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Short Order: Embarrassment of Riches

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Call me naive, but I continue to be astonished by the number of restaurants opening in Richmond. This is one of the most retail-saturated cities in the country, with what analysts call a disproportionately large number of dining establishments for the nearly million people here. We've seen some restaurant closings this year, and a good number of ownership changes. But hope springs eternal for the new folks in town, and here's a sampling of what's opened within the past few weeks:

Barrel Thief Wine Shop & Cafe: Here's a winning concept for those who want wines by the glass, fresh foods from the city's best specialty sources, a chic but casual atmosphere and friendly young owners. Ross Mattis and Ned Wheeler have created a lunch and dinner spot tailored to sophisticates and the palate-proud -- even those looking for a kids' menu.

Olives, grilled brie and house pté are on the apps list; sandwiches are upscale gourmet; sweets include Nutella and pound-cake panini or chocolate truffles; and microbrews and wines by the glass are wide-ranging and affordable.

Joseph Costlow is executive chef. And Ben Andersen, a passionate French wine expert, brings in the reserve bottles and others. The Web site gives insight into the personalities involved, and owners say the business is a prototype for future franchises.

Its smart, open design encourages tastings, parties and conversation in a colorful 34-seat nonsmoking space. Café serves Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, noon-6 p.m. Retail store open daily. 11747 W. Broad St. 364-0144. www.barrelthiefwine.com.

Highwater at Toad's Place on the Canal Walk: No one will say it was easy getting this long-awaited restaurant (with the equally long official name) open. One chef bailed without warning; fortunately Dean McGill, known for opening dozens of steakhouse chains and higher-end places in Boca Raton, came on board the almost-floundering project two months ago.

Now Highwater is up and running, serving ribs "with a super-tender sweet tomato glaze," McGill says, and a House of Blues-type menu of po'boys, muffalettas, beans and rice, jambalaya, minipizzas and Southern comfort foods. Buttermilk biscuits come to every table.

The nonsmoking space has a dozen taps and a full bar; smokers head to the top-floor roof deck on show nights or to the canal walk for post-meal strolling. Weekday lunch and nightly dinner, wheelchair-accessible, outdoor dining, 96 seats inside, easy access to the music hall and its loaded calendar of events. 140 Virginia St. 648-8623.

Cajun Bangkok Spicy Cuisine: What seems like a weird novelty act is an import from King Street in Alexandria, where a restaurant of the same name has been operating for decades. Chef Lex Saengplai opens his new location in Carytown, serving southern Cajun — alligator, crawfish, catfish with pecan crust — and such dishes as lemon-grass gumbo and curries on an eclectic but spice-oriented menu. He hopes to open this week at 3129 W. Cary St., where Thai Curry House used to be. 353-2030.

Bubbling Restaurant: Another Richmond hookah bar has opened in Shockoe Bottom. (Aladdin Express and Sahara near VCU are others.) The alcohol- free Bubbling Restaurant at 1712 E. Main St. serves Mediterranean fare — hummus, tabouleh, falafel, lamb kebabs — and subs, pizzas, vegetarian dishes and desserts. Ten fruit-flavored tobaccos are offered for hookah smokers. The place is open daily, Fridays until 3 a.m. 780-3020.

Sushi Go Round: You read about this restaurant concept in this column months ago. Now it's open, with a rotating sushi bar, a sizeable menu of options, a Japanese chef and an Innsbrook address. Dancing tuna and the dragon roll are popular so far. Weekday lunch, dinner nightly. Fifty seats, nonsmoking. 4040H Cox Road. 346-1005.

Butcher's Block Market: Suddenly Oilville doesn't feel so far from the 'burbs — because it isn't. All that Short Pump growth has brought a buying public to the far western reaches, and Paul Cruser (Red Oak Café) and James "Shay" White have opened a gourmet meat and seafood shop at the Oilville exit off I-64. Local organic produce, breads and cheeses, wines, beers and foodstuffs that appeal to upscale shoppers are selling well already. Catering, platters, flowers, gift baskets and wine tastings round out the shopping list. 1390-C Broad St. Oilville. Call 784-3474 or visit www.butchersblockmarket.com.

There's more, but that will have to wait till next week. Readers, let me know what you're sampling these days, and where. Food has never been more plentiful and varied in Richmond, and it's out there waiting for someone to indulge. S



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