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Scene Stealer

The look is packing them in, but can the food keep pace?


Once those glitches are fixed, Can Can is likely to take its place as one of the, if not the, most talked-about dining destinations in the metropolitan area.

Ripp, who grew up in the restaurant business (his father and business partner owns 16 Arby's in the Richmond area), spared little expense in creating the look of an early-20th-century Parisian brasserie and in assembling a widely traveled professional staff with enough degrees to open a branch of the Culinary Institute of America.

Can Can offers a variety of dishes and prices for every appetite and wallet. Dinner entrees range from $16 to $22, appetizers from $7 to $12. Be forewarned, however, that Ripp has made few concessions on the menu to non-Francophiles, although you can always get a burger or steak.

The menu is heavy on fish, but meat eaters can't go wrong with the "steak frites" in butter, red wine, shallots and brandy peppercorn. Other meat and fowl choices include a hanger steak, honey-spiced duck breast, mustard-crusted rabbit and pan-roasted chicken.

But you'll be making a mistake if you don't venture toward the real French items on the expansive menu.

Some dishes are so authentically French that their taste may not be what you expected. The quiche Lorraine, for example, contains no cheese, but instead is an airy bacon-flavored custard in a flaky crust.

Lunch features such French classics as croque monsieur, a plate-filling ham and cheese sandwich in which the smoked Gruyere spills over the crust of a bread so thick that a steak knife would have been useful to cut it.

A memorable dish, available like many at both lunch and dinner, is moules frites, mussels in a broth with sausage, potatoes and spinach, with a side of fries. It comes in two sizes, with about one or two dozen mussels. Other diners, however, have complained about sand in the mussels.

The fries, by the way, are among the best in town, worthy of ordering as a starter or side dish.

Each night features a special dinner: Monday is veal stew; Tuesday, skate; Wednesday, rack of lamb; Thursday, veal shanks; Friday, beef cheeks; Saturday, lobster; and Sunday, cod.

Among the permanent entrees, the salmon, sitting on a bed of lentils, wild mushrooms and red wine shallots, was roasted perfectly to acquire a crusty skin while preserving the flaky meat; the flavor of sole, which was seasoned, floured and fried in butter, was enhanced with lemon, capers and parsley potatoes; and cod was accompanied by cockles (small shellfish), potatoes and an herb broth.

An oyster bar offers shellfish by the piece or platter, and for $75 you can dive into a "grand plateau" of a whole lobster, 16 oysters, eight shrimp and eight clams, a dozen mussels and seasonal crab.

All meals start with a basket of bread baked early each day by master baker Phil Hodal.

Can Can opens early, and morning regulars have come to enjoy sitting by the front windows and munching croissants, beignets, tarts and other pastries just baked by pastry chef Cornelia Moriconi, or crepes, quiche, omelets and even cereal.

Can Can doesn't pretend to offer "fine" dining, where patrons linger over candlelight for three-hour repasts. Instead, it seeks to be a noisy, bright, fast-paced and somewhat smoky neighborhood hangout populated by patrons who come as much to see and be seen as to be wined and dined. You can almost see Toulouse-Lautrec, sitting at the end of the 50-foot zinc bar, tapping his foot to the dance music and sketching the beautiful people. S

Can Can Brasserie
3120 W. Cary St.
Café daily 7-11 a.m.Breakfast Saturday 8 - 10 a.m.
Brunch Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dinner Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 5 until close.
Bar open Sunday-Thursday until 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday until 2 a.m.

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