Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Classy Fan Eatery

One of my friends asked me last week what I think the best restaurant in Richmond is right now. I didn't have too hard of a time answering, but it was interesting timing because I had plans to visit Style Weekly's favorite restaurant the same evening. My meal was impressive, although nothing about it stood out enough to make me feel strongly about the whole experience.

Dogwood Grille and Spirits, located on Main Street in the Fan, is similar in size and style to many of the other neighborhood establishments. Style critics picked it as the best Richmond restaurant because of its willingness to take chances while maintaining local flavor preferences. There is definitely a bit of Southern flair on the menu: deep fried baby chicken, cocoa dusted pork tenderloin, and filet paired with lump crab meat. Style also mentioned that "the atmosphere is 'in limbo between retro and refined,'" and that patrons are comfortable wearing jeans while dining on fairly sophisticated cuisine.

In my opinion, the wooden booths, dim lighting, and brick walls created a simple yet elegant environment. I chose to sit at a table in the front corner of the restaurant, under the neon pink open sign, looking directly onto Main Street. There were at least four different kinds of fresh orchids on the ledge in front of me, which suggested that Dogwood isn't afraid of its classy side. The wine list gave me a similar impression: a wide range of reds and whites, separated by local (American) and imported, were all mixed together regardless of their price. We settled on a pinot noir from Oregon, and it was definitely a good value at $28.

True to the rest of the restaurant, the service was casual and close to impeccable all at once. The waitress recited the specials well, but she didn't come by the table too often, except to distribute more bread. My dining companion and I agreed that the bread tasted a little too salty, though it was still good enough to eat. I had one of the entree specials, crabcakes with red potatoes and wilted spinach. The dish came with the crabcakes piled on top of the spinach and potatoes, all of which rested on a creamy dill sauce. It was garnished with rings of red onion and a white substance which tasted very much like sour cream. The crab was definitely fresh, and the flavors blended well, but I couldn't remember all of the details because there were so many layers.

The same happened with the other special, filet served with a blue crab sauce, fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus in a peppercorn sauce. While the crab and filet were delicious, the asparagus stood out for it's incredible crunch and an outstanding smoky flavor. I would love to know how the chefs prepare it.

One of the drawbacks at Dogwood, which Style Weekly also discusses, is the high price on some of the menu items. Both of the specials, for example, were $32, and I can understand it for the filet but not for the crabcakes. It's especially noticeable because of how laid back much of the experience is.
It may not be at the top of my list, but that could change over time. I'd probably have to go back at least once to judge the restaurant fairly, but I can say with certainty that it's a great option for a special occasion.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Can Can - Round 2

Looking across Cary Court, a little shopping strip separated from Cary St. by a parking lot, I had a pretty good view of Duro. I had the privilege of eating at Can Can again, this time in one of their outdoor sections, and seeing Duro's sign reminded me of the quality difference between the two restaurants (despite their close proximity). I don't need to rehash my visit to the "non-Italian pasta" place, but my second experience at Can Can certainly was equal to, if not better, than my first.

Eating on a tiny patio under red umbrellas only added to Can Can's European feel. We sat in the grouping of tables that was on the side of the restaurant rather than next to the front door, and it was very peaceful. The waiter spilled a miniscule amount of champagne when the cork popped out, and apologized profusely, saying he would "see if he could do something" for us. Our starter, fondue with homemade bread
(I had it the last time - only $3), was delicious. We received a large bread basket with the bread of the month, a soft white loaf flavored with lavender and rosemary, and a rustic French rye. I almost ruined my appetite for dinner but managed to finish most of my meal because it so tasty.

I ordered "Summer Vegetable Ragout and Wild Mushroom Risotto" without knowing totally what to expect. When the dish arrived, I was happy to see an assortment bright green vegetables on top of the risotto, with large pieces of wild mushrooms. The risotto was rich and flavorful, and the peas, squash, baby artichokes, beans, and cherry tomatoes were crisp and fresh. It was an ideal summer dinner, and I was thoroughly pleased with my choice. I also tasted the "Crispy Pork with Apple and Arugula Salad," which consisted of a large, fried pork cutlet served with fresh arugula, apples, and golden raisins in a light, creamy dressing.

Between the champagne and the wonderful food I was more than content, and all of a sudden dessert arrived. The waiter wanted to apologize for the champagne spill, which wasn't even significant, so he brought us the restaurant's "Peanut Butter Pyramid." In the middle of a white, rectangular plate was a chocolate pyramid filled with a soft peanut butter mixture. It was resting on a layer of something crunchy and sweet. On one side of the pyramid was a row of sliced bananas with a light caramel sauce, and on the other was homemade banana ice cream. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not the biggest fan of bananas, nor of fruit with my chocolate, but this was an amazing dessert. The combination of the cold ice cream with the intense peanut butter and chocolate pyramid was outstanding.

Can Can continues to thoroughly impress me, as well as many others, because the dining areas and bar are always crowded. And fortunately I live in Richmond, where it's not hard to walk into a restaurant at 8:00 on a Saturday, because I wouldn't be too thrilled to settle for the establishment across the street.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bargains and Produce

Please excuse my absence from Mad About Food...I was on vacation for a couple weeks and didn't write because I was taking a break from absolutely everything. Now that I'm back, I'd like to catch up on a few interesting items.

I had some great bargain experiences in Richmond
before I went on vacation. Capital Ale House, at both the downtown and Short Pump locations, has hamburgers for $1 on Monday nights. The burgers are full-sized and delicious, and cheese is only 15 cents more. Lettuce and a slice of tomato are included, and I shared a French fries appetizer that could have fed three hungry people along with their burgers.

Another great deal I finally took advantag
e of was Acacia's fixed price menu (Monday-Saturday) and half-price wine night every Tuesday. The dinner features three courses: a choice of soup or a salad, one of five entrees and seven sides, and a dessert. Acacia is one of the most elegant restaurants I've ever been to, and eating a full meal there for only $22 is quite an opportunity. I chose a salad with goat cheese and pecans, blackened rockfish and braised garlic white beans, and pound cake with cinnamon sorbet. Everything was excellently prepared, and having gone on Tuesday, the wine special was an added treat.

About a month ago I received a sizeable gift
of homegrown vegetables from a friend; she'd taken too much produce from her aunt's garden and was generous enough to share with me. I received red and white potatoes, black raspberries, zucchini, two kinds of beans, and a kohlrabi. I had never seen or heard of a kohlrabi before, but it's sort of a cross between a turnip and a potato, is light green, and looks like an alien vegetable. I forgot to take a picture before I cut it up, but this is very close to what mine looked like:

I researched a couple recipes on the Food Network's website and decided to roast the kohlrabi with potatoes. It was slightly crunchy and sweet, and was a tasty accompaniment to the pan-seared lamb chops I made. I modified anothe
r Food Network recipe for those, and made a sauce in the pan out of onions and red wine. This picture was taken before I added the wine:

Another notable meal I made with my fresh vegetables was a zucchini, asiago and prosciutto frittata with homefries. There isn't much to say except that it was absolutely delicious:

Fresh vegetables really do taste better, and I'm lucky I had the chance to cook with homegrown produce.

Looking back on a lot of my summer food creations and outings, I can pinpoint some that were especially memorable. What was your summer culinary highlight? (No one ever posts comments so here's a great opportunity!)