Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Small Plates

Unfortunately it is still winter ... so as we brave the last few weeks of cold here are a few mini restaurant reviews to distract you from the chilly weather: The Hard Shell, Pasture, and Acacia Mid-town!

The Hard Shell (Shockoe Slip)  

Rating: 3 stars

The Hard Shell has been around since 1995 and is a Richmond staple for seafood. Located on the lower part of Shockoe Slip, this restaurant provides a great upscale option for city dwellers or those looking to spend a fancy night downtown. 

The dining area is large, with a couple of different rooms, and is full of dark wood tables and booths which are accompanied by brick walls. It has an inviting feel but you can tell this is a fancy place. The bar is also very welcoming, offering diners the option for a nice drink while they wait for a table. 

Restaurant Club visited here during the Sampling Shockoe Restaurant week in July. I must say I am glad we did it then because like I mentioned before this place is fancy, meaning it isn't cheap. Most entrees are $20 or above and we are not talking about getting Red Lobster sized portions here. The menu boasts a large raw bar selection and mainly traditional seafood options along with some steak choices as well (but really you should never order steak at a seafood restaurant).

She Crab Soup
For appetizers we had the she crab soup and the creamy lobster dip with fried tortillas. The soup was excellent with big pieces of crab meat and a great creamy consistency, but I was not impressed with the lobster dip. The tortillas were way too salty and the dip looked like Cheez Whiz ... definitely not what I was expecting from this type of restaurant. 

Lobster Dip
Crab Cakes
For our entrees we opted for the crab cakes and the grilled shrimp and scallops. The crab cakes were very good and ample in size, accompanied by jasmine rice and asparagus. On the more interesting side was the grilled shrimp and scallops. Inspired by Asian flavors it included orange sticky rice, seared Asian vegetables, and soy ginger beurre blanc. It was delicious. The flavors blended well and everything was cooked perfectly. My lone issue was that there were only two shrimp and two scallops. I was hoping for a little more with what normally would have been a $24 meal. We finished the night with the key lime pie and the chocolate mouse which were both very yummy. 

Grilled Shrimp and Scallops
Overall I think The Hard Shell is a nice place and it would be great for a fancy date night where you can travel downtown and enjoy the scenery of Shockoe Slip and the Canal Walk, but you might find it a little expensive and underwhelming for a more everyday occasion. 

Check out the Hard Shell website at:

The Hard Shell - Downtown on Urbanspoon


Rating: 2.5 stars

Pasture has received a lot of good press lately, in and outside of Richmond, so I was very excited to make a Restaurant Club trip here. Unfortunately I don't think Pasture lived up to all the hype.

Those stools do not look comfy!
First off it is in an awkward location at Grace and 5th Street downtown where it is surrounded by empty office buildings during the evening. You definitely have to be seeking this place out to find it. Second, the decor is not really ... pleasant? It attempts to present the stark, simple feeling of a barn, with high ceilings, low booths, white walls, and a cold tile floor. The bar is warmed up just a tad with a giant wall of wood planks behind it that give it a very rustic feel, but there is really nothing else there except the super minimized taps and metal bar stools that look rather painful to sit in. The lighting is bald and harsh as well. Let's just say it is not a place where I would want to hang out for a long period of time.
A very different looking bar area.

Simple table layout.
The menu was also surprisingly simple with snacks like Ritz crackers and pimento cheese and bread with butter and jams. More expensive small plates are offered as well as some full entree options like a pan roasted pork chop, a burger, and roasted chicken. The main focus is southern food and using fresh local ingredients as much as possible, which is pretty common around Richmond now.

Mushroom Toasts

On our visit we had the mushroom toasts as appetizers which honestly looked like cat food spread on crunchy pieces of bread. I found them way too salty and did not like the consistency at all. For our entrees one friend had the mixed green salad and the pork and house-chorizo meatballs with  chili grits and pozole broth, while myself and another friend had the grilled top sirloin with yukon gold mashed potatoes, charred onions, and red wine mushrooms. The salad is just your typical mixed green salad and the meatball dish, which we were expecting to be a little spicy due to the chili grits, was rather bland. The steaks were fine and the flavors blended well with the mushrooms and onions, but it was nothing to write home about ... and I hate paying $19 for sirloin. 

Sirloin Steak
So ... I don't know, I wasn't very impressed with the food or the atmosphere at Pasture. Perhaps it is a new cool thing that I am missing. I mean, I get what they are going for ... but I just don't get it. 

Check out the Pasture website at:

Pasture on Urbanspoon

Acacia Mid-town

Rating: 5 stars

Now this is a cool place to go. If you have ever driven past this restaurant on the Fan side of Cary Street and thought to yourself "Man that place looks neat/good/interesting," you were right! 

Super hip!
This restaurant has a super hip vibe from the cute waiting area up front, to the snazzy bar, to the fun art installation in the middle of the room. The dark walls and tables make the sexy lighting scheme pop and you get a sense that this place always has a chic buzz going on. With the addition of free valet parking and open doors on warm evenings Acacia is much more upscale and classy than your typical Fan restaurant. All night I kept saying that I felt like I was in New York City instead of Richmond.

Snazzy bar
Calamari Salad
Restaurant Club chose this as our fall Richmond Restaurant Week outing and lucky for us they have half price wine bottles on Tuesdays! The wine menu is very extensive and the food menu consists of a few small plates and appetizers plus several substantial entree choices. I am not going to lie to you, Acacia is expensive, but this is one of the few places that is actually worth it! They also offer a $24 fixed price menu from 5:30-9pm Monday through Thursday and 5:30-6:30pm on Friday and Saturday. So if you pair that with half priced wine on Tuesdays you can get a lot of good stuff for a decent price.

Tuna Tartare
Crab Cake
We had the fried calamari salad (delicious), the tuna tartare with wasabi mayo appetizer (great if you like tuna tartare, hehe), the hangar steak (unfortunately this was a little over cooked but they quickly replaced it with a perfect one), and the crab cake (awesome, major lump crab, and I even liked the cheese grits that accompanied it which normally I do not). I believe we had some different desserts than what they have on their menu now, and I can't remember their exact names, but they were wonderful (see pictures below!).

Acacia provides that unique combination of a fun and exciting experience and great food. So grab your significant other or a group a friends and treat yourself to a dazzling night out at Acacia soon!

Check out the Acacia Mid-town website at:

Acacia Mid-town on Urbanspoon

Be Real.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Wild Ginger

Rating: 3.5 stars

The only current offering from EAT Restaurant Partners located in the Southside is Wild Ginger, a Pan-Asian restaurant with an extensive wine list, creative sushi, and a wide array of Asian inspired dishes. But unless you live in deep in the James River area of Midlothian you probably don't even know it exists. That's because this little place is tucked away in a small shopping center located quite a ways down Robious Road near 288. In case you don't know, EAT Restaurant Partners operate a few well known restaurants in Richmond, specifically Osaka Sushi and Steak, The Blue Goat (also reviewed on this blog), and most recently Fat Dragon. My guess is Wild Ginger is probably the least well known of the four, but that doesn't mean that if you live in the area you shouldn't get to know it.

We decided to go to Wild Ginger for our January Restaurant Club, not having been anywhere on Southside in a while and wanting to check out something a little more ethnic than our most recent outings. Pulling up I caught glimpses of the warm yellow glow of the bar and the electric blue of the sushi area. I could see that for a spectacularly warm Tuesday night in February (yay for 75 degrees in winter!) several patrons were enjoying drinks at the bar and that the restaurant was fairly busy (I guess more people know about it than I think!).

Bar area accented by fancy yellow lighting.

Upon entering you can see that the bar is tucked away on its own, allowing the main dining area to stay quiet and peaceful. The bar area itself is quite attractive. The bar and shelves are internally lit with deep yellow lights and there is a nice large screen TV adorning the back wall. A lovely glass display of wine bottles helps separate the bar from the dining room. The sushi chef area also has its own decorative lighting thanks to a very cool and serene water installation that continuously bubbles calmly. Pretty much everything else in the restaurant besides these two colorful areas is a darker hue, creating an inviting and comfortable feeling and allowing the lighting features to provide a warm glow.

Inviting dining room and wine display.

After being seated we were greeted quickly by our waiter as we perused the wine menu. The wine list is extensive, but the cheapest options are $7 and the majority come with a fairly hefty price tag (and on top of those they still have a reserve wine list that you can request!). So, not the best place for a cheap drink, but I splurged a little and had the Lapis Luna Merlot which was excellent. The beer list is not nearly as vast but it did include some decent offerings.

As far as the dinner menu goes, that is more along the lines of the wine list. There are several interesting sounding appetizers, like Sunshine Shrimp and Grilled Lamb Lollipops. For your entree you have the choice of going for a variety of fried rice or noodle options, steaks, Asian inspired meet and seafood dishes, or sushi. I was highly tempted to try one of the main entrees, especially the Shiitake Scallops or Saffron Shrimp, but since these were more like the types of dishes we had been getting at Restaurant Club recently I ended up opting for sushi.

Sushi bar with bubbles!

Now, I like sushi, but by no means am I a sushi connoisseur (I usually get eel and shrimp tempura, which is probably totally lame I am sure). So, to stay along those lines I ordered the Two88 Roll (cute right?) which is shrimp tempura topped with avocado and spicy blue crab with eel sauce and black sesame, and the traditional Eel Roll (ah I love how adventurous I am!). The Eel Roll was great, hard to mess that one up I think, and the Two88 Roll was beautifully displayed. The way the avocado was layered on top was gorgeous. It tasted very good as well, though I felt it had almost a minty flavor on top which threw me off a little.

Eel and Two88 Rolls ... so pretty.

My friends opted for the edamame, the Bogey's Roll,  the Spider Roll, the Chesapeake Roll, the Wild Ginger Fried Rice, and the Pad Thai. Everyone liked their food, and having tasted a bit of each I particularly enjoyed the Pad Thai and the Chesapeake Roll (soft shell crab, avocado, spicy tuna and cucumber wrapped with soy paper and finished off with spicy aioli and eel sauce). The soy paper on the roll provided an interesting twist to the sushi, and my friend said that the Pad Thai was fancier than what she normally had, but I thought it was delicious. If I went back to Wild Ginger again I would probably get those two dishes for my meal.

Bogey's Roll
Chesapeake Roll ... I would get this next time!

For dessert the other ladies chose the molten lava cake and the chocolate peanut butter pie. The dessert menu changes often so always be sure to ask your waiter about it. The pie was good, but I am not much in to peanut butter, and the cake was excellent but be aware that the melted center is dark chocolate. During the dessert course we ended up having a lovely discussion about whether we preferred splurging on dessert or wine when dining out. Just so you know, I am decidedly in the wine court!

We all enjoyed our experience at Wild Ginger. The restaurant provides a casual yet calm atmosphere, our waiter was great, gladly answering our questions and attending to us well throughout the evening (even when one of the girls accidentally shot an edamame bean at him!), and the food is fresh and interesting. At the end of the evening the checks totaled around $30 a piece, which is really not bad for sushi and wine ... or dessert (if that is your preference).

I really only found one problem with Wild Ginger: the location. Even for someone who lives in Southside I feel this place is a little far off the beaten path. If you live in the area it is a great place to have so close by, but I can't say I would drive past several other sushi restaurants just to go to there. So for those of you who are in the Robious/Huguenot/James River area and are in the mood for some good sushi or a refreshing take on Asian cuisine, I would recommend you give Wild Ginger a try. As for everyone else, let's hope EAT Restaurant Partners decides to open a restaurant that's a little more accessible for the rest of Southside!

Check out the Wild Ginger website at:
See their Facebook page at:

Be real.

Wild Ginger on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sedona Taphouse

Rating: 4 stars

Shout out to the Southsiders!

It is often incorrectly stated by those who live within the city limits that there are no good places to go in the Southside. Luckily, those of us who live south of the river know better, and I am happy to state that Sedona Taphouse is one of the best new additions to an area that already has several great options such as Cafe Caturra, Crab Louie's, and Capital Ale House.

Located in the newer development of Westchester Commons off of Midlothian Turnpike, Sedona Taphouse stands out among other Southside newcomers as an upscale bar/restaurant that provides a hip "city" feel, minus the thirty minute drive. Boasting over 500 craft beers (one of the largest selections on the East Coast according to the website), Sedona attempts to rival Capital Ale House. While it may not quite succeed, it definitely provides an excellent option for beer lovers, and may even be good enough to make city dwellers cross the river every once and a while.

Photo accredited to Richmond Times Dispatch

Walking into the restaurant you are immediately taken with the tall warehouse ceilings and the impressiveness of the bar, which has been full all three times I have visited. A warm glow emits from the area, and a stately stone wall produces a dramatic effect that draws your attention to the numerous taps and rows upon rows of bottled beers located there. Dark tables and a concrete floor serve to match the hip but still inviting vibe of the establishment. While it is well put together there are some minor complaints about the atmosphere. The tables are a little tightly packed together, and the tall, unfinished ceiling doesn't dampen noise well. So, when it's packed, the restaurant is fairly loud and takes on a definite bar feeling, rather than that of an upscale restaurant. But it is a taphouse right?

Sweet bar!  Photo accredited to Sedona Taphouse's Facebook page. 

Speaking of the bar atmosphere, Sedona Taphouse has some great happy hour offerings till 6:30 on weeknights, with select $3 beers and wines, and $5 martinis. They also feature specialty nights like $5 steak night on Mondays for charity, Wine Down Wednesdays, and live music on Friday evenings. Beer flights are also offered for those who may want to try out a few options, and I am guessing with 500 beers available that is a popular selection.

I must say the beer list is impressive, but my only complaint is that it is a bit overwhelming. Unlike Capital Ale House, which gives a detailed description of what their draft beers taste like, so you have something to go by when ordering, Sedona only lists the name, location, and type of beer (IPA, Lager, etc.). That is not really much help when there are tons of beers to choose from. While the servers are knowledgeable and can assist by providing more info, it would be much easier if you could just peruse the descriptions on your own. That is probably my biggest recommendation for Sedona, and I think both the servers and customers would find things running more smoothly if this improvement was added.

So many choices! Photo accredited to Sedona Taphouse's Facebook page.

To be honest, there have been a few other complaints over my several outings to Sedona Taphouse. During my first visit, only a few weeks after the place opened,  we sat at long skinny tall tables (a la BlowToad) near the front windows of the restaurant beside the bar. While we were only there for drinks, the size and placement of the tables caused us to have to squeeze together and sit with strangers. I was glad to see by my third visit in June that they had replaced the skinny tables with the normal four seater size, granting easier access to that section and allowing it to double as both a food and bar area.

Another issue that had been remedied after our original outing was the addition of liquor to the restaurant. (Yes, they had started out with just beer and wine.) Seriously ... you can have all the beer in the world, but if you are going to make it as a full scale restaurant with a big bar atmosphere, an ABC license is pretty essential. I was also happy to see specialty martinis added to the menu, again contributing to the upscale feel of the place.

Check out the hip urban style. Photo accredited to Style Weekly.

Ok, enough about the alcohol, now on to the food! During our first outing to Sedona Taphouse the menu consisted of mainly appetizers and small plates with very few full entrees. I was disappointed, but I figured they were really pushing the bar feeling and wanted to limit having to focus too much on the food. That's fine ...  a ton of places in Richmond do that ... but it definitely shapes your clientele.  That's why I was super excited on my second visit to find a much lengthier list of dinner items including multiple seafood, chicken, and steak options. They still offer their signature small plates like grilled flatbreads, sliders, and tacos  if you're interested in lighter fare or a late night snack, but the expansion of the menu was certainly a welcome change.

$5 steak night on Mondays - Photo accredited to the Westchester Commons website.

So far I have had the chance to sample the BBQ sliders, the crab cake, and my friends have had the fish tacos. I thought that the BBQ was ok as far as BBQ goes, but the "blues," Sedona's signature thick cut chips, were great. My friends had no problem scarfing down their fish tacos (I didn't even get offered a bite!). Though they did think they were a little overpriced at $6.50 a piece. As far the crab cake, I thought it was wonderful, along with the tasty redskin mashed potatoes and broccoli. It was mostly lump crab meat and was nicely pan seared. A simple dish thankfully not overdone with too many add-ons. The price was also right, at only $14 for a delicious and well proportioned meal.

Sorry, no pic of the crab cake, but here are the crab cake sliders!
Photo accredited to Stephanie from

As you can see, living in the Southside I have had the opportunity to visit this restaurant a few times over the course of its short life, and have gotten to enjoy watching the owners grow and enhance their business. Each time I have seen new adjustments made as they attempt to correct problems and expand options in an effort to create an establishment that truly makes people want to come back. It's refreshing to see a place that is continually trying to improve. Every time I have been to Sedona, whether it was for drinks, a nice dinner with my mom, or girls' night out, I have had a wonderful experience. I am proud to have another great restaurant in the Southside, and I look forward to seeing what Sedona does next!

Photos accredited to Cassandra B. from

Check out the Sedona Taphouse website at:
See their Facebook page at:

Be real.

Sedona Taphouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kuba Kuba

Photo from Kuba Kuba's website, by Chris Smith

Rating: 3.5 stars

Nestled in the Lower Fan, this quaint little spot is known to serve up the best Cuban food in town. So if you are craving some traditional Cuban dishes, or want to expand your taste buds into something new, Kuba Kuba is probably one of the better options in Richmond. It offers an eclectic experience that might just make you feel like you have indeed traveled to the little island itself.

I have told my friends often that I would like to try this place, and a month or two ago we finally found the perfect night. The four of us headed over on a lovely spring Friday evening, and upon walking in I found a small, 1950's looking restaurant, with a few tables and booths, and a dining bar complete with 50's style stools. Not really what I was expecting, but it is pretty charming in its own way.

Packed house...

At the front of the restaurant we were greeted by a wall of reviews and newspaper articles touting the greatness of this place, and a couple of benches for waiting. It took a bit, but after a few minutes we were approached by a hectic looking waitress, and while there were two tables that could have been pushed together for us to use, we were asked to wait for a booth to open up. I was not too happy about this, but apparently it is their policy, and I suppose with a small, busy, restaurant it is best to conserve space as much as possible. As a project manager who always strives for efficiency I was willing to let that one go. Sadly though, the booth right next to us while we waited was taken up by two people watching a video on their laptop while they ate nothing. much for efficiency.

After waiting about 10 minutes, while other smaller groups were seated ahead of us, we finally got our booth. As I glanced around the restaurant I could see that it had been decorated to reflect the owner's family, with original family photos from the 50's adorning the walls and recreated as works of art painted around the restaurant. It's a pretty cute concept, your typical family restaurant decor taken to an extreme. Shelves of packaged Cuban foods and drinks also align the walls like a corner store, reminding you of the culture you are supposed to be experiencing.

Family photos as art!

Once we were seated we perused the menu, and my friends let me know that the specials were on a chalkboard behind me, above the dining bar area. While it was a little uncomfortable having to turn around in my seat to check them out, at least they were very legible. I think it would be nice to have more description available about the specials on a paper menu though, because I was not very familiar with the dishes and did not have much time to focus on the chalkboard, which prevented me from trying something from the list.

Specials on chalkboards ... turning around in my booth to get this shot.

For drinks, three of us split a bottle of wine (the list is not extensive but the options cover pretty much everything) and one of our friends chose from the limited beer list, opting for a $1 Miller High Life pony bottle. We encouraged him heavily on this choice (because really where do you EVER see pony bottles?) and he was ecstatic about it once he got his beer. In fact, he was adamant that I give this place an extra half star just for the pony bottles ... very adamant about it ... as in he would not stop talking about it the rest of the night...

Pony bottles!

So now that I have gotten in the bit about the pony bottles, back to the restaurant. Not being that familiar with Cuban food, I settled on the Cuban sandwich, really branching out I know, but I figured that I would keep on the safe side for my first trip here. Another of my friends followed me on the sandwich, while the other two got Arroz Con Pollo (very traditional chicken dish with yellow rice) and Paella Valenciana (Spanish rice with clams, mussels, shrimp, and chorizo). We also ordered an appetizer of tostones (deep-fried plantains).

Honestly, I am not a huge fan of fried plantains, I know alot of people love them though, and Kuba Kuba's are very good. Sweet and salty, and fried to perfection. My only drawback was that they also come with all the sandwiches. Had I known that, I would not have eaten so many as an appetizer, so just FYI on that if you have never been here before.

The Cuban sandwich was delicious, the meat was tender and juicy, the cheese was heartily applied and the bread was perfectly crispy and chewy. It is also a big sandwich; I definitely couldn't finish it after having an appetizer. But man was I craving some french fries to go with it! I guess I am so used to having that salty taste to complement a sandwich that the tostones where just not cutting it for me. If I could pick one thing to change for this restaurant it would be to add fries to the menu as a side option (even if they are not very Cuban).

Cuban sandwich and tostones ... delish!

For the other dishes, the Arroz Con Pollo was very good, and it offered alot of food, with two large chicken breasts, veggies, and rice all mixed together. The Paella was similar, though it had alot more broth on it, which unfortunately made it a bit too salty. All of our dishes were of ample size and most of us could not finish, so you definitely get your money's worth here. Dishes range from $7 to $20, so you can pick how fancy and how expensive you want to get. They also have non-Cuban options like a New York strip and pork shank if you get dragged here and aren't in the mood for Latin American tastes. We did not opt for dessert but I have heard great things about the Tres Leche Cake and I will be sure to try that next time.

Arroz Con Pollo = alot of food.

Paella Valenciana ... more broth and a little salty, but still good.
Outside of the food there are a few complaints though. This restaurant is very small, like I said, so if you get here on a busy night you could definitely be waiting for a while. And I don't think this place would be good at accommodating large parties. We had to wait for a booth while there were open tables, and while the service was fine, it was nothing special. Also, it was very hot the night we were there (one of the guys was pretty sweaty, and I do not get hot easily, so if I say it was hot, it was hot). We attempted to laugh it off by saying they were trying to make us feel like we were really in Cuba, but it did make the night rather uncomfortable.

There isn't alot that is fancy about this place, but it doesn't claim to be fancy, so as long as you go in with that expectation, I don't think you will displeased. I can't see myself dying to go back here, but if I was in the neighborhood I certainly wouldn't mind stopping by. If you are looking for a special night out with an extravagant experience, look somewhere else, but if you love Cuban food, want to try it for the first time, or just desire a chill night and a beer in a pony bottle, I would definitely recommend hitting up Kuba Kuba!

The pony bottle was the star of the night!

Check out the Kuba Kuba website at:

Be Real.

Kuba Kuba on Urbanspoon