Jason Guard, AKA “RVAfoodie”, offers up his take on where you absolutely, positively MUST go during Restaurant Week. Take a look at which restaurants he chose, why he chose them, and what you should order once you get there.
You can’t go wrong wherever you dine during Restaurant Week because every prix fixe place setting supports the Central Virginia Food Bank with a $2.10 donation. However, you can do me a huge favor. We’ve just had our second child, so for the first time in years, we’ll be sitting this one out. That didn’t stop me from sizing up the options and picking my favorites going into Richmond’s biggest dining week. I’ll rest better knowing that someone has made use of my eating instincts. So, please take note. The places I’ve listed here aren’t just safe bets — they’re standouts by my standards. Eat at one or several of these places (and anywhere you feel I’ve left out) and let us know how it goes.
Chef Denny can cook. In a town with fewer exciting restaurants, his food would probably be at the top of the heap. But, with Lemaire, Acacia, and Sensi on the scene, the relaxed artistry of Six-Burner sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Their six starters and five main course options announces Six-Burner as a Restaurant Week over-achiever. Crabcakes, rockfish, gulf shrimp, and 56 hour braised short ribs? I predict Denny tries to earn some new customer loyalty with extra-impressive plates. And bacon wrapped fried house-made pickles? C’mon. That’s not even fair.
Downtown deserves a place as pretty as 27. Its luminescence stands like a beacon on Broad Street, in direct contrast to the surrounding blocks. But Chef Carlos keeps it real by accenting every other menu item with mentions of his mother or his native Brazil. Last time I went, their salmon was impossibly moist, locked in by a pan-seared and broiled process I doubt I could duplicate. Luckily, there’s salmon on the menu for Restaurant Week. Also, the quail is stuffed with mushroom and foie gras mousse, which will probably excite some palates out there. Personally, I think the hearty sounding Spanikopita over autumn root vegetable stew sounds like a great way to welcome the new season. Whatever your choice, the cheerful environment is sure to please, especially with all the house wines by the glass to choose from.
Secco Wine Bar
Aside from bringing Richmond some of its most creative cuisine, Secco is known as a snacking scene more than a full meal restaurant. If they’re sticking with that format, this may be one of the few opportunities to experience a whole meal at Secco, especially for $25. For anyone motivated by a bargain, Secco’s offering of four plates instead of three will be enticing. Cavalo nero? Ossau-Iraty? Vin cotto? Adventurous eaters who like to learn something from every meal will delight in the education received from ordering dishes of unfamiliar ingredients (here’s a little glossary for the finicky). You’ll be rewarded at the end of the journey if your final plate is the Catalan bread pudding. I’ve had it, and it’s full of high notes and lightness instead of dense and syrupy, like we’re used to in the South. But, Secco doesn’t take reservations. If a line out the door ain’t your thing (though it may be worth it) then see plan B below.
Last year, I RW’d at Helen’s and had a great meal. I also made a discovery. Watching the enigmatic Chef Big John lumbering back and forth in the open kitchen, while churning out the prettiest of plates, just makes you glad to call Richmond home. Helen’s clientele can be chic or it can be freak, or a little bit of both, depending on the hour. But the food is as good as you could want from any of the finer Fan restaurants. Considering that you can start with pork belly or an tizer of soup and grilled cheese, this meal aims to please. From there, fried chicken, short ribs, chanterelle mushroom risotto, or mac’n’cheese with lump crab meat. Someone at Helen’s is clearly craving comfort food. Loosen your belt buckle and have a pre-dinner beer at the Taphouse. All pretension can go out the window for this night on the town.
There have been some changes at LuLu’s, and this menu just begs you to sit up and take notice. The pounded flat Tataki tuna sounds good, but the chopped liver starter is probably going to be hard to resist for liver lovers. Either way, starting light or heavy, you can launch into a fish stew, a grilled NY strip, or crispy pork belly. The vegetarian potato leek tartlet sounds amazing with its “smoked tomato fondue & spinach cream.” And what about that banana toffee with burnt cream? I’m looking for a baby-sitter just reading those words.
Honorable mention: Amour Wine Bistro
You know you want to try this place. The prix fixe meal at Amour usually runs $39, but only $25.10 during Restaurant Week and they’re offering fish in papillote. Who doesn’t like the theater of a parchment package releasing steam before your eyes and revealing perfectly moist and tender fish? I’ll bet the assorted sorbets to follow would go nicely as well. Lastly, it’s not listed on their menu, but they also serve a charming French accent.
Plan B: Bonvenu
From Secco, or Amour, or wherever you can’t get into… just walk down the block to Bonvenu, the new spot in the old Track didn’t qualify for the Restaurant Week lineup, since they haven’t yet been open a year. They’ve put together their own prix fixe and I’m betting they’ll be eager to please, portion and flavor-wise, so they’ll build a buzz that lasts all week and carries over to next year’s Restaurant Week. And yes, owner Charmagne Doyle says they’ll be giving the same amount per plate to the Food Bank, just like the rest.
Cavalo nero: black leaf kale
Ossau Iraty: a French sheep’s milk cheese
Vin cotto: reduced red wine
Tortilla Espanola: A Spanish omelet