These are delirious times to be a diner in Richmond. Serious, big-scale projects are coming online at a clip not seen for the past few years. Construction budgets are increasing. Ambitions and concepts are finding dollars and the imagination to use them. Big, shiny kitchens are putting those old Fan and Bottom grunge pits to shame. One fun aspect of being a food writer is hearing how gross the previous owners left particular kitchens. There's considerable sniping about this topic.
A meticulous example of the new wave burnishes the Goochland countryside — while Benedictine grows down the road — and comes with a veteran chef and partner. Paolo Randazzo, beloved and sometimes undersung among Richmond's elite chefs, continues at the helm of Sensi, his Tobacco Row project, but he's in full construction mode on Portico in the former Edible Garden space.
The transformation on River Road is a beauty, maintaining the vintage compound's footprint, but stepping it up with a craftsman build-out by Steeber and Father Co. that includes a large outdoor fireplace and terrace surrounded by gardens, a doubled-in-size dining room with green granite bar and a covered walkway to the kitchen cottage. Interior designer Helen Reed, who has a corner on restaurant work here with dozens of high-visibility projects, selected a soft palette and vintage fixtures and admits to being enthralled by this little gem.
While Randazzo is keeping quiet on Portico for now, he's at work developing a lunch and dinner menu that's versatile (pasta, burgers, pizzas) for an area that can appreciate this infusion of relaxed Italian glamour.
Goat growing: Another big-scale project moving toward a summer opening is the Blue Goat in the former Peking space on Grove Avenue. New windows are transforming the 1940s building — first a grocery store, later a restaurant called Jim West's Charcoal Hearth — into a 4,600-square-foot urban gastro pub with a 40-foot concrete bar, private chef's table dining room, and a view from the street to the kitchen, where chef and partner Kevin LaCivita will be a visible presence working the line.
He'll be baking baguettes daily in the new steam-injected bread oven to complement smoked scallops, charcuterie, and a lengthy list of European-influenced foods, craft cocktails, and beers and boutique wines. "Eventually we'll be doing our own hot dogs and buns," LaCivita says, as well as smoked vanilla-bean ice cream and seasonal small plates. Chris Staples will be general manager of the space, which seats 120 inside and 20 on the front patio.
Owner Chris Tsui says the project, in a building where he got his restaurant-career start, will be a "comfortable neighborhood spot with an urban-tavern feel," featuring brick walls, restored terrazzo flooring, reclaimed fir paneling, and tables crafted by Ren Mefford, who manages the five properties in the Osaka group.
Lunch at Aurora: Look for more Thai influences on the luncheon menu at Aurora downtown. Chef Scott Davison says spring rolls and other dishes are part of a kitchen revamp at 401 E. Grace St. 644-5380.
Fan more and less: Six Burner Restaurant has renewed its lunch hours, serving weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Business under chef Philip Denny is consistently brisk, recently helped along by the post-Picasso crowd. sixburner.net.
Goodbye: Mainstream, in the former Cirrus and Dogwood Grille space, is for sale and no longer operating.
Closed: Boom Boom Burgers shut its doors last week after a three-month run in Shockoe Bottom. Owner Joshua Eftekhari-Asl stirred charges of racism after issuing a letter to the public on Richmond.com that blamed the neighborhood's bar-oriented clientele for negative impact on his business.
He tells Style Weekly that he's paying bills and sorting out the aftermath of a difficult few days. "I stuck my foot in my mouth and made a big mistake," he says of his online commentary about Shockoe nightlife, "but I'm not done with this concept. I don't want to bury this thing away — I want to learn from this experience."
While there are no imminent plans for a new location for the grass-fed burger concept he hoped to franchise, he says, "I don't see any doors open at this moment, but something could change in a matter of days or hours."