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.


Tour Frog said...

How good is Acacia, right?

They ade our list of fav Ricmond restaruants as well.

Liz @ I Heart Vegetables said...

I just tried Acacia for the first time a few weeks ago and I really liked it!