Sunday, June 11, 2006

Eating on Boulevard

For a couple years I've been hearing about Buz and Ned's Barbeque - how it's the best barbeque in Richmond, how I just have to go, etc. I'm no expert, although I know I've been treated to good barbeque from my dad's grill as well as authentic North Carolina style on a few occasions. However, I have to be in the right mood for it, so I hadn't gone it to Buz and Ned's until last Saturday.

My first experience there was also my first barbeque experience in Richmond, and I don't think I need to look any further. For $7.50 I got two huge pork barbeque sandwiches and two side dishes. The meal was more than enough for two people, and the meat was smoky and wonderfully tender. When we ordered we had the option of hot sauce and cole slaw on the sandwiches, and I asked for both. The result was a delightful combination of saucy pork, crunchy slaw and Crystal hot sauce, which is flavorful and not overpowering. Another favorable aspect of the sandwiches were the buns, which were soft but didn't fall apart underneath the heavy meat.

Our side dishes were macaroni and cheese and baked beans. The beans were cooked with bacon, which gave them a savory undertone of smoke, although I was more interested in the mac and cheese. Buz and Ned's version wasn't too cheesy, but it was cooked casserole-style and turned out to be a great accompaniment to the sandwiches. The mild saltiness of the cheese and the mild pasta flavor was a nice way to break up bites of pork barbeque.

I loved the food at Buz and Ned's, but it was also fun to eat on wooden picnic tables outside, right on Boulevard, underneath the huge billboard sign pointing to the building. They recently added indoor seating, although I think everyone has to order from a counter in the front before they sit down. Barbeque isn't about decor or atmosphere, so I thought that everything about Buz and Ned's was appropriate. I'll be happy to eat there with disposable silverware, off plastic trays, anytime I have a craving for barbeque.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fan Dining: Plan B

Thursday night I tried to go to dinner at 3 Monkeys (see "Brunch in the Fan") around 7:45, but I was too hungry for the thirty-five minute wait. As we walked down the ramp and on Main Street, my companion and I tried to figure out why 3 Monkeys is such a popular place. Yes, the food is good, and yes, it's still only been open for a couple years , but there are a lot of other (possibly better) options in the Fan. We moseyed toward Joe's Inn for a minute or so until we realized that we could branch out and eat somewhere different. One such option is The White Dog (not to be mistaken for The White Dog Cafe in Philly), which is a couple blocks east of 3 Monkeys on Main. Located in a partially underground corner building, its appearance echoes its reputation as one of the neighborhood's most underrated eateries, despite loyal customers and several awards.

I had been to the White Dog three times during college, and my last visit wasn't too recent, so I was excited to go back. The food is always great, and the atmosphere strikes me every time I walk down the steps into the narrow building. From the entryway, while you peruse the specials on the chalkboard and wait to be seated, you can just see the dimly lit, wooden bar and a row of booths along the right wall. Colorful paintings by a local artist line the wall above the booths, and small candles on the tables give off just enough light to highlight the art. There is a certain sophistication in the restaurant's simplicity, and the food is also casual but impressive.

Our meal began with Valdubon Consecha Ribera Duero, a red Spanish wine that was supposed to have chocolate and fruit flavors. It was slightly sweet and full, and it went well with our appetizer. The "Crispy Fried Spring Rolls," of which there were four, had a nice balance of textures and flavors. They were accompanied by a "sweet and spicy apricot chutney," which reminded me a little of mashed sweet potatoes.

I had a hard time deciding between the salmon, halibut, and pork shank specials (I had already tried the vegetarian special, Vegetables in Phyllo Dough, on a previous visit), but I ended up ordering Seasoned Tuna with Ginger-Sesame Slaw off the menu. The fish was perfectly prepared at a medium temperature and was blackened on the outside from the crust of seasoning. I'm not usually into cole slaw, but The White Dog's version was light with an intense ginger taste, and it was extra crunchy from white sesame seeds. The vegetable of the day was green beans, which rounded out my meal beautifully. I also had the opportunity to taste the "Grilled Flank Steak in a Mongolian Marinade," which was tender and beautifully arranged with creamy mashed potatoes and green beans.

There aren't many restaurants like The White Dog that you can just wander into at dinner hour on any given night. It's a taste of fine dining without the stuffiness and pretention of a fancier establishment: the service is attentive at just the right level, and the food is consistently delicious.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Festive Weekend

As the weather continues to grow warmer, I'm quickly learning about Richmond's fondness for festivals. Many of them are family oriented, yet they appeal to a variety of ages and interests. Soon after I attended the Strawberry Street Festival in May (which took place at William Fox Elementary School on Strawberry St.), I saw advertisements for a four day Greek Festival as well as a Strawberry Fair during the first weekend in June.

I had attended a Greek Festival before, so the volume of the music and the variety of culinary choices weren't too overwhelming. There was a large tent for a la cart food, including spanakopita, tiropita, chicken and pork souvlaki, moussaka, baklava, and more. On my first visit I bought a spanakopita and tiropita, both of which were flaky and delicious, as well as assorted pastries and a souvlaki wrap (a grilled pork kebob in a pita with grilled peppers and onions and tsaziki sauce). One of the huge tents that were set up was solely designated for grilling the meat, and part of my decision to eat souvlaki was based on the tempting aroma drifting across the courtyard. The gyro tent was by far the most popular, but I was happy with my choice. I was also pleased with the baklava, and two days later, when I returned to the festival, I treated myself to a "baklava sundae." It was basically just crumbled baklava layered with soft serve icing, but I was very impressed with the combination.

The Strawberry Fair, which was set up right next to the Randolph-Macon College Campus, was a completely different scene from the Greek Festival. Neverending rows of white tents formed long passageways, and the stands bore a range of crafts and food. I bought a huge flat of strawberries for $10, and they lasted an entire week (including strawberry shortcake that was eaten by a few people). I probably would have bought strawberry bread too, but the stand was already out of it when I had a sample. Luckily, they were also selling strawberry lemonade, which was refreshing and not too sweet.

Events like these are a way for everyone to enjoy food, nice weather, and a summer mentality. This past weekend there was a seafood and beer festival on Brown's Island, and there is another Strawberry Festival on Strawberry St. on June 24th to benefit the Children's Museum of Richmond. I remember going to the Watermelon Festival in Carytown last August, and I'm excited to do it again. I hope to see you there!