Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

A Room With Two Views

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There's some internal debate about what they're serving at Cirrus, Main Street's newest bistro. When it opened in September, chef Nora Hickey pitched it as Mediterranean-influenced. By October, however, our waitress was denying this label. Owner George Hatzimanolis is Greek, she noted, but Mediterranean "we're not."

Such confusion is no surprise. When it comes to describing eateries in the Fan, everyone -- including food critics, chefs and proprietors — is hard-pressed to put an accurate label on the area's indigenous food: new American cuisine, American grill, world food. One published description of Cirrus called the food "fusion-inspired." What, pray tell, would fusion inspire? More fusion or less?

Yet from Avalon to Rowland and at half a dozen stops in between, Main Street eateries have codified their own version of fusion/eclecticism, and it seems to be replicated in every new opening. People have come to expect clichés in a follow-the-leader restaurant town like Richmond.

So "Mediterranean-influenced," which includes Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Lebanese and Moroccan, really does apply to Cirrus and every place on the street.

None of this distracts from the fact that the food is good. The crab-stuffed mushrooms are as tasty as I've had anywhere. The steak au poivre with brandy-green peppercorn sauce is a spot-on medium-rare with a delicate slow burn accented with the richness of brandy. The duck is tender and smartly paired with a couscous with pine nuts and raisins. The natural jus clings to the perfectly golden stuffed chicken breast. Even a baby spinach salad is punched up with chipotle-lime vinaigrette, Manchego cheese and roasted corn. Desserts are good, if ordinary: crème brûlée, flourless chocolate torte.

So what sets this joint apart? The minimalist urban styling of high-gloss white against steel blue and the blue glow of the ultramodern bar create an atmosphere that's lighter and more spacious than the former Dogwood Grille and a welcome divergence from the standard wood and brass of the Fan.

All Cirrus needs is a good reason for diners to stop here rather than somewhere else. I can't help but wonder what would result from an embrace of the Greek to settle the cultural identity question and set Cirrus apart. — J.C.



At Cirrus, cool whites and icy blues have replaced the earthy nondesign of the former Dogwood Grille. A tiny waterfall runs quietly on the back wall, and frosted white pendant lamps create dim pools of light over the tables. It's slick, but the rough edges of the brick are still there under all that white paint, and an incongruous flat-screen TV plays silently at the bar. The crowd can be a little older than most and, despite the sophistication of the surroundings, slightly loud and even a tad rowdy.

Incongruous, too, are the prices on the menu. I've been sucker-punched by high prices lately, and because of the sleekness of the interior, I expected Cirrus to have the same kind of tariffs other new places cavalierly sprinkle across their menus. Instead, most entrees hover in the teens and top out at $24, with no visible sacrifice to quantity or quality. Plus, fancy pizzas and high-end sandwiches satisfy those with a more modest evening in mind, appetite- and wallet-wise.

That's not to say that the menu isn't ambitious. The duck confit is tender and deeply flavorful, with a tangy berry gastrique heightening the duck's earthiness. Confit, though, is an easy, chef-y sort of dish that is made ahead of time. The duck breast, when cooked to order, is a better test of a chef's chops, and here it comes moist and tender as well, with salty, crispy skin. A hill of couscous punctuated with pine nuts and currants rounds out the plate, although I find myself longing for a sauce akin to the gastrique in the appetizer to heighten the duck.

Scallops are simply seared a rich golden brown and come stacked on top of fragrant, mushy lentils liberally laced with bacon. Best of all, however, and the first dish to arrive, are the sirloin sliders from the appetizer section. Tender and seriously juicy, these four little burgers come cradled between griddled buns, lavished with a mind-blowing bacon mayonnaise and pinned to the plate with a stalk of fresh rosemary that manages to perfume the entire dish. It's the kind of food that causes an instant addiction, sabotages good intentions and brings vegetarians to their knees. It's almost impossible for the rest the food to live up to the promise of this powerhouse starter.

There's a lot to like about Cirrus, and if I can have just one more tiny slider, I'll tell the investment banker on my left to pipe down while I give the rest of the menu a chance to impress me. — B.F.



Cirrus $$ NS
1731 W. Main St.
340-1984
Dinner daily: 5-10:30 p.m.
Lighter fare/Bar menu: 10:30 p.m.-1:55 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Wheelchair-accessible.




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