If I were a metro-millennial working the dating scene in Richmond, Nama would top my list. From a first date to a new parents’ night out, this spot connects all the dots for a creative, posh, romantic evening, without emptying your wallet.
Here’s how it plays out if you’re looking for a place to go after you’ve swiped right.
My date and I arrive at the door that leads to both Nama and Switch pop-up bar. This is handy because if the date goes well, after dinner we can get a drink and check out the latest creative installation at Switch.
We didn’t make a reservation at Nama, but that’s OK because the pretty waiting area is lined with front-porch-style swings. This is test No. 1: Is my date a bore? Or the fun type who thinks the swings are a win? Fortunately, both of our eyes light up. After swinging a bit, our table is ready.
The dining room is lovely, with a blue and yellow paint scheme and beautiful pierced metal lighting fixtures above the bar. We take a table for two. I sit on the banquette so I can see the room and my date takes a comfortable chair. The server hands us menus and here comes test No. 2: Is my date a pretentious bore who brags about authentic Indian food? Or maybe someone who doesn’t depart much from traditional American fare? Will this evening be a fun food experience or a tedious journey of unfortunate disconnects?
I know we’re off to a great start when my date isn’t afraid to ask the friendly server questions about the dishes. She steers us towards the Sweet Potato Chaat ($7) and Masala Dosa ($11). The chaat is rich with roasted potato and avocado, with tart pomegranate seeds, crispy toasted pumpkin seeds, blended with tamarind and mint chutneys. The dosa is a pair of perfectly cooked crispy-edged lentil crepes filled with spiced potato.
Most of the dishes are meant to be shared, which makes for lively mingling and conversation at the table. As I watch people arrive, I feel like I’m in the place to be. The crowd is stylish and wide-ranging in age and ethnicity, and I spot a few LBGTQ friends. Hopefully my date notices that I seek out trendy, eclectic spaces full of more than cisgender white people.
As we talk over the food, we decide that the grilled eggplant Baingan Rollup ($8) is a little too sweet, and kind of messy for sharing. But the lamb samosas ($8) are the hit of our appetizer session, and I am delighted to discover that my date also has an appreciation for gamey lamb because it holds up so well to the sweet-savory spice blend.
Things are going well enough that we order drinks, and Nama’s Indian-inspired cocktails are creative. The refreshing Bay of Bengal ($13) blends Gin Mare with cardamom, cucumber and lime. The Chai This ($13) is a heady mix of Laird’s applejack brandy with chai tea. The beers cost from $4 - $8, with several international selections. The wine list is small, but all are also available by the glass.
My date passes another test by swearing that spicy food is no problem. We decide to split the Kerala Fish Curry ($22) and it’s fantastic. Just hot enough to make my nose run, but not so hot it kills my tastebuds. The fragrant basmati rice is the longest-grain rice I’ve ever seen. The curry pot the perfect size for two, and we polish it off quickly.
We’re pretty full at this point, but I’m curious about Indian dessert, so I order the Gulab Jamun cake ($5). It’s a honey-soaked dense cake served with saffron cream, pistachios and rose petals — very dense and perfect for sharing. My date orders the hot Masala Chai ($3), rich and creamy with a biscotti-type cookie on the side.
I have long since relaxed into the cushioned banquette, confident that the flattering light makes me look terrific. My date recognizes a few of the alternative tunes playing in the background — another win. It’s time to decide: Linger over another drink? Move to the bar? Check out Switch next door? Not only has my date passed a lot of important tests, so has Nama.
I hope we get to see each other again soon.
15 W. Broad St.
Tuesdays - Sundays, 4 - 10 p.m.