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Plate Spinners

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They're the high-wire acts of the food world: those risk-seeking and occasionally feckless souls who decide to open a restaurant in Richmond (or anywhere). In 2007, most local owners defied the odds and kept their lights on, but nearly every restaurateur in town says there were too many slow nights and too many competitors, or that Richmonders just wouldn't loosen up their wallets except on weekends.

That didn't stop them from unveiling a series of bistros in the city's hottest food zones. In Carytown: Weezie's Kitchen, Karsen's, Carytown Sushi and Cajun Bangkok. Up north: Northside Grille, Kitchen 64 and Tastebuds. In the Fan: Cirrus, Si Tapas and deLux (barely getting started before the New Year). Downtown: Café Rustica and Hidden Treasure. In Shockoe Bottom: Highwater at Toad's Place and Lulu's.

Spinoffs, including some of the above, were hotter than usual: Carena's Jamaican Grille in South Richmond, Arianna's in the Museum District, Little Mexico and Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream in the Fan, Emilio's at Woodlake, Seafire Grill in West Henrico and On Rye Delicatessen next to Croaker's Spot downtown. They all join sister businesses in the city.

Some are flying solo, like The Desserterie near Brandermill, Charles City Tavern east of town, Big Al's near Short Pump, and Fast Eddie's Café and The Farmhouse at Manakin Road in Goochland. Newcomers preparing to spin off into limited franchise include Barrel Thief near Short Pump, Café Caturra in Midlothian and Relish in Shockoe Bottom.

Other businesses grew sideways -- Capital Ale House adding a massive music hall to complement its world-class beer menu; Grandpa Eddie's putting on live music in Short Pump; Becky's, for years a breakfast-and-lunch-only staple, adding dinner and drinks downtown.

Ownership changes at Avenue 805, La Petite France, Grafiti Grille and The Ironhorse in Ashland were notable, as were the budget startups of quite a few storefront grills selling Brazilian-, Peruvian-, and Latino-inspired home cookery, such as Via Brasil Café in western Henrico.

For some, it was curtains. The "living our dream" story of Stephen Belford and Matt Harris hit its denouement — the high school buddies opened and shut bistro.104 in Shockoe Bottom, not grabbing enough of Zuppa's earlier success in the space.

Jumpin J's Java surprised some of its Church Hill neighbors by locking its wrought-iron gate last month. (See a commentary by its owner, Je Depew, on our Back Page.) The city's first Cambodian restaurant, Heavens & Earth Café on Rigsby Road, didn't survive the year despite great karma and loving owners. Chef Dale Reitzer's acclaimed Acacia leaves Carytown after New Year's Eve, getting new digs but not necessarily in Rocketts Landing after all; details on an alternative location are forthcoming.

Lemaire at the Jefferson Hotel closes for renovations in 2008, bowing to market pressure to reinvent itself into something busier. This will be the renovation to watch — can the landmark hotel launch a new fine-dining standard? And, similarly downtown, will the new Johnny Giavos-run restaurant inside the National Theater rise to the VIP-heavy occasion?

Eventually, dance club/ice bar Infuzion will open, probably the most difficult installation job of any restaurant here, ever. Who knew it would take Canadian ice this long to cross the border? Stay tuned for answers or at least more questions in the new year, as Richmond's food and drink scene stretches it limits. S



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