Prohibition Era Vibe Meets Post Modern Cuisine at Belmont Food Shop
I was back in my old stomping grounds last week. Spring in Richmond is breathtaking. Dogwoods, daffodils, azaleas, and zillions of tiny inchworms falling from the sky onto everything. Falling onto everything. That was a new one for me. I thought they were sort of cute and endearing and the whole thing seemed very biblical, or like the end of Magnolia, but with inchworms not frogs. Then I Googled 'inchworm' and changed my tune. Take a macro look at one of those bad boys and then see how cute one is inching its way up your sleeve. But still, Fred was way girlier about it than I was.
On our first night in town, my dad booked reservations (for three, of course) at the Belmont Food Shop. From my research in the world of social media, and hungrily reading everything food and drink related coming out of Richmond Magazine and Style Weekly, and whatever else I could get my eyeballs on months in advance, this was the restaurant I was most anticipating. Plus it is smack dab in my old neighborhood, literally one block from Dad's house. And since our flight had just arrived a few hours prior, it seemed perfect to be able to walk to and from dinner on a beautiful, warm evening.
Well, first off, this place is precious. Richmond has and always has had the market cornered on charming, intimate bistro environments, but this one takes the cake. A ye olde, prohibition-era looking cake that houses a mere five tables. And a sweet little bar with a handful of seats. At the sweet little bar a sweet little mixologizing is going on – with house made sodas. Just opened this past September; owner-chef Mike Yavorsky has created an enchanting atmosphere.
A few non-palate related things I like a lot about Belmont Food Shop:
They have three seatings each night – five o'clock, seven o'clock and nine o'clock. Simple. Makes sense. Everyone can own their table for two solid hours. And whomever deals with the reservations has a pretty straightforward system to work with.
The seasonal chalkboard menu's pricing is structured very intelligently – appetizers are $8, entrees are $20 and desserts are $6 (there are a few exceptions here and there (like foie gras(!))). And there is also the crowning glory of an option: the prix fixe. $36 will get you all three-courses plus a glass of wine, or one of those house-made sodas, or a beer. This pricing structure forces the diner to select what they really want to eat, not based on the dollar amount.
As we sipped our bubbles/martini/artisanal cocktail, an amuse bouche, of sorts, appeared: a trio of gougéres. My dad will not put a bite of food into his mouth during martini o'clock. He will not do it. So Fred and I ate ours and his. They were a lovely touch, a beautiful, ephemeral texture, but a skoch under seasoned and/or under cheesed.
They boast a confident selection of Virginia wines that I was very curious to try. Dad wanted a Pinot Noir. The bartender let us taste the Virginia malbec which Dad quite liked, so we ordered a bottle. That's when he realized he thought he was tasting the Pinot Noir. I felt like we pulled the old smell the apple bite the onion trick from science class. And hopefully it opened up my dad's eyes a little about his wine options.
We started with the Crab and Avocado with Orange Gelée and Black Pepper, the Duck Confit with Orange and Fennel and the Foie Gras with Sally Lunn and Rhubarb Chutney. When our server arrived with our starters I was slightly surprised by the plating. And the plates. I was expecting modest, confident, simple, almost rustic looking food, but was presented with the whole small food, big plate thing. With lots of smears, droplets, and tweezer-placed elements. I was expecting far less composed dishes. I guess I'm just a little bit over that food aesthetic.
Coming from California, which now has the foie gras ban, I was elated to look down at that plate of foie. I found it so, so very, very clever that he made it Southern with the Sally Lunn roll, and I also appreciated the play on the varying levels of pedestrian and fancy pants by having them on the plate together. My dad was so pleased with the crab and avocado that Fred and I barely got our tastes in. It was bright, cool, colorful and refreshing. The confit came at us in salad form, and admittedly, we pretty much cherry picked the rich, succulent shreds of duck meat out and left the greens behind. And the dollops. There were dollops artfully dolloped across the plate reminiscent of a Man Ray photograph. Chestnut, perhaps?
Next up came Tuckahoe Veal with Bok Choy and White Beans. This was like a giant veal steak, and it had been thoughtfully braised for some generous amount of time. My dad was very impressed and said, more than once, that he had never had veal prepared in that style before. Fred's order of Seared Scallops with Peas, Mushrooms and Parsnips was simply beautiful. The colors were so saturated and lustrous it hardly looked real. This was an inspired dish with bold flavors and topped with beautifully, carmelizey-browned-to-a-crisp-on-the-outside, scallops. Me, I ordered the Chicken with Mushrooms, Greens & Fingerlings. I almost always order the chicken when dining out. It's my litmus test. Some folks think it's the throwaway dish. I think it can be the star. And my reasoning is, if the chef pays as much attention to the chicken as the more, shall we say, elevated dishes, then you'll end up eating some of the best chicken you've ever had. My chicken tasted good. The skin was crisp and seasoned well. It was white meat, which is not my favorite, and was a little overcooked. I found myself taking each bite and dredging it through the pan sauce to bring some moisture back into the meat.
The service was attentive and kind, the food came out at a nice, leisurely pace, allowing us to really enjoy and savor those two hours during which the little table by the window was ours, all ours.
Chef Yavorsky clearly has a way with food. It's obvious he is putting forth a great deal of effort and thought into what he is serving. The space is beautiful, the cocktails are solid, the pricing is smart, the food is nice and I dig the wine list. I personally look forward to walking in again, bellying up to the bar, sampling the wines by the glass and having a couple of small plates.
One year ago: Zebra Tomato, Pistou Basil & Burrata Crostini
Two years ago: Classic Tuna Salad
Three years ago: Orzo Salad with Tomatoes, Feta, Spinach & Mint