Restaurant Week: Turning Tables

It might be challenging to swing eating at all 30 restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, so I’ve chosen a few of my favorites that you might consider first when you’re calling for reservations.

Pick up the phone and make your reservation now for Restaurant Week. There won’t be any seats left once it starts — for anybody. And it might be a good idea to pretend it’s still Lent and that you gave up venting your frustrations on strangers because even with reservations, you might have to wait a few minutes for a table.

These are tiny, tiny mental adjustments you have to make (plan ahead; be patient) however. At $25.11 for a three-course prix fixe meal, you can make it all work despite the screams of your inner diva.

Tempted to skip the whole thing and avoid the hassle? Also a bad move. Restaurant Week is a benefit for the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels, and with 30 restaurants participating, a substantial amount of much-needed funding can be raised during that time. Stuff your face to benefit those who can’t stuff theirs? It seems like a no-brainer.

It might be challenging to swing eating at all 30 restaurants, so I’ve chosen a few of my favorites that you might consider first when you’re calling for reservations.

1. Secco Wine Bar

2933 W. Cary St. • 804.353.0670

Naturally, they don’t take reservations, so you’ll need to line up early before the crowd gets there. Tim Bereika, the chef at this one-year-old wine bar, consistently pushes fresh ingredients into new and creative directions. He’ll be serving lamb shoulder with CityGarden fava beans for Restaurant Week, and I’d just like to take a moment and explain that fresh fava beans are rare not only because few people grow them around here, but also because they’re a freakin’ nightmare to shuck and peel. I extend a hearty thanks to Chef Bereika and whatever assistant he’s enslaved to help so that we can all taste fava beans the way they should be eaten at least once in Richmond.

Another choice on his menu includes prosciutto-encrusted arancini stuffed with pea-marjoram sauce. I actually had to look up what arancini was and when I did, I felt a little stupid. It’s a dish I’ve seen in a lot of old-style Italian restaurants — rice balls filled with cheese, rolled in breadcrumbs, fried crisp and usually served in a pool of marinara. Now re-read that description of Secco’s version. “Prosciutto-encrusted…” Okay, stop. That’s all I need to hear. I’ll see you at Secco when they open the door at 5pm.

2. Acacia Mid-town

2601 W. Cary St. • 804.562.0138

Aline Reitzer, co-owner of Acacia Mid-town and wife of chef Dale Reitzer, began this event, and its ongoing success can be attributed to her. But where else could Richmond’s fine dining showcase originate other than in the two-time James Beard-nominated chef’s kitchen? He chooses his menu with care and Acacia is one of the few local restaurants to offer a prix fixe menu on a regular basis. Reitzer knows his way around fish, and I’d immediately snap up the sautéed local rockfish, creamy rice beans, roasted mushrooms and romanesco, mushroom and rosemary nage. Unfamiliar with the term nage? When you cook food, particularly seafood á la nage, you poach it with aromatic vegetables until it’s tender, moist and full of flavor. I’m also going to be compelled to have the salted caramel — two words I love to hear together — macaron ice cream sandwich. I love every single ingredient and can’t believe someone was genius enough to think to put them all together.

3. Rowland Fine Dining

2132 W. Main St. • 804.257.9885

Virginia Rowland won me over long ago with her desserts, and for restaurant week I know I could probably flip a coin and either of the two choices that she’s offering would be amazing. More intriguing is the Korean-style Hanger Steak with Sesame Fried Rice and Garlic Bok Choy. The menu at Rowland alternates between Mediterranean-inflected dishes and a sort of pan-South American cuisine. Asian flavors don’t pop up as frequently, and when I have had an Asian-y dish there, the garlic, ginger and heat have been balanced expertly. However, because Restaurant Week also seems to be a vocabulary quiz, I’ll probably go with the gnudi. Thank God for Google. According to many, many sources, if you take a piece of ravioli and remove the pasta envelope that encases it, the little ball of filling left becomes gnudi (in Italian, the word means nude). Bring it on, Virginia!

4. Millie’s

2603 E. Main St. • 804.643.5512

My first thought was to recommend Millie’s newer sister restaurant, Lulu’s. Because, well, it’s newer. Then I compared menus, and I realized I needed to cast aside such pernicious ageism and go with folks that have been delivering the goods for the last 22 years. Both places serve up fine, fine food, but Millie’s made their prix fixe menu a whole lot more tempting.

Should I have the cream of Vidalia onion soup with crispy leeks or the house-made linguini with English peas, shitake mushrooms, mascarpone cheese, and toasted almond gremolata? (The pasta). Should I have the crispy basil polenta cake with braised cippoloni onion-tomato-mushroom ragout, rainbow chard and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette or power through another vocabulary quiz and get the pan-fried crispy chicken with roasted potatoes, Swiss chard, and sweet onion soubise?* (The chicken — it has crispy in its description). Dessert is easier, fortunately. Any of the choices — crème brulée, pecan tart or the tart goat cheesecake — will hit its mark. Millie’s, visit after visit, has proven to me how foolish it is to underestimate an old favorite. Unfortunately, they don’t take reservations.

5. Hanover Tavern & Pub

13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, Hanover • 804.537.5050

You can leave your dictionary at home. And it is precisely because you are leaving home and venturing past the Richmond city boundaries that I recommend the trek to Hanover Tavern & Pub. You need to get out a little, try something new, add a little historic charm to the atmosphere, and a deal is always a good incentive. Most of the dishes on their Restaurant Week menu also appear on or are similar to selections on Hanover Tavern’s regular menu, so it’s a good way to see how they do the things that they do.

It’s all solid Southern-style fare, and since tomatoes aren’t in season, fried green tomatoes will tide you over till summer and a little pimento cheese never hurt anybody. If you want to keep that pimento cheese vibe going, get the petite bacon-wrapped filet — it’s topped with it — along with asparagus and mashed potatoes. I also like the looks of the grilled pork chop. Cherry chutney sounds like a great complement and the gratin, with sweet potatoes subbed for regular potatoes and matched with a sharp Gruyere, is intriguing all by itself.

* soubise: a béchamel sauce combined with pureed onions

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Chester Becker

Chester Becker is a recovering bon vivant and food writer who’s eaten his way around Richmond, often with family in tow, since the last century.

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