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Anticipating Karsen's

Even people who knew the principals behind the chic Carytown restaurant Karsen's are expressing surprise at how well the venture has turned out.

What was a fairly forgettable boutique at 3411 W. Cary St. is now a series of cozy, fashionable rooms with a long concrete bar just beyond a dining patio fringed with flowers. It's an appealing destination that opened last week for nightly dinner and drinks.

Owners Jeanne Strong, Laura Foster and Executive Chef Mac McCrowell have given many collective years to restaurant work, notably at Zeus Gallery Café, and in observing the food scene here saw an opportunity for something different.

"Each room has its own personality," Foster says of Karsen's interiors, "with contemporary furniture and exposed brick walls and photographs all over."

There are walls dedicated to the owners' children and pets, captured on film by actor/director K Strong, to add instant familiarity.

"We're really happy because everything we tried to convey seems to be coming across to customers," Foster says, "and they tell us it's like nothing else in Richmond."

McCrowell's menu, which he categorizes as upscale creative American cuisine, is a mix of seafood, steaks, vegetarian specials and appetizers such as potato-crusted salmon. The priciest item is a grilled organic New York strip served with braised beef short ribs, pancetta, watercress and gorgonzola in a red wine sauce, which clocks in at $41 -- setting a new benchmark for Carytown, but not an indicator of the restaurant's range, which is broader and includes grilled duck breast for $24 and appetizers from $8.

The signature Karsen's martini, vodka with blood orange and fresh lime juices, is likely to be served by bartender Gershom Wynn, known for easy magnetism that comes with a following. The restaurant is nonsmoking except at the bar. 353-5277.

Smoke Free in North Side

North Siders are still blogging about the smoke-free dining options around their neighborhood, including Northside Grille, which opened last month and is already packing in a crowd of regulars. A big comfort-food menu, Sunday brunch, weekday lunches and nightly dinner service make this an all-purpose hangout at 215 Bellevue Ave. 266-4403.

Reader Mail

A reader sends fan mail for an old Goochland favorite:

"Despite the huge misconception that it was sold and closed, Tanglewood Ordinary IS open, still owned by Jim and Anne Hardwick, and will celebrate its 21-year anniversary this year! Oh, and still serves the best fried chicken in Richmond. It's such a great place that I wish more people knew about it. Yes, the hours of operation are a bit unusual (Thursday through Saturday, 5-9 p.m., Sundays, noon-8 p.m.), and it can be a bit of a drive, but the food, family-style service, and friendly atmosphere are worth it!" — Dyan

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