Richmond has come a long way on the food scene over the last ten or fifteen years. I know my first meal in Richmond was a total disaster – in a cockroach infested fondue place below street level in Shockoe Slip. Since then the bar has been raised by over-rated places like the Frog And The Redneck to current winners such as Can-Can, 1 North Belmont and Edo Squid. Our little city has become a place where you can be proud to take visiting friends and family out to destination eateries. At least until you go out of town yourself.
Vino recently bemoaned the fact that, even with all the upscale sushi places we do have, Ten in C’ville has fish rarely, if ever seen in River City (and nearly as much gunfire…). I hear similar stories of great restaurants (that we don’t have equivalents of) from people who travel to Hampton Roads, Norfolk, DC or Baltimore. Then there’s the vague feeling that there is not a lot of variety here in Richmond. Look at Millie’s, LuLu’s, deLux, Helen’s or any number of other restaurants that seem to be working off the same food palate as well as the possibility that the chefs all trained under the same person – just look at how many places have ‘gourmet’ mac-n-cheese right now. Sure, there are differences, but there is certain sameness.
Then there’s the service… The professional level I find outside the city makes a number of local places here look like amateurs run them. There are a lot of good servers in Richmond but too many places have not made training and education of their front of house staff a priority. RVA Foodie had a good example recently where the waiter had no idea what he had just brought to the table. Oh, and before RVA Foodie starts – there is a huge difference between professional and pretentious. Even Applebee’s requires their servers to know the ingredients on a plate.
So, here we are, on the road visiting the in-laws and in search of a meal in Roanoke. Last visit we had eaten at a place with a wonderful view that was probably excellent when it opened decades ago but was now in need of a makeover. Kinda Roanoke’s version of Byrum’s, OK but could be so much better. Based on that I had hopes for a good meal but wasn’t expecting to be wowed. Well, wowed I was.
202 Market (there seem to be a problem with their website today…) is in the middle of old town Roanoke and is in the midst of upscale eateries, coffee houses, and specialty shops. The building is an old warehouse and you can’t help but feel a little thrown when you first enter. The bar is very sleek and modern, almost futuristic. It looked like the kind of place I would enjoy having a drink in but wasn’t convinced that it was where I wanted to have dinner. Once led to the dining room I changed my mind. Exposed brick, high backed open booths, dark wood tables. I was reminded of Sensi except that it seemed much more finished. The large flat screen TV’s bothered me a bit (we had come to eat not watch TV) until I realized the TV’s were showing a live feed from the kitchen – pretty cool.
After ordering they brought out a special appetizer compliments of the chef. I don’t see too many places in RVA do this even though it is great way to showcase the chef’s skills. The theme for the appetizer was a putting green. A club made out of a ebony toothpick with proscuitto sitting on a bed of powdered proscuitto, a putting green of molecularly pressed melon and a champagne grape for a golf ball. The melon nearly exploded flavour in your mouth and the powdered proscuitto had all the intensified taste without intensified saltiness. A wonderful example of the creativity of molecular gastronomy.
Appetizers came out quickly and there wasn’t a loser in the bunch. M had Mushroom Tempura with an Apple Ponzu, L had an excellent Calamari with a Spearmint and Harrisa Dipping Sauce, G had Wagyu Tip Kebab (great inexpensive way to try this type of beef for the first time), and I had the Seared Scallops. On my dish there was also mango and proscuitto. The mango had been pressed in such a way that the flavours were amplified and the piece nearly had the consistency of pasta. The talk at the table was that you could just sit at the bar and order round after round of appetizer and be perfectly happy.
For a wine for the evening I ordered a bottle of Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. The waitress, being well supported by the management, let me know that they might be low or even out of that wine. Nice to know that up front rather than after 10 or 15 minutes of searching on their part. Turned out they did have the wine and she did point out the change in vintage rather than try to pass off the change and hope I didn’t notice. The 2005 needed a little extra time to smooth out but turned out to be perfect once allowed to breath.
Glancing at the TV’s we watched with anticipation as our entrees were plated up…
M had the Filet. Not very exciting in of itself but the steak, cooked perfectly, was served with powdered bacon. The result was all the flavour without the grease. A great combination.
The kids, Finn and his 11-year-old cousin, shared the Parpedelle Bolognese. The dish was excellent, rich and creamy, and the kids were treated well by the staff and owner. There were actually quite a number of families throughout the dining room and even eating in the bar. Nice change from the elitist attitudes of some in RVA who feel that families should be excluded from the downtown eating scene. Frankly the only place I feel is an ‘adult eatery’ is where the waitresses wear pasties.
L partook in the Paella. Saffron and chorizo with fresh shellfish. This is what Europa strives for in their Paella but comes up short. I don’t know what they do to the rice here but both on L’s dish and on mine it was possibly the best rice I have ever had. Individual grains, no clumping balls, seasoned perfectly. I would eat here just for the rice.
Both G and I had the Colorado Rack of Lamb. While still good this was my least favourite dish. The lamb was cooked sous vide (sealed in a bag and cooked under water) and while it produced a perfect juicy medium rare the taste was a bit bland. Without the caramelization of direct heat and reduction of moisture to intensify the flavour it was a little disappointing. Sous Vide would work well for he Opah on the menu, or even their twice cooked fried chicken, but not so much here.
To finish we had dessert. For me the usual, crème brulee. The best I have had in years. Exploding with vanilla beans and just a crust of caramelized sugar. Lately, in RVA, I’ve nearly needed a sledgehammer to get through the plate glass layer of sugar on the crème brulee’s.
The closest we have to Market 202, that I have eaten at, is Sensi but I found 202 Market to be more exciting and creative in their food and their hospitality was flawless. Combine that with the cost being less than 2/3’s of Sensi and I think it might be worth the drive.