Before Longoven even had its own six-burner, the restaurant was already winning critical plaudits from Bon Appétit for the pop-up series it held at Sub Rosa. Tickets quickly sold out for the intimate affairs that garnered the magazine's praise as a 2016 best new restaurant.
Those who missed Longoven's debuts now can dine at the brick and mortar location, open since late June in Scott's Addition.
I'd describe Longoven as fine dining without the fuss of white table linens and tuxedoed staff. Every inch of the space feels Nordic in its modern and clean minimalism. Muted tones are relaxing and the house music complements the atmosphere. It feels special and set apart from the rush of daily living.
Dining at Longoven isn't so much a meal as it is an experience. The service staff is exquisitely attentive, often roving in orderly packs to ensure patrons are quickly helped. Drops of sparkling water are promptly dabbed away if spilled while pouring.
On the drink side, the seasonal cocktail meal currently includes an understated libation by the name of Whisky Cocktail ($12). Don't let the low-key humility of the name fool you. This concoction is a complex and eminently drinkable amalgamation of Canadian whisky, nocino, amaro Pasubio and aromatic bitters. If you're like me, you had to Google at least two of those ingredients. It tastes like fall in a glass with an intriguing combination of strong and subtle spicing, including liqueur infused with black walnuts from the barkeep's yard. The cocktail offers strong flavors and spices without packing too much of a sting or bite.
Longoven's seasonal menus include about 10 items available a la carte, all simply labeled with the major ingredients. As you go through the menu you progress from more raw, earthy, vegetal notes to dishes with bolder, bigger flavors. The staff recommends two or three items per person. You can compose your own taste tour or follow the advice of the well-trained and informative servers.
Our first courses are lamb tartare ($16) and foie gras with sourdough crouton ($30). The foie gras, in addition to looking like an artful centerpiece, is lusciously creamy and buttery. It's garnished with two types of fiery red seaweed that give the torchon an autumnal halo and a subtle salty tinge in the mix of flavors. It pairs well with the sourdough croutons and is an indulgence I don't regret, despite my initial skepticism at whether I could or should eat something so aesthetically styled. The lamb tartare offers a generous portion and a refreshing set of flavors to start off the meal.
Our transitional course, cataloged as seeds, nettles, comté ($15), is one of the more inventive dishes I've had in Richmond. It combines sunflower, chia, pumpkin seeds and quinoa into an earthy, creamy risotto with inventive textures served warm and accompanied with autumn greens and a flavorful grated cheese.
On the heavier, bolder front, a dish of pork, eggplant, Tuscan kale and nardello ($30) offers perfectly cooked meat. The pureed eggplant on the side, seasoned with onion ash, has a smoky flavor, and the pureed kale, hidden under the unpureed kale, grows on you once the dissonance over texture and flavor resolves. A scallop dish ($30), not currently listed on its website, offered succulent, juicy scallops with a nice tang to balance the buttery goodness.
Desserts do not disappoint in either flavor or inventiveness. A white chocolate mousse ($11) paired with a chicory-soaked sponge cake and tahini ice cream and lemon gel is an inventive interpretation of tiramisu. The chicory and tahini bridge the sweet and sour with a subtle earthy bitterness that works in harmony with the lemon and white chocolate. The fig, bucheron, and sheep's yogurt pairs an aerated sheep's yogurt that is ethereal and chilly with the tanginess of goat's cheese and fig. As you're eating it, it feels like fresh snow dancing with a berry pie.
Longoven's attention to artistry is precise and laser-focused. You can sense how deeply the chefs and staff care about this concept, and their story shows they've been on a journey to this place for a long time. On the merits, I have no beef with Longoven. The menu is inventive, seasonal and delicious, and you can tell the chefs love what they do.
My biggest concern: I have to pause at prices that categorically exclude more than a quarter of the city's residents. For many of us out there, it's a hard sell to set aside $200 or more on a dinner for two. I can only hope that we can make fresh, high quality meals accessible to more people in our community as the food scene evolves. S
2939 W. Clay St.
Tuesdays – Thursdays 5-10 p.m.
Fridays – Saturdays 5 – 11 p.m.