishing near Rocketts Landing. When he heard that Sprout, the locavore eatery at 1 N. Morris St., less than a block from his ALB Tech computer-repair and Web-design business, would be closing, he thought it might be the right time and place to put his plan into action and help "turn Uptown into the new hot spot." Those who visited Sprout will see significant changes in the space, which was gutted during the renovation to create a more modern feel with blacks, whites and grays enhanced by metalwork and blue lighting. Bell wanted a sophisticated setting with the kind of food and service that would appeal to a business crowd.
S@mple's customers have the option of renting an iPad 2 or one of three computer kiosks for $5 an hour, and servers use an iPod touch to send orders directly to the kitchen or bar. Starting this month, computer classes will be offered at lunchtime.
The menu, developed by head chef Todd Butler, is built around small plates. Bell found Butler, who was living in Philadelphia, on Craigslist. He grew up in Norfolk and was looking to move back to Virginia, where he has family. About 25 years ago, Butler got his start in the restaurant business in Richmond, working at Third Street Diner and then Du Jour, a French bistro. At first, it was just a way to earn money during college, but while at Du Jour, Butler says, "I began to realize there's an art to it." Since then, he has expanded his repertoire at restaurants in San Francisco (such as LuLu and Rose Pistola), as well as in France and Finland.
Butler describes his style of cuisine as coastal Mediterranean, favoring seafood and bold flavors. At S@mple, he's also working in Asian and American dishes. His menu favorites include a crab-and-brie Panini and his signature cinnamon doughnut holes. Bell also lists as highlights the mushroom escabèche, Shanghai shrimp and fried rice, and the "fraternal twin" burgers: one with blue-cheese fondue and thick-cut bacon and the other with a fried egg and onion rings.