10.28.2011

The Blue Goat: RVA Goes Nose-to-Tail

 
As you know, I very recently visited my hometown, Richmond, Virginia. Richmond has pretty sweet restaurants and I have been lucky enough to sample many of them throughout my life. The city is flecked with small, intimate corner cafes and independent bistros with thoughtful food, kind staff and, more often than not, big windows and pressed tin ceilings. And, almost always, a welcoming bar where one can comfortably sit and eat.

To this day that is the style of dining experience to which I am drawn. I prefer small spaces with big food.

Prior to arriving on this particular trip, Paz, Dad and I decided to share a meal out together on my first night in town. We all settled on the Blue Goat, a new venture by Chris Tsui and chef, Kevin La Civita (Osaka, Sushi-O and Wild Ginger) with a nose-to-tail concept. Here in LA we are certainly not for want in this department. We have Animal, Sotto, Gorbals, Lazy Ox Canteen, of course,  Salt’s Cure (my favorite), to name a few. But for Richmond this is pretty damned cool. Their products are also all sourced from local farms including the much lauded Polyface Farm. I was excited.

We had 8pm reservations on a Friday night, rolled in right on time into a bustling scene, and yet were seated immediately by our welcoming and smiling hostess. Take that LA!


The restaurant is occupying what I grew up knowing as Peking, a Chinese restaurant that kicked around for 31 years. I remember their Peking Duck fondly. In a Grosse Point Blank moment, I was shocked to notice that it is entirely unrecognizable in any semblance of my recollection. But it does look pretty great. The walls have been stripped, leaving the original exposed brick. The wooden ceiling, once hidden by another layer of wood, is now exposed. That extra wood was converted into the restaurant’s refinished Douglas-fir tables and, after some digging, Tsui and company found and polished the floor that was used when the building was a grocery store in the 1930s. The space includes a bar that runs the length of the building, as well as spacious, cozy booths, high tables and even a private wine room that seats parties of up to 12 and has a window looking right into the kitchen.


The menu is vast. We were overwhelmed. We wanted one of everything. But we first ordered cocktails. Now y’all know I am by no means a cocktail person, but I figured I was back home and they were doing this whole she-she-la-la cocktail thing everyone’s got their panties in a bunch about everywhere, so why not? I went for the obvious choice as it was entitled, The Only Thing You Drink: Aperol Apertivo, St. Germain, Fresh Squeezed Lime, Rosemary Sprig ($9). I enjoyed it, actually. Dad ordered his standard martini and Paz ordered a glass of Albarino.


We went ahead and got some Pork rinds with gray sea salt ($4) to go with cocktail time. They were straightforward and genius. They managed to be light and airy without the greasy and heavy. The pork flavor came through absolutely and the gray sea salt only brought it forth one step further. I would appreciate a big bag of them now to snack on while I write.


Then we went a little bit crazy…

Daily Shellfish Selection $17 
Local Fresh Raw Oysters (selection of Chincoteague, Upper James & Sting Rays)
With Jumbo Carolina Head On Shrimp Paired
With house made pepper relish and mignonette sauces

This was exactly what it was: fresh, local, beautiful shellfish. I never bother with relishes, mignonettes or the like when I have raw shellfish before me. Just give it to me straight up, no chaser.

 Batter fried, julienne strips of Smithfield Farm pig ear, a sunny side duck egg with crispy Swiss chard ($12)

Oh my. This was decadence. This was my salt fest. Slice through that egg and let all of the textures and flavors marry and this is one hell of a dish. This dish would bowl over any of my pig ear-loving Angelinos, for sure. And most certainly Maggie.

 Hudson Valley seared foie gras over black mission fig quick bread, huckleberry
and plum compote and pomegranate reduction ($15)

Foie is one of my all-time favorite things to put in my mouth. This did not disappoint. It’s exterior was ever so slightly crisped to give way to a luscious, ethereal interior. I even tried it with the compote and didn’t drop to the floor in dramatic convulsions. Even I could see that the flavor profiles were matched beautifully. 

*For you Richmonders reading this: please note that “compromised” fruit is – and always has been - something of a fear of mine.

 Manakintowne mixed field green salad, Hanover tomato, strawberries, white anchovies, with a pomegranate mint vinaigrette ($7)

Two things in the description of this salad had me at hello: Hanover tomatoes and white anchovies. So much so that I threw caution to the wind with the strawberry factor (see fruit disclaimer above). The salad was perfectly conceived. The only criticism I have is that the tomatoes were either not entirely in season any longer or not ripe. Eagerly anticipating my first Hanover tomato in over a year, I was, admittedly, disappointed. Fantastic dressing, however.

 Fallen Oaks Farm rabbit pate “country style”, bruschetta and white truffle honey ($11)

This was an unexpected treat, brought over to us by the manager, Chris (could it have been my huge camera, perhaps?). I’m so pleased he brought this as it was a surprise hit. The white truffle honey was glorious and this dish’s smoothness and warmth added a perfect follow up to the anchovies and pomegranate vinaigrette. Thanks, Chris!

 House made Ravioli stuffed with braised goat, ricotta and swiss chard with sage brown butter and shaved Pecorino Romano ($11)

This was another I-must-have-this-immediately dish I spotted on the menu. I am somewhat fixated on hand-made pasta at present, and anything with brown butter is a go. Unfortunately the ravioli was a little bit too toothsome and a lot bit too oleaginous. The brown butter was not tremendously visible aesthetically or on the tongue. The braised goat, ricotta and swiss chard insides were remarkable, however.

 Braised pork cheeks over spaetzle ($15)

Hold the phone. Hold. The. Phone. This dish was RIDICULOUS. I wish we had ordered it earlier on in our gluttony as I wanted to savor each and every droplet in each and every bite. Dear Chef LaCivita, Pretty please ship me 284969 pounds of this tout suite!

We all agreed that this was our favorite of the evening.

If you can believe it, we also tried to order the Veal marrow bone with gray sea salt, bruschetta and black olive tapenade ($11) – but (thank God) they were out.

I can’t recall what Paz or Dad ordered in the wine department but I paired my meal with a glass of The Prisoner ($13) and a glass of the Petît Batard ($12) – and they were absolutely tailor-made for the meal.

Listen, the food was great. The service was great. The atmosphere, if a bit loud, was great. I totally applaud that Tsui and LaCivita are giving Richmond diners a bit more credit than they often receive.

I know my dad and Paz will be back, if they haven’t already. I plan to return upon my next visit to Richmond--VERY SOON. And Hell, I’m sitting here in Los Angeles writing about a restaurant 3,000 miles away because I think if you are able, you should go there, too.


One Year Ago: Pecan Shortbread
Two Years Ago: The Grilled Cheese Truck

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