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Ambition in Overdrive

Service is sometimes better than the food at Eurasia.

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With a well-regarded first restaurant in Virginia Beach, the owners of Eurasia CafAc & Wine Bar have brought their eclectic cuisine to Richmond — in a fully renovated space next to Good Foods Grocery in the Gayton Crossing Shopping Center.

At first blush, it's difficult to find fault with the new venture. A diverse and ambitious menu, a carefully chosen wine list, a tasteful interior and thoughtful service, all check. The owners espouse the culinary mantra of the moment: fresh, local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. All of this is good, but the kitchen still has work to do.

The renovation of the interior from Russian deli to upscale dining room was clearly an extensive and expensive job, and the results incorporate the expected European and Asian influences. The warm gray paint, nature-inspired art, wood accents and neutral beige linens all feel very Zen-like, while the pewter-topped bar adds a dose of French luxe.

The service is outstanding, from hostesses to servers. On a recent weekday evening, I'm the first of my party to arrive and take a seat at the bar. After describing my wine preferences to the chatty bartender, he makes an excellent recommendation, a 2007 Klemens Weber riesling, a wine I will seek out at my local shop. On a later visit, a busy Saturday evening, the hostess quickly finds highchairs for us and brings them out to the patio, and the waitress accommodates our request for plain buttered pasta without batting an eye. After bringing out the pasta, the server returns with a fresh plate, having noticed a small chip in the first one. When we are kept waiting a few minutes for a to-go dessert, the hostess goes back to the kitchen more than once to check on it for us. Sadly, the peach and blueberry cobbler isn't notable.

As you might expect from the name of the place, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Spanish and French elements all show up on the menu, as well as specialties that are distinctly regional American. It would be a feat for any chef to execute so many different flavor profiles well, and this may be Eurasia's biggest stumbling block: trying to do, and be, too much — at least where the food is concerned.

The appetizers are heavily seafood-centric. During a couple of visits, I try the tuna tartare, shrimp tempura and stuffed figs, all specials, and the pork and shrimp pot stickers on the regular menu. The treatment of raw fish always seems to be a good litmus test for a restaurant, and here the tuna tartare contains nice cubes of yellowfin, fresh mango and cucumber, but is clothed in a mayonnaise-y sauce with no oomph. The shrimp tempura, too, is a bit disappointing, with a doughy, undercooked exterior but accompanied by a delightful spicy peanut sauce and zesty slaw. The figs are a little heavy on the goat cheese stuffing but wrapped in the perfect bacon: thick, crunchy and smoky. The pot stickers are unremarkable except for a wonderful soy dipping sauce.

A standout of the salads is the red-wine-poached pear ensemble of spicy watercress and red onion, sweet candied walnuts and tangy blue-cheese dressing, though the pears themselves are a tad too sweet.

The lineup of entrees includes plenty of reasons to make a trip. The shrimp and sausage in the shrimp and grits are delectably juicy and spicy, though the grits cakes need salt. The crab cakes are all pure, clean crab, lightly pan-fried and served over rice with a fresh fruit garnish. The short ribs are a bit fatty, but any dish that includes spaetzle outside of Bavaria is worth ordering. The lobster roll is all you'd hope for in this New England delicacy: fresh chunks of meaty lobster, brightened with lemon and parsley and not an overload of mayo. Best of all are the crispy shoestring fries that come with the sandwiches. I love the concept of the barbecue tuna melt — there's not much that isn't delicious smothered in barbecue sauce, cheddar and bacon — but the tuna itself is a bit fishy and overcooked in places. The Asian dressing on the mixed greens should be bottled and sold.

With everything it has going for it, Eurasia is sure to attract a following. Let's hope the kitchen can keep up. S
 
Eurasia CafAc & Wine Bar $$
1308 Gaskins Road, Gayton Crossing Shopping Center
740-2525
Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Closed Sunday
www.eurasiarich.com
Smoking permitted on the patio
Handicapped accessible

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