Monday, March 7, 2011
Balliceaux - Downtown Richmond
We garnered quite an appetite working our way through the Picasso exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and were more than ready for a great dinner. After perusing a list of critics’ picks and consulting a trusted local, we settled on Balliceaux in the Fan, hip, bustling with activity and one of my favorite districts in Richmond. As with any popular area, parking is never easy. Luckily, we were able to find a spot a few blocks away, though I dinged my mom’s car on the license plate of the vehicle behind us. Sorry! It was a tight fit and options were limited. Post-crisis, we walked down a cobblestone alley to our destination. Upon entering, I was even more excited about our choice. The music was a little louder than usual (a good thing!) and selections were Talking Heads, Chromeo, Broken Bells and other great artists. I felt at home immediately. Quite a few hipsters hung out at the bar with their cell phones and the booths were packed with more stylish young folks. Reservations are only taken for parties of six or more, but we knew this going in, put our name on the list, ordered drinks and relaxed. With a few minutes to kill, I was able to take in the scenery and people watch. Balliceaux has an eclectic feel - blues, greens and grays decorate the walls as interesting pieces, such as glass antlers hang from the ceiling. Near the bar, a set of stairs leads up to the dark wooden waiter station and then down to a live music area. Time passed quickly and we were seated in about fifteen minutes. Our table near the front sat next to a cute tiled table with a Fu Manchu lamp. A huge mirror hung on the opposite wall from where we sat. A pale distressed turquoise wooden frame encompassed this piece that had to be four or five feet high by four of five feet wide. It was truly an amazing sight. We were greeted by our waitress, dressed in a fun, ho-down type of skirt of black and white and black motorcycle boots. All of the wait staff were dressed very hip and in their own styles, all different but which seemingly went together. No uniforms here!.
Balliceaux offers a variety of dishes with their own twists. Soups, an artisan cheese plate, lamb meatballs and sausage and clams are some of the starters. Duck breast, filet mignon and quail are included in the entree list. Kim chee, sweet potato fries and mashed potatoes are offered as additional sides and then there are a few sandwiches, such as a falafel flat bread, burgers and a pastrami sandwich. Balliceaux also had three non-meat choices. The selections this night were porcini risotto and southern fried twin oaks tofu. They were out of the third choice, vegetarian lasagna. I noticed on another version of the menu they offer panko crusted twin oaks tofu, roasted eggplant biyaldi and ricotta and fig pie. Those all sound delicious. We started with the tandoori fried cauliflower, which came in papad with the signature chick pea salad surrounded by sweet pickles. There were a number of flavors in this dish, but it was amazing and I have had nothing like it previously. Everyone was very impressed by this appetizer, especially the chick pea salad. Two at the table ordered soup. I went with the roasted pumpkin-mushroom and another the coastal blue crab. My soup was good, but I was expecting more of a pumpkin punch, rather than a vegetable soup. Not bad, just not what I had presumed. The coastal blue crab received a mixed review - one liked it and the other thought it was just so-so. For dinner I selected the porcini risotto which combined arborio rice, sun dried tomato, sweet onion, asparagus and asiago cheese for $17. This was outstanding. Topped with a few mixed greens, the dish melted the various flavors together perfectly. It was a large portion as well and to make sure I was able to try dessert, I took home leftovers. The other entrees at our table were pan fried rainbow trout with smoked scallop-cranberry-cornbread stuffing, spaghetti squash and beurre noisette for $23, sesame-potato crusted catfish with spicy grilled sweet potatoes and honey glazed broccoli rabe for $21 and then shrimp and grits for $13. A side of collard greens and some truffle fries were also thrown in for good measure and were both excellent. Everyone was delighted with their entrees and even the shrimp and grits, which was designated a ‘small plate’ was larger than expected.
Along with a few mixed drinks, the table shared J.K.Carriere Provocateur 08 Pinot Noir. Reasonably priced, the drinks were mixed well and the wine went nicely with the meal.
We had discussed dessert earlier in the day and jumped at the menu when the waitress offered it. At first, I thought we would order two since only two of us had been jockeying for dessert all day, but then my mom suggested we get three and there were no protests. We settled on the four layer amaretto genoise with chocolate icing and a raspberry coulis of sorts, the chocolate creme de caramel and finally, the apple crisp. The genoise was the winner. This was the lightest cake I have ever had and the amaretto and raspberry touches made the dish. The creme de caramel had a layer of caramel and brandy at the bottom, topped by a chocolate cake which was closer to a brownie’s consistency, followed by chocolate mousse, then whipped cream and a few berries. Great dish, but RICH. While small, this dish should be shared. Even I, who never turn away an extravagant dessert, could only eat a few bites. The waitress threw a scoop of the vanilla bean gelato (flavors change daily) on top of the apple crisp, which was made with granola instead of a brown sugar and nut topping which is common. It was good , but we decided this was the least exciting of the desserts. Of course, if you like something a little less over the top, the crisp is a good choice. Other desserts included chai chocolate pate,
warm churros & coffee sauce and a selection of cheese and preserves. I was surprised the dessert prices were $6 each - generous portions and such unique combinations would have made me assume a higher price tag - a pleasant surprise.
Service at Balliceaux was excellent as well. Our waitress was friendly, but not overly in our faces. She checked on us, but not too much. I felt our bill was very reasonable for all that we ordered. I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Balliceaux and was lucky to have great dinner company for the visit.
We were pretty tired and therefore, did not stay for the live music, but from the looks of things, the fashionable crowd was picking up and I have a feeling Balliceaux is a great night life spot in the Fan. I hope to go again and find out for certain.
Balliceaux serves dinner daily, lunch Tuesday-Friday and brunch on Sunday.
203 N. Lombardy Street
Richmond, VA 23220