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.

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