1 of 6
Beef tartare served with quail egg and a benne seed cracker. (Photo by Chet Strange)
2 of 6
Constellation mural (photo by Chet Strange)
3 of 6
Smoked chicken wings with tequila honey sauce, pickled jalapeños and pistachio (photo by Chet Strange)
4 of 6
Pau Hana cocktail (photo by Chet Strange)
5 of 6
Chef Owen Lane (Photo by Chet Strange)
6 of 6
Chipotle fig-roasted duck breast with a granola crunch and basil purée (photo by Chet Strange)
That bar. It’s a black, glimmering heart, tucked deep within the restaurant and splashed with mirrors and low lighting. The bartender plucks liquor bottles from a piano’s carcass; the space seems less like a room and more like an assemblage of shadowy nooks woven together. It’s like a user-friendly Black Lodge, the brooding setting imagined by David Lynch, and this Richmond adaptation instantly became one of my favorite bars in the city.
We’ll wind our way up and out of the bar slowly, with food as our guide. First, we need to find our wings: smoked wings, doused in tequila honey sauce, speckled with crushed pistachios, studded with jalapeño emeralds. Your tongue registers a syrupy tequila-laced sweetness, which lingers and blends with the brined chicken, and it really crescendos into an ambrosial bite when you follow it all up with an unusually sweet-hot, house-pickled jalapeño. Ding ding! Perfect wings. Grab a Road to Nowhere to wash them down: tea-infused gin, coconut soda, kaffir lime leaf. We can’t leave the bar just yet, though; someone nearby just ordered the burger, and its juicy shine caught our eye. Cheddar and Thousand Island are layered with the fresh, sweet crunch of pickled onions on a brazenly flavorful burger, whose drippings soak just deep enough into the bottom of the bun. And, of course, there’s a pile of deeply golden fries, piping hot. Your salt-inspired thirst can be quenched nicely with the citrusy, egg white-fizzed Pau Hana.
Stepping out into the lower dining room so elegantly appointed with hand-painted constellations (and yes, they’re adding the new Bowie one), we’ll get something light and beautiful. The clear winner here is the butternut squash and beet salad, ornamented with pea shoots, delicate cuts of apple and a sprinkling of bitter chocolate crumbs. It’s all evenly, and not overly, dressed in a tangy honey vinaigrette; runner-up is the roasted acorn squash, halved and filled with cranberry, barley and goat cheese, drizzled with balsamic molasses. I typically avoid things like acorn squash in restaurants — I’m scarred by countless horribly bland versions from when I was vegetarian — but I sampled this one and found layers of deep, honey-toned, vegetal flavor.
OK. We’ve finished our intimate, quiet conversation. We’ll head back to the main-floor dining room where it’s a bit brighter and bustling. Duck legs with a jalapeño tamale; skate tacos; and a baby back rib sandwich should round out our evening. Again, the space sets the stage nicely: Bouquets of feathers and cotton bolls get you in the mood for some wild game — a specialty of chef Owen Lane, formerly of The Magpie. The duck legs are tender and have a nice, sticky caramelization on the skin, and the tamale beneath blends well, flavor-wise, though it could be more textured — it’s very, very smooth, perhaps due to over-ground masa. Fried skate is also a textural miss, making for an unpleasantly stringy, chewy bite, but the accompanying taco accoutrements add freshness. The rib sandwich bites better, with its smoky barbecue sauce and caramelized onion, although again, the soft-on-soft textures could be better served by a harder crust on the meat or some other crackly component.
A few last requests from the bar also leave something to be desired. Some of the drinks come out heavy-handedly mixed with punchy elements like syrups and bitters. There’s a clear lack of balance in the Charles De Mar, a lemony, rosemary-infused moonshine and prosecco combo, and the DeYoung, which features tequila, lime, a white grape shrub and salt.
All things considered, the creative, game-heavy menu is good. The drinks are good enough. The atmosphere puts sex on a plate. So many spots in Richmond miss the opportunity to make this kind of enchantment happen, but for me and my dining-out dollar, it’s a make-or-break issue. So when I get to drink in the Black Lodge and eat amongst the stars, you can bet I’ll be doing so as frequently as possible.
3.5 out of 4 forks
700 E. Broad St., 643-2632
Hours: Monday: 4 to 10 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday: 4 to 10:30 p.m.
Prices: $4 to $27