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Part 2

Questions of Taste

11. Who has the best pizza in town?

Fleming: Long before personal pans, pizza was a very personal thing. If you like cardboard thin crust, you won't like Bottom's Up or Pronto Pizzeria. They are my favorites for the quality and generosity of ingredients — from goat cheese to sundried tomatoes — and the quality crust.

Morton: I like the thin-crusted European-style pizzas that come from the wood-fired oven at Franco's Café. Pronto Pizzeria also makes delicious pizzas.

Bradley: God never meant for pizzas to be mounded with spinach, feta, or what-have-you. Teens — our professional pizza-eaters — live for Domino's. So do I.

12. Where can I take a party of 15 and still expect great food and service?

Fleming: I'd prefer a private area for a group this size. Lemaire's library or upstairs at Havana 59 perhaps — depending on the age and character of the group — might work.

Ask Amici about handling your whole group on the patio or if you can take the whole downstairs. P.G.T. Beauregard's Thai Room can take care of you upstairs or al fresco, as could Mr. Patrick Henry's Inn. None Such Place also can carve out reserved space for a big party. Far from the madding crowd on the sidewalk on Main Street, it's one of the few places in the Bottom grown-ups can count on for a quiet repast. The chef is top rate and the service is informed.

Morton: If you're hosting an elegant rehearsal dinner or an important corporate affair, you want it to be right. The Fox Head Inn, La Petite France, The Jefferson, the Dining Room at the Berkeley, Franco's, The Frog and the Redneck are experienced in catering such affairs and have private dining rooms. Some thoughtful planning with the staff can ensure a memorable occasion.

Bradley: I just took a party of 16 to Mamma 'Zu. While smaller parties might argue, Mamma 'Zu handles big parties with aplomb.

13. Where will I want to leave the biggest tip?

Fleming: On a good night virtually anywhere in any restaurant, you can experience exceptional effort. On a bad night...

Morton: When I have eaten at Lemaire at the Jefferson, the service has been impeccably professional, informed and appropriately formal. (The restaurants on The "It List" also offer professional and informed service, though appropriately somewhat less formal.)

Bradley: When you're served at Franco's, you feel as is the entire staff wants to please. All seem to care that every table is happy, so there's no "I'll get your waitress" pass-off.

14. Where is the best place to eat al fresco?

Fleming: Fumes and road noise bug me, so I like private spaces like P.G.T. Beauregard's Thai Room and Mr. Patrick Henry's.

Morton: Perhaps you can find a greener place, but it's hard to find an outdoor spot where the food will be better: The high portico of the former church in Carytown which houses, among other things, Acacia is a wonderful spot to have a very civilized and delicious dinner.

Bradley: P.G.T. Beauregard's Thai Room has the nicest little walled-in patio with a fountain and no street traffic.

Braxton: While it's not on Main or in the Bottom like most al fresco options, Legend Brewing Company's terrace offers the only skyline view in town. What a nice switch from the usual streetscape with roaring buses and sirens!

15. Where can I get some really great barbecue?

Fleming: North Carolina.

Morton: Buz and Ned's — sometimes on the Boulevard, sometimes with a cart, sometimes off somewhere — offers delicious pulled barbecue and sometimes ribs. We keep hoping that one day they'll find a permanent home with lots of tables, sweetened iced tea and all the other stuff we've come to expect with Southern barbecue.

16. I need to impress a client during a business lunch. Where should I go?

Morton: For a serious affair, the Dining Room at the Berkeley offers a comfortable atmosphere and, at lunch, food which does not require your undivided attention. For an informal appointment, I'd head for Grafiti Grille or perhaps Azzurro. For someone who might want to follow lunch with a bit of shopping, I'd head for duJour or Granite on Grove.

Bradley: Speaking atmospherically, Europa has a very au courant thing going. And the food is very, very good.

Braxton: Care to have a quiet conversation, perhaps see and be seen? The Berkeley Hotel's dining room, smack dab in the middle of bustling Shockoe Slip, shows that special client that you know good food, you mean business and you're not low rent.

17. Who has good Greek?

Morton: The Grapevine on Lauderdale in the West End is a pleasant family-run restaurant with good homemade Greek specialties.

Bradley: For classic Greek specialties, you can't beat Greek Islands where Faye Kefala hand-folds individual spanokopita and tiropita. Husband Ted applies the same meticulous attention to his creations.

Braxton: For her soups, her bread, her desserts, her traditional Greek fare — and for an unbelievable veal piccata I had there recently — Stella's is tops.

18. What are the best Italian restaurants?

Fleming: You can't beat Amici for Northern Italian. This exceptionally reliable restaurant, along with Franco's, is the Old Faithful of Italian restaurants in Richmond.

Morton: In addition to Franco's and Amici, I like the old-fashioned ambiance of Angela's on Forest Avenue. Chef-owner Michael Palazzotto is traditional, but his offerings have evolved as our own tastes have grown. Azzurro in the River Road Shopping Center offers a tonier and more contemporary take on the Italian cucina. It can be very good.

Bradley: Franco's and Amici are the best high-end Italian restaurants around, both for their quality and for their range of culinary curiosity. Both constantly reinvent their menus for a fresh outlook. For cucina rustica, La Grotta serves up outrageously good and filling pasta e fagioli which, with Chef Antonio Capece's fresh focaccia is all you need for lunch in the middle of a long day.

19. Where can I find some good old-fashioned Southern cooking?

Fleming: Johnson's Grill, where you can get greens, chicken fried steak, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf and other members of the comfort food group at incredibly kind prices.

Morton: These days you find collards, black-eyed peas, fried apples, corn pudding in all sorts of fancy places. The Tanglewood Ordinary still serves an old-fashioned Southern dinner which includes fried chicken, country ham and maybe roast beef along with an array of Southern-style vegetables. It's all served family style — the kind of place to go with a crowd. David's White House at Providence Forge serves many old Southern favorites, but dresses them up a bit with new flavors.

Bradley: You haven't had Southern cooking until you've had the pork chops and gravy at Johnson's Grill.

Braxton: Only the few, the initiated, the cholesterol carefree, know of Johnson's Grill in Shockoe Bottom. Once you've sampled the fresh rolls, mashed potatoes and meatloaf you'll be a believer. Also notable for Southern specialties is Tanglewood Ordinary in Goochland, an old log cabin with rustic atmosphere galore and lots of old-timey treats.

20. Who has the freshest fish?

Morton: A few years ago, we went to a seafood restaurant for fresh fish, but they're caught for lots of places these days. Dale Reitzer at Acacia, Jimmy Sneed at The Frog and the Redneck, Michelle Williams at Hardshell and Chris Lyles at The Track understand freshness and appreciate the subtle flavors of these sometimes delicate creatures.

Bradley: Mamma 'Zu's Chef/Owner Ed Vasaio does miraculous things with fresh seafood from soft shell crabs to rockfish.

21. I'm sick of the same old chop suey. Where can I get some good Asian food?

Fleming: I want tablecloths and candles, or I'll do carryout. Elegance and complexity of flavors draws me to Indochine. The Peking group — long established and deserving of continued devotion — is the standout among Chinese establishments.

Morton: It's too bad that so many Chinese restaurants lost much of their authenticity by trying too hard for wide appeal. Full Kee on Horsepen seems to be one of the few that seems authentic. The Vietnamese restaurants have been generally of good quality, but I have returned again and again to the House of Vietnam and Mekong because they are comfortable and the food is very good. Thai Diner offers good food and a good value, and bustling Hana Zushi with a row of sushi chefs reminds us how far our tastes have evolved.

Bradley: After so many years, Saigon in the VCU area leads the way. Crispy spring rolls are made to order. And the pricing weighs heavily in favor of the diner. Out of this tiny, family owned — and run — kitchen come the most wonderful Vietnamese meals. On the other end of town, West Enders have caught on to House of Vietnam for the same

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