What a difference a day makes. After a disastrous Sunday brunch, dinner Monday at BlackFinn, a new mini-chain on the Canal downtown, was a welcome surprise.
The person in the kitchen at brunch just plain couldn't cook -- at least, not eggs.
Huevos rancheros arrived virtually uncooked. I sent them back, and when a new version appeared, one of the eggs was again undercooked and the other was rock hard. All in the same baking dish the kitchen must have a double oven. The accompanying andouille sausage looked and tasted like knackwurst.
An odd version of eggs Benedict came with both french fries and a biscuit topped with chunky gravy. The poached eggs were cooked bone dry and the home fries weren't moist either.
Our cheerful waiter took the rancheros off the bill, and we didn't have the heart to tell him the Benedicts were nearly as bad.
The next night voila! the kitchen turned out delicious entrees, although there were some glitches in the delivery.
After we were seated in the small, nonsmoking dining room, it was 10 minutes before anyone acknowledged our presence. During the lull, we watched a TV set that was embedded in the wall of our booth. Even if you don't want to, it's virtually impossible not to see television at BlackFinn: I counted 24 sets, from wall-sized ones in the dining rooms to several above one of the longest bars in Richmond, to personal-sized sets above each urinal in the men's room.
When our waiter finally arrived, he wisely suggested the crab cake appetizer. Enough for an entree, the twin cakes were pan-seared, layered with a spicy chipotle sauce and full of lump meat.
Apparently making up for our earlier wait, our entrees arrived while we were still eating the appetizer. And they were curiously arranged pushed to the edge of the plate, leaving space for the side dishes, which were absent. Our waiter wasn't sure the meal came with sides, but at our urging he returned to the kitchen and retrieved the errant accompaniments.
Given extra time, we finished the crab cakes as the completed entrees arrived. Both were quite good.
Grilled tenderloin tips, one of the Irish specialties at BlackFinn (along with corned beef and cabbage, and shepherd's pie), were marinated in Guinness (although I could not detect the taste of beer) and covered with caramelized onions. The menu said there would be 12 ounces of meat, but the seven chunks surely weighed at least a pound.
Boneless chicken breast, seared with portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers in a light balsamic-wine sauce, was moist and flavorful.
BlackFinn's signature dessert, according to our waiter, is mile-high apple pie, baked fresh every hour. Ours, however, was as flat as a pancake (did he mean mile-wide?), but nonetheless piping hot and delicious.
The wide-ranging menu at BlackFinn includes entrees ($10-$24) of steak, chicken, ribs, tuna, salmon, shrimp and pasta; miniature chicken, pork, corned beef and barbecued sliders ($8); sandwiches, including a veggie wrap ($8-$11), appetizers ($7-$15 for a combo platter), and soups and salads ($6-$13).
The variety of food and prices reflects the diversity among BlackFinn's diners. At lunch, lawyers and employees from one of the city's largest law firms, which occupies the majority of the high-rise building, fill the place. At night, the goal apparently is to attract a younger crowd. Its Web site depicts bachelorette parties, reunions and partying "after the game" (someone should tell the management that the Braves aren't moving downtown). Its out-of-the-way location, however, isn't likely to draw pedestrians, and with no off-street parking, motorists have to cough up $3 to park in the building's garage.
BlackFinn bills itself as an Irish-American saloon featuring contemporary American food, one of nine spinoffs (another is in Norfolk) of a New York City restaurant that boasts it has been "a landmark since 1994." That ought to be a tipoff about any authenticity.
Despite the absence of Irish atmosphere (for that, try Sin é a few blocks away), BlackFinn is a handsome place, with mahogany paneling, stainless-steel lights, white tablecloths and walls adorned with photos of national sports and political figures. And a moose head.
BlackFinn is part of the Riverside on the James development bordering the Canal Walk and would be a natural stop for tourists if it had outdoor dining and weren't so hard to find. S
BlackFinn Restaurant & Saloon ($$$)
1001 Haxall Point
Lunch and dinner daily, 11:30 a.m. -2 a.m. (Sundays from 11 a.m.)