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Serious dining in Richmond used to mean fancy French food served under a silver dome. Then in 1993, chef Jimmy Sneed, a protégé of the late Washington, DC, chef Jean-Louis Palladin, opened The Frog and the Redneck and introduced the city to sophisticated Southern food with irreverent twists, like "redneck risotto" (grits). The Frog closed in 2001, but alums such as Dale Reitzer (who now owns Acacia) still credit Sneed with putting high-end Richmond restaurants in touch with the city’s more laid-back Southern side.
On a recent visit to Richmond, I popped into Acacia (3325 W. Cary St.; 804-354-6060), which opened in 1998, to say hello to Reitzer (an F&W Best New Chef 1999) and to have a small snack: squash blossoms stuffed with sweet, chunky crab salad and fried until impossibly crisp.
My best Richmond meal was in the hip area known as The Fan, at the four-year-old Dogwood Grille & Spirits (1731 W. Main St.; 804-340-1984). Chef and co-owner David Shannon, who was formerly at the Inn at Little Washington, turned out a fantastic juniper-crusted venison carpaccio with lingonberry relish. At The Fan’s three-year-old wine shop, Grape & Cheese (1531 W. Main St.; 804-353-9463), I snagged a 2000 Lapierre Morgon for $12; in New York, I’ve only been able to find more recent vintages of this ageworthy Beaujolais—and at twice the price.
I got my barbecue fix with a perfect vinegar-spiked pulled-pork sandwich at Jason Alley’s five-year-old Comfort (200 W. Broad St.; 804-780-0004). At press time, a spin-off was about to open in Portsmouth, an hour outside the city (725 High St.; 757-393-3322).
A new and nonstuffy French spot: Can Can Brasserie (3120 W. Cary St.; 804-358-7274) from Christopher Ripp, an alum of NYC’s Jean Georges, who serves exquisite classics, like a custardy quiche Lorraine. On a tip from Reitzer, I bought freshly baked Jamaican patties at the take-out joint Jamaica House (1215 W. Broad St.; 804-358-5793). Its owner, Carena Ives, just opened a sit-down place, Carena’s Jamaican Grille (7102 Midlothian Tnpk.; 804-422-5375), with a longtime fan: the guy who kick-started the city’s food revival, Jimmy Sneed.
Ex-chef Tanya Cauthen’s new Belmont Butchery sells house-cured meats and specialty cuts. "A bunch of old German guys have tried to stump me with odd requests, like lamb kidneys, but we usually find what they’re looking for," she says (15 N. Belmont Ave.; 804-422-8519).