Two questions I get asked a lot: What's my favorite place to eat in Richmond, and what would I change about the Richmond restaurant scene. I have a dozen answers for both, but one of my most frequent longings is for more outdoor dining. And one of my favorite spots has recently complied.
For the last three years or so Rowland Fine Dining has continued Stella's corner tradition of excellent execution minus the hype. Rowland has been on our date-night short list since it opened, especially during restaurant week when it offers the best three-course prix fixe on the (extremely competitive) street. But Rowland wins fans without fanfare.
The interior is elegant without any flash. The servers are charming and attentive while providing privacy. And although the Mediterranean-influenced dishes on the dinner menu might not win awards for innovation, they offer the rich flavor pairings we crave from that region's cuisine. Once again we find proof that the unmistakable precision of chefs who are owners creates an understated, mature take on what fine dining means, winning loyal customers who place a premium on food that's simple and succulent.
Now Rowland offers brunch. In a town overflowing with Sunday morning feasts, it offers one of the few outdoor options. What a pleasure to settle into the umbrella shade on the Tuscan village-sized sidewalk patio with its 350 degrees of charming views. If you get stuck facing the Citgo station, just rest your gaze on the planting boxes thick with enviable rosemary bushes and other herbs seasoning the menu.
Rowland does brunch the way it does dinner, with the faith of the talented. The menu isn't a sales pitch. It's a straightforward collection that balances savory and sweet. Do you like to start your day with pastry-quality Belgian waffles or poached eggs and smoked salmon, roasted tomatoes, spinach and bAcarnaise sauce? French toast A la bananas Foster or a fried egg and proscuitto sandwich? None of this sounds risk-taking, but that's missing the point.
With experience comes faith — that this kitchen will deliver a perfectly poached egg (a near impossibility in larger shops) melting into complementary flavors to create a sweet palate harmony. On my last visit the frittata of the day included feta, roasted tomatoes, olives and spinach, echoing the kind of thing you can find elsewhere. Yet, as always it's the attention to detail that raises the bar. The tomatoes are slow-roasted. The batter is whipped with just the right amount of cream, then swirled slowly in the pan to give just the right lift. These invisible gestures are what sets the place, and the food, apart. Are they perhaps what keeps Rowland from getting the dense crowds found at lesser restaurants along Main? It may be that this level of confidence and talent is too subtle, and lost on some patrons. But some of us are paying attention. Some of us care about what that poached egg means.
We see the very European nature of a married couple, two chefs, working every day at that steady pace that defines the love of cooking, to make a place and a clientele their own. That's why they serve dinner every day. And I'd like to think that's why they open up the patio for a few hours on Sunday now. Because they want to. S
Rowland Fine Dining ($$$)
2132 W. Main St. at Shields Avenue
Dinner nightly from 5 p.m.
Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.