In my desperate attempt to restore my faith in Richmond dining , I was determined to skip my trusted regular jaunts (so few) and try a new place the next time I got a chance to eat out. Another dilemma of mine is that most of the buzzing restaurants bloggers talk about are in the Fan, Northside or Carytown – far from my doomed suburban location. I’m stuck with most chain restaurants that I despise. There is a spattering of Italian family style restaurants that are good like Tony’s Italian restaurant; his lasagna meat sauce is simply outstanding. He said it was his mom’s recipe and only his mom could cook it better. Plus, he has the best NY-style pizza in town. Another place I find promising is Naura’s Italian Café that I found out about from a blog reader, M. The young Italian chef,Sal who runs the place is very friendly and enthusiastic. Again, he learned all his recipes from his mom. The place is really small, only two tables that would seat four and a couple of tiny tables meant for eating dessert only or for having an espresso. His pastas are in a baking casserole in a refrigerated glass display. He cuts out what you want and reheats it in the back. His homemade meatballs are in a crockpot beside the display. That’s how casual this place is! I must say, I have not enjoyed pasta as much as I had in a while. It’s almost like “homemade fast-food”. The verdict is out on his tiramisu, touted as a famous offering- it is not your typical mascarpone layered one, but I can vouch for the cannoli, a dessert that the “Hungry” Hubby is very discerning about.
I seemed to have digressed in a different direction. Oh, yes Seafire Grill. An embarrassing moment if there was one. We went there with my sister-in-law and her hubby last Saturday. We were already seated at the table and was wondering where HH was. He was chatting up the hostess. Anyway when he joined us at the table he said how he was telling the hostess how happy he was that they replaced the Grapevine in this location. I think HH was still stinging from the fact the Grapevine took over his beloved “Slice” pizzeria and ruined the wonderful pizza he was addicted to. Alarmed, I said “What if they are the same owners of Grapevine?” My sister-in-law immediately confirmed that they are indeed related to the growing Grapevine chain restaurants. Oops.
Shaking my head, I decided to turn my attention to the menu. Their menu is pretty extensive and could be difficult to choose from. I settled with the shrimp cocktail and broiled seafood combination (very generic sounding – I know). Anyway, the shrimps were colossal they could barely balance on the delicate martini glass they were served on. They were also pretty tough to chew, but I kind of expected it with shrimps this big. My dinner was a disappointment. My broiled crabcake looked like it had fell apart while cooking because there was one big trail of crabmeat that looked like it was added as an afterthought. The flounder tasted too “fishy” and the shrimp was overcooked. The scallops were the only saving grace of the entire plate. HH’s dish was the best. Red snapper baked in parchment. Wish I had ordered that instead except I always liked my snapper fried ‘ala Pescados. My sister-in-law’s seafood pasta in a marinara sauce was also pretty tasty – loved the clear garlic taste in it. So overall, Seafire Grill was not too bad and probably we could give it a second visit.
I had read a review about Grandpa Eddie's, a barbecue place, in the new issue of Richmond Magazine and thought we’d check it out this week. On a Tuesday night, the place was sparsely occupied- and sometimes that can throw off an impression because that might mean that prepared-ahead food will have a low turn over. Case in point, the corn bread that was brought to the table was cotton dry but had a promising flavor. I have to gripe about our combo-chicken wing appetizer, I felt it was expensive at $8.00. The smoked wing was delicious but the buffalo one tasted seasoned only on the outside and was blah inside. There was nothing special about the barbecue chicken breast that the HH ordered either. Granted it was juicy but clearly the flavor only came from the sauce. I did not really enjoy my baby back ribs, maybe because I was already stuffed from the wings. The fries were good. The coleslaw was outstanding and was not your mayonnaise-laden variety. I was all set to say I was not returning to this place but I had my left-over baby back ribs for dinner the next day. I appreciated the smoky-flavor more and I used vinegar as dipping sauce rather than barbecue sauce and I was in rib-heaven. Second visit? Maybe.
Now to the Barrel Thief. HH loves paninis and deciding again what to do for dinner was hard. I did not feel like cooking and the refrigerator was … empty. So I take my issue of Richmond Magazine and check out their restaurant listing and my eyes zeroed in on the Barrel Thief which I’ve heard good things about from fellow Richmond foodies. It’s in my own backyard, why in the world have I not been there?
So we step into what looks like a wine store, only it had tables all around. Interesting! When we were sitted, HH and I started to fidget. It was freezing in there with the air-conditioning blasting on top of our heads. Of course being a wine bar, the wine decision comes first. You get to taste some wines before you order a glass, which was really great since the sample pours were very generous. After we made our wine choice, it took a while for the lady to come back with them as she was opening a new bottle. Meanwhile I was cold and hungry. Finally coming back with our drinks she took our orders. For appetizers we ordered the garlic white bean dip. Being garlic fiends we thought it could use more garlic but we devoured it anyway. It came with a generous amount of toasted bread slices that could have easily come from an entire baguette which I thought was overkill. Weren’t we supposed to mound the dips on the bread, a few slices would have sufficed! J. The rest of our food arrives. My teriyaki tenderloin was tasty and thankfully was not drowning in teriyaki sauce and the Asian slaw was a welcome complement with its thinly sliced shitake mushrooms. Now it was not a thick piece of meat, it’s easily less than half an inch thick and for casual dining it was perfect. But it was HH’s Serrano ham, manchego cheese, arugula panini that was driving me nuts. I had a bite of it and loved the perfect blending of flavors and textures: the saltiness from the ham the creaminess of the cheese and the slight bitterness from the arugula. The bread had the perfect crunch that was not as tooth-shattering as other paninis. In fact I kept on trading a slice of my beef with a bite of Panini .
Our dinner check was not cheap because of the wine by the glass price. I recommend getting a bottle. The nice thing about Barrel Thief is their wine by the bottle is at retail price and if you can’t finish it you can take it home with you. Second visit? Definitely! But I’m not heading there with a starving belly again.
Oh, as I’d like to support the local guy, Ipanema Grill is a having a special for the summer. $9.95 lunch and dinner is $21.95. Not sure when the promo starts (or ends) so please call the restaurant for further details.
Coincidentally, Richmond.com's Karri Pfeiffer just posted Forgotten Favorites which is about restaurants that we Richmonders have forgotten about maybe because of all the new ones opening up. I am thrilled to see Sensi and Ipanema Grill on the list.
Tony’s Italian Restaurant
3409 Cox Rd.
Phone: (804) 270-0999
Naura’s Italian Café
10604 Patterson Ave.
(In the shopping center where Rare old times is)
3061 Lauderdale Rd. at Church rd.
11129 Three Chopt Rd.
11447 West Broad St.
3641 Cox Rd.