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The Blue Bottle stakes a claim downtown.

Something Old Is Something New


[image-1](Stacy Warner / One of the newest restaurants in town has set up shop in an area not usually associated with a good dinner out, or lunch, or breakfast for that matter. But The Blue Bottle, a come-as-you-are coffee-house bistro and rotisserie does all three—very well—six days a week from inside its space on the corner of Broad and North Jefferson at the edge of Jackson Ward. In a space washed with primary colors and furnished in a slender, stylized manner with cafe tables, chairs and high-backed booths, The Blue Bottle manages to be what few new Richmond restaurants are: original. The Blue Bottle serves old-concept, straight-ahead bistro fare: food that's big, richly flavored, simply prepared and served in bounteous quantity. It's the kind of food that takes haute cuisine to the woodshed for a "little learnin'." The menu is broader than it is deep and seems to draw largely from middle-brow French cooking for dinner, Continental for breakfast, and world beat for lunch. The breakfast portion of the menu features a full range of coffees — regular, espresso, cappuccino, latte, café American, etc. — and a Danish, bagel or croissant for as little as $1. If you have more time on your hands and between $5 and $8, you can linger over one of several plated breakfasts, including the Virginian (a Smithfield ham version of eggs Benedict), Orlin's Diana (two eggs any style with hummus and tabouleh), or the luxuriant St. Petersburg — Nova salmon, caviar, capers, onions, bread and hot tea. Not bad for $6.50. And VCU students get the deal: free coffee with any food. [image-2](Stacy Warner / For lunch, the menu includes salads, spit-roasted chicken and deli sandwiches as well as a variety of non-meat sandwiches, including grilled eggplant; fried trout; and the Pakistani pita stuffed with shitake mushrooms, onions, peppers, chilis and Middle Eastern spices. Dinner kicks up around 6 p.m., and a third menu appears, handwritten on plain white paper and photocopied, a low-budget approach that somehow avoids coming off as cheap. Dinner diners can order from all three menus, which we did. If they have it, do not miss the fresh and imaginative shrimp- and duck-stuffed corn tortilla appetizer. And if you like calamari, The Blue Bottle has the best I've had in Richmond: soft, fresh with the lightest of batters. If its heavy apps you want, try the mushroom caps stuffed with andouille sausage. One of our party also got a "small" bowl of white bean soup ($3.25), which at any other restaurant would be a large and a meal unto itself. Navy beans can take a heavy hand with seasonings, but these still come out a little mild. Our entrees came from all three menus: spit-roasted half chicken with steak fries ($6.95); coq au vin teeming with button mushrooms and melting off the bone ($11); Moulard duck breast, rich and rare with a generous edge of fat and served over bourbon-[image-3](Stacy Warner / mashed sweet potatoes and asparagus ($16.50); a 2-inch-thick spit-roasted chicken salad sandwich ($5.50); and one order of The Virginian ($5.70). To help wash down this feast, The Blue Bottle has a high quality beer list and two very good European-style house wines, plus others by the bottle. After dinner we lingered at table over coffee and locally made rum pound cake, unaware of the diners around us who had been effectively disappeared by the high-backed booths. The best part, though was that when the bill came and we divided by six, without much subsidizing each of us owed just $25, making this one of the top three value meals around, possibly unrivaled in quality for price. Which means we should have had to wait for a table at peak dinner hours on a Saturday night, and that makes me very nervous, indeed. Word apparently is slow to spread, and it can be difficult to move people out of well-worn dining-out routines. But if the more adventurous folks in town have any sense at all — and here's hoping — they'll crowd this place. I look forward to the wait.

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