Sunday, May 20, 2012

Zeus Gallery Cafe

Rating: 3 stars

I don't know about you, but when I am asked to pay $32 for a meal, I expect a little atmosphere to go with it. Unfortunately, Zeus Gallery Cafe asks but doesn't provide.

For our May Restaurant Club meeting we ventured to this little spot in the Museum District. I had put this restaurant on our list over a year ago, and we were finally going. I was excited to say the least, so I was pretty surprised when I parked in front of the restaurant to find a drab overhang and a very dark front window. It didn't seem very inviting from the outside, but I still hoped for the best having heard good things from others.

The place did seem fine enough when we walked in. Your typical small fan restaurant, with a small bar in the back and some four person booths. Checking out the rest of the place for a table, we found a side room that had some larger booths, but this part of the restaurant had the lights off and didn't seem set for dinner. Also, there was an open door at the back of the room revealing an office composed of a messy desk and boxes ... not very charming. We assumed they were not planning to serve in that area unless they had to, so we headed back to the main room. On the way we glanced into the waiting area, which has a couple of nice futons and some lovely wine racks, providing a comfy area to spend a few minutes if you needed to wait for a table. Sadly I would later come to realize that the waiting room definitely had the most atmosphere in the whole place.

The main room was pretty empty for a Thursday. Just two other couples besides us, but perhaps it was too early for their regulars. Taking our seats, I had some time to glance around the room and take things in. Zeus' M.O. is that they are a restaurant and an art gallery, so they display different artist's work, showing a certain person for a while and then changing things up. I think this could be a really cool idea, but you definitely need to have an artist who can fill up your walls. That was not the case the night we were there. There was lots of empty space and the art was rather muted, making the restaurant feel drab and unspectacular. I would suggest showing two artists at a time if one of them doesn't have enough work to go around. The experience of a pricey restaurant is just too important to have it's walls looking unkempt and unconsidered.

Another thing that is also very noticeable on the walls are the wine menus. They are split by red and white on two chalkboards hung about three feet above your head if you are sitting down, which makes them pretty impossible to read (a story to come on this later...). Also, I was unable to find a beer menu until after we had ordered because it is on a separate chalkboard at the bar ... very helpful.

When the waitress brought our menu we discovered that it was also on a chalkboard (surprised?). So we then all got to stare across the table at the board, trying to make out what the scribbled and half erased writing said. When the waitress came back for our orders I asked if they changed their menu often, assuming that was the reason for the chalkboard. Nope, they don't. They have specials that the waitress tells you about and the rest stays the same. Really? Then why on earth put everything on a chalkboard that looks messy and cheap, and makes it difficult for your customers to enjoy the experience of your restaurant because they have to stare at something two feet across a table or literally get up from their seats and stand in the middle of the room to look at a wine list? I think chalkboards are fine for a sandwich shop where you stand in line to order your food, but certainly not for a restaurant that averages $28 a plate. I just do not get that trend in Richmond restaurants. Print out some menus! Chalkboards are not cute, or hip, or trendy ... they are a pain in the ass!

Photo credited to Rogview from

A little detour here while we are talking about the atmosphere. The bathroom is also really disappointing for an expensive restaurant. You basically have to walk through part of the kitchen/serving area to get to it, which is not pleasant for a customer. And during my walk I could see what I hope was the leftovers of the bread we were given, just laying out with the knife and crumbs. I don't know, it was just weird and awkward, and not what I was expecting given what I was being charged.

Ok, back to the evening. Due to not wanting to get up in front of the entire restaurant to examine the red wine list at my leisure, I asked the waitress for their house wines (that's the beginning of that story I was talking about). She listed off three options, we decided on the Cabernet, and then we proceeded to order our food. There are about ten entrees on the menu ranging from steak to seafood to pasta, which is a small spread but seems to cover everyone's typical likes. My friends ordered the cauliflower soup as an appetizer, the fish option (I believe it was croaker), the shrimp and grits, and two of us (myself included) ordered the filet mignon. To be honest I don't normally order a filet, which always seems so expensive for so little, but I figured I would go for it here since there wasn't much else on the menu that interested me, and I am not a big fan of new york strip, which was the other steak option.

The cauliflower soup came in a very large portion for an appetizer, which was good because it was $9. And it was very yummy, warm and creamy. We actually all ended up helping our friend try and finish it. Even after that she had to take some of it home. You could certainly make a lunch out of the soup. And the bread they provide is very good as well. Nothing spectacular, but certainly worth having two pieces ;)

When the entrees came out I was a little disappointed by the size of the portions. The meats were all decent but there was not alot to go with them. My filet had four strips of asparagus and four tiny roasted potatoes. I was hoping for a little more for $32. But I can't lie ... the filet was delicious. It was cooked to perfection, seared on the outside and medium on the inside. Tender and not over seasoned, so that it just tasted like really good beef. It made me realize why my mom often orders this cut when we go out. It's not as much meat, but what you get is awesome! Everything else was really good as well. The shrimp and grits had a great gravy on it, which allowed me to stand the taste of the grits alot better. And the fish was excellent as well, reminding me of when you catch the fish yourself and cook it that night.

Filet mignon = delish
Shrimp and grits with yummy gravy.

After cleaning our plates, two of the ladies opted on desert, and voila, another chalkboard appeared! And ouch, it was another $9 for each, plus $1.50 if you wanted it al a mode! They opted for the mixed berry dessert, which was like a cobbler, and we talked our friend into trying the beignets, which were the special for the evening, because how often do you get to have beignets in Richmond. The cobbler was great, but I was a little disappointed by the beignets. There just wasn't really that much too them, basically a donut/funnel cake kind of taste with some chocolate and berry sauce. But, hey, it was worth a try.

Mixed berry dessert ... mmm mmm.
Beignets so, but cute presentation.

So here's the good part (and the end of the story). When the waitress brought our check, we discovered that our little "house" wine was actually $40!!! What??? Does she not know what house wine means? It means yes, we are poor and we need you to give us your cheapest wine please since I can't read your menu to pick out one for myself because I am trapped in my booth and don't want to have to stand up and look like an idiot in front of everyone else! We felt totally ripped-off and I wouldn't be surprised if this happens rather often. So unfortunately we learned that lesson the hard way. Please, if you ever ask for a "house" wine (at Zeus' or anywhere), make sure you ask how much it costs, because apparently everyone's definition of that term is not the same.

Thanks to our little wine debacle, our dinners averaged around $50-60 a piece that night. I don't know about you, but for me, that is crazy high. Even if the wine had been a more normal $25 it would still have been our most expensive Restaurant Club to date.

Now, I am all for paying that much if you have a great atmosphere and the experience is out of this world, but no way am I happy about it with what we got. The food it great, I am not going to deny that, and that is specifically why I still rated this place 3 stars. But you can great food at alot of other places that also offer more charm and a more pleasant evening out, and may even be slightly cheaper. So unless you have plenty of money to throw around, or you just don't care at all about your overall dining experience, I don't think you will come away ecstatic about your trip to Zeus Gallery Cafe. In fact you may feel like we did ... a little ripped-off and disappointed.

The infamous chalkboard wine list.

Be Real.

Zeus Gallery Cafe on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I like it that you tell it the way it is!

Anonymous said...

I've only been to Zeus's Cafe once, (even though I live super close to it) because I kind of felt the same way... the food was good and all that, but not really worth the price...

Anonymous said...

I love the charm of the chalkboard menu as do most of the regulars. After working there for 6 years, I know non of the house wines are even close to $40 I recommend speaking up in this type of situation and most are willing to fix the problem for you.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, *None

scott davidson said...

I enjoyed looking at the many wall paintings that you have done. Not being very handy with a paintbrush, even though I know what I like in the way of art, I took the easier option to order this canvas print from the site .
It’s an unusual work called Forest music 1, by Remedios Varo Uranga, a Spanish-Mexican woman artist.