Lately I have been homesick. Really homesick. In no small part for calm and simplicity. Many things recently have been so Sisyphean here in my City of Angels. Or so it seems. Everything is so big and heavy and more difficult than necessary. People appear to be filled with drama or anger, or both, and take it out on the other drivers (or pedestrians) on the road, the Census taker on the other end of the phone line, or their server in a restaurant. I can hardly say I blame them. It’s a vicious cycle that I have fallen prey to as a result of my own recent circumstances: the nightmare of my unpredictable and mean-spirited next door neighbor, my evil, evil landlord (EVIL. GRR.), Beso’s doctor who won’t call me back, running into one someone I’d rather never lay eyes on again during lunch at Cheebo, money, driving, gas prices, traffic, crowds. A little jaunt from Point A to Point B, more often than not, seems a fairly substantial undertaking. Not to worry; buck up I will.
So very recently I went back home for a visit. Fred came with me. I was overwhelmingly excited to see my dad, Paz, Spencer and everyone. I was mostly looking forward to chilling out, slowing down. To walk places. To munch a ginormous sandwich from Coppola's Deli on the James River. To lounge on my back deck. And to eat. Okay, and to drink some wine.
On our first night I trumped Dad’s call to go to Acacia (his fave). I had been there. I wanted to try Pasture. I had been hearing good things. It was new. It just opened last November under chef Jason Alley, who we know from his RVA standby, Comfort, along a stretch of Grace Street that has likely waited far too long for a little attention.
Upon entering, the space sort of took me aback a bit. It didn’t feel like Richmond. Instead of small, intimate, cozy and warm, it was big and airy and shiny and modern. It was very designed. Actually, I felt like I could have been in LA.
We had a drink at the large, wood bar (full bar) while we waited for our table. Dad and Fred had cocktails and Dale and I wined. After only about ten minutes we were seated.
And here’s what happened next…
Pimento cheese, crackers ($4). I am, admittedly, a huge pimiento cheese fan (note; I prefer the use of the optional I after the M and before the E (pimiento)). I love my mom’s recipe. The Duke’s mayonnaise and the zested sweet onion are key in creating the perfect texture. The slightest dash of Worcestershire is vital for that little somethin’ somethin’ that ignites your palate. Alley’s pimiento cheese was really nice, and more importantly, it was true. He served it topped with chopped fresh chives and alongside Ritz crackers. I applaud his confident choice of using Ritz rather than giving into the compulsion many have to bells-and-whistle it up with arm candy like crostini.
Deviled eggs, house cured rockfish roe ($5). Up there with the pimiento cheese love is my, perhaps, even greater affinity for deviled eggs. I make a mean one, myself. Again, I usually push to keep it simple. But Alley’s deviled eggs surprised and impressed me immensely. They were fresh and bright and rich without being cloying. They were simple and comfortable but different and exciting. That rockfish roe was a beautiful accompaniment to both the eyes and the palate. This dish was the New South. Classic dish, local ingredients, with a flare. In the right place. Taking the local rockfish and using the roe, the caviar if you will, was just perfect.
Marinated beets, chopped salad, avocado ranch ($9). This was a pleasant and ample salad. It was not, however, what I know to be a chopped salad. The greens were a little uninspired, calling it a day with just the romaine - but the beets were delicious, beautifully mandolined and served under the greenery which added an interesting visual effect.
Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, preserved lemon, pecan ($6). My father, who taught me so very much about food, the man who always insisted I, at least, try everything, the man who will eat anything, will not eat a Brussels sprout. He LOVED this dish. Jason Alley, that is one amazing feat. I will leave it at that.
Braised pork belly, ginger gravy, braised celery, celery leaf salad ($11). To be brutally honest, I’m a little burned out on the token pork belly dish every chef feels the need to pepper into their menus at present. Remember the sun-dried tomato tsunami from the 1980s? That being said, it is something I still enjoy putting in my mouth. I found this incarnation to be too busy. I agree that often pork belly, like foie gras, pairs well with a sticky sweetness, but the ginger gravy was too gelatinous and the sweetness sort of overwhelmed the meat. I really loved the peanuts in there, though.
Fingerling potatoes, apples, shallots ($5) add duck fat ($1). We added the duck fat. In fact, we ordered this one because we saw the words duck and fat next to one another. I would have liked to see these taters with a little bit of crispety-ness and a hair's breath more salt.
Carolina Gold rice, mushroom gravy ($7). I’m not certain that I have ever experienced Carolina Gold rice before, so I won’t pretend as though I have. I will say that, as a result of my ‘first time’ I will not be likely to order it if I spy it on a menu again. This was tremendously watered down long-grain rice topped with also watered down, flavorless mushroom gravy. None of us at the table had more than a taste.
Fried Barcat oysters, spicy tartar sauce ($10). This dish, these oysters, was fabulous. Some of the best I’ve had. Anywhere. The breading (Anson Mills?) was crisp and light and allowed the fresh, tart, impossibly juicy, and beautifully briny oyster to shine right on through. The tartar sauce was tart, citrusy and acted as an apt accomplice to those brilliant oysters. Kudos.
Olde Salt clams, cabbage, bacon, butter, lemon ($12). This was everyone’s favorite dish of the evening. Though a little more thought could have gone into the plating – one piece of un-toasted bread tossed on top, and the cabbage haphazardly strewn about over the clams – the flavors and textures were astonishing and delectable.
Banana flan, peanut brittle, slated caramel ($7). I was reluctant because of the banana factor (and that I’m not much of a dessert person), but Fred made me taste it. And I’m glad he did. This was an absolute standout. Airy, delicate and rich. Subtly sweet with a crunchety brittle and salty caramel. Faultless.
“Rice grits” pudding, roasted pineapple, passion fruit, vanilla bean ($7). For those who know me, it’s obvious that this is not a dish I would order or even really want too close to me. But, that being said, those who tried it, loved it. In fact, this is one of Susan Winiecki’s, editor of Richmond Magazine, favorite desserts around town.
There were a lot of hits and only a few misses. I enjoyed my evening at Pasture. We all did. But what stuck with me was that it felt as though it could have been anywhere, in any city. It’s a destination restaurant but not necessarily an occasion restaurant. It's certainly worth a visit to this 'just getting turned around' neighborhood, because likely you won't just meander on in while walking, riding your bike or really even cruising around to or from something else. For example, I asked my dad if he liked Pasture and he said definitely. I asked him if he would frequent the place and he said he doubted it.
I stumbled across this quote of Jason Alley’s: “I want people to feel like they are getting out of town when they come here.”
Maybe that’s what Richmonders want and need. To feel like they’re getting out of town.
But coming from someone who has lived in big, ole, crazy, sprawly LA for the past ten years I think Richmond has fantastic food, incredible restaurants and amazing people cooking the food in their kitchens. And for the most part they are on the smaller side, welcoming and without pretense. But I get it - I dig Pasture and I can see why Richmond digs it, too. The thing here is I’m homesick, I want to be back home and when I’m there it’s hard to even imagine wanting to get out of town.
*For those curious about my title choice, click here.
Two years ago: Lima Beans in Cream & Butter