A slew of new chow is heading to town, but before that comes a flurry of fix-ups. Armed with paintbrushes, jackhammers and checkbooks, several risk-taking restaurateurs are reconfiguring the failures, hoping to override the flops. They're betting on Richmond's active eatership for staying power in a field that's overflowing.
Here are some highlights:
821 CafAc: Some of us wondered whether this longtime Virginia Commonwealth University haunt would lose its funky personality when it moved to new digs on the same corner. Not to worry. It's bigger, cleaner and more colorful, with a mural in honor of Jonny Z, glass-block accents, more daylight, a full bar, a still-small kitchen and the same motivated owners who've made the cafe a bohemian classic with great grub for years. Expect this one any day now at Cherry and Cary streets. 821caferva.com.
Amour Wine Bistro: French master chef Paul Elbling is sweating in the back of the former Cajun Bangkok in Carytown these days, helping his longtime friend Paul Heitz prep for his first restaurant venture. Amour Wine Bistro at 3129 W. Cary St. has the motto, “Pairing wine, food and life,” and Heitz is serious about professional (“invisible!”) service, Eurocentric methods and flavors, and a changing menu based on regions and ingredients. The Alsatian owner hopes to appeal to a dining audience that appreciates travel, knowledge and relaxed sophistication.
In the space, he's painting over the garishness, subduing the lighting and emphasizing the cozy intimacy of a bar with small tables. His passion for what will be on the plate, in the glass and on the service team is as evident as his enthusiasm for Carytown as a more-the-merrier dining destination. Watch for details at amourwinebistro.com.
Fish Bowl Bistro & Bar: Jackhammers made a sizeable dent in the gorgeous Roland Hower design for the now-departed Relish, dubbed the Zen cafeteria at 101 S. 15th St. Fish Bowl's owners and general manager Ross Renfrow hope for a June opening and will emphasize seafood and a bar rising up from what is now concrete rubble. They'll serve lunch and dinner daily, with a bit of weekday breakfast and a lot of nightlife in a blue-drenched dAccor with murals. Follow their progress on Facebook.
Bellytimber Tavern: Back in January we reported that this business hoped to open by Super Bowl weekend. Classic stuff for Richmond restaurants — delays, setbacks, disappointingly slow permitting — are yielding to signs of life around the completely redesigned corner building where the Border once held forth. Mezzanine partners Patrick Stamper, Randy O'Dell and Todd Johnson, along with Mike Marunde, are fond of the place because of their past associations behind the bar. Sandwiches, thin-crust pizzas, a raw bar and a real bar are the pitch. But when they claim it's the Fan's longest bar, the guys at Baja Bean nearby beg to differ. Either way, there's enough on tap to satisfy an entire neighborhood's thirst. bellytimbertavern.com.
Current: Newly opened along the Canal Walk, this cafe at the Hat Factory has a shot at working after two flawed precursors failed to gain traction. The waterside terrace is shady and serene, the interior has been reworked for warmth and casual appeal and the service is getting up to speed. Burgers feature prominently on the menu, with house-made black bean or turkey versions among the beef. Appetizers, salads and moderately priced entrees at dinner keep to a trim but relevant playlist for the venue, which has re-emerged as a musical hot spot. Look for an uncommon selection of bourbon at the bar. Apps, lunch and dinner served daily at 140 Virginia St. currentva.com.
Parkside CafAc: South Siders can hardly wait for this new project from Travis Milton (Bottega Bistro) and Brian Munford (Patina Grill) to open at 3514 Forest Hill Ave. “We're not too far away,” Milton says, and furniture is coming in; they predict a summer reveal. The menu, set to moderate prices, will be eclectic and feature the central American and low-country Southern foods that Milton favors, with ethnic flavors from Munford's repertoire. Weekend brunch will be a focus, and social media will be Milton's marketing strategy, with Twitter and Facebook action already in progress.
Pescados China Street: Construction is nearly complete after a lengthy process for this Oregon Hill seafood cafe. Owner Todd Manley says he's almost ready for the final permit stage and is testing menu ideas and hiring staff. More details when it's closer to opening.
Munchies by Movieland: The gorgeous but empty warehouse at the back of the Bow Tie Cinemas parking lot screams for a restaurant, preferably a local one and not a chain. Corporate owners have shown the property repeatedly, but so far no takers have emerged. Because it's all windows with no kitchen, raising money for the build out will be a big factor. But with new energy on the Boulevard and a motivated management team, this is a destination in the making. Owner Ben Moss, speaking from his New York office, says he's “looking at all the options out there. A restaurant would be great, or specialty retail uses that are an enhancement to the theater.” He's not giving a timeline for a potential deal.
There's more: Xtra's CafAc in Carytown, a new version of Enoteca Sogno in the former Bella Arte space on Bellevue, Sprout CafAc at 1 N. Morris St., and a few others are in the works too. Is the city on a binge or what?
Amuse: Seafood, chicken, flatiron steak, soups, salads and desserts in this airy third-floor dining room at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Open daily for lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m; dinner Thursdays 5-9:30 p.m. Reservations at opentable.com. 200 N. Boulevard. 340-1580. vmfa.state.va.us.
Best CafAc: Pizza, sandwiches, salads, hot lunches, coffees, wine and beer overlooking sculpture garden in a casual setting at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Open daily for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; light fare until 5 p.m. daily, until 9 p.m. Thursdays. 200 N. Boulevard. 340-1400. vmfa.state.va.us.
Current: Burgers, salads, appetizers served canal-side or in the cafe at Hat Factory, a music venue in a restored building in Shockoe Slip. Lunch and dinner daily. 140 Virginia St. 788-4284. currentva.com.
Lehja: Upscale classic and contemporary Indian cuisine at Short Pump Town Center. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 11800 W. Broad St. 364-1111. lehja.com.
Vietnam Garden: New, decorative location for traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Lunch and dinner daily. 9031 W. Broad St. 262-6114.