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More Sexy in the Fan

Mo Roman likes to cover both ends of the spectrum: in Richmond's case, the showy Bank Restaurant downtown, and the intimate Si, his just-opened tapas place in the Fan.

They couldn't be more different. For every foot of bar space at Bank, there's just an inch at Si, and the sophisticated formalism of the downtown design is yards away from the polka-dot, pink and light-wood setup at 214 N. Lombardy St. The place has been utterly transformed into the candlelit jewel box Roman envisioned for the neighborhood when he took on the project (in the former Wooden Spoon) last year. This is his fifth holding in the region.

At the stove is chef Joshua Ball, whose cooking credentials extend from a three-year stint in France to years in Colorado, California and Washington, D.C., at fine-dining standouts. He's also a pastry chef, making the restaurant's desserts in-house. Ball particularly digs the big-eye tuna, stuffed squid, roasted cod and foie gras terrine on the menu, as well as the apple-beet salad with Manchego foam.

"The quality is phenomenal," Ball says of the ingredients, "and we have a co-op of produce growers. The chorizo, cheeses and oils are all Spanish, and delicious."

The kitchen will serve until 1 a.m. on weekends and is likely to attract a following at the curvy communal table in the center, handmade from a beam during the building's renovation. Upstairs, a bar is surrounded by pink walls and a loungey vibe, a place Roman says he wants to hang out in. 257-7940.

Bump the Grinders

Do salt and pepper have a place on a restaurant table? It seems the debate continues around Richmond: One chef carries his own vial of sea salt at all times; some local chefs say the whole pepper-grinding thing with the yard-long mill is just silly pretense.

Diners, they say, should trust the chef to have seasoned -- and tasted — each dish before serving. ("You wouldn't believe how many fingers go into it," one chef says, stifling mock horror.)

One time we carried our own pepper grinder into Six Burner because they don't have one (or didn't then), and several people in our party love a good grinding of tellicherry on their salad. At Acacia, there's no salt and pepper on the tables for the same reason: The food is seasoned in the kitchen. Period. And that doesn't sit well with everyone, including a chef from another Virginia city who wrote this in his monthly newsletter:

"Sometimes I think we take our two most popular seasonings, salt and pepper, for granted — that is, until we miss them. My wife and kids ate at a very well-known restaurant in Richmond this weekend and came back complaining quite vocally that there were no salt and pepper shakers on the tables and that the servers wouldn't bring any, stating the chef had seasoned the dishes just the way he wanted. How arrogant! …

"And this reminds me of eating at Jean-Louis at the Watergate back in the '80s when I heard a customer and the service staff get into a bloody row because of Jean-Louis' refusal to put salt and pepper on the table.

"Sure, I season my food just the way that I like it, but who am I to dictate your tastes? I am pleased to announce that I have spent a fortune on new salt and pepper grinders for our tables so that you can season your food to your liking."

So, Richmond, how do you weigh in on this one? Chefs, care to comment?

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