When a restaurant goes to the lengths to include the words ‘Fine Dining’ in their name one tends to approach with a few expectations. Lemaire, The Dining Room At The Berkley, or even the now-defunct Le Petite France comes to mind. With that in mind I was a bit surprised when the RVA Foodies invited us to join them for brunch at Rowlands. Mr Foodie typically eschews stuffiness (often present in ‘fine dining’) so I was intrigued.
In anticipation of the visit I decided to visit their website to find out what to expect. Turned out it didn’t help. They trumpeted the fact that they were now open on Sundays but neglected to list their hours as well as any semblance of a brunch menu. Bother. The dinner menu gave a few clues but you never really know how they will translate their dinner vision to brunch.
We arrived at Foodies house and hoofed it across the foot bridge over the downtown expressway. Stepping into the restaurant we were a little dismayed to see the place empty even though it was already after 11. Did their lack of info on the website hurt or was their something everyone else knew that we didn’t? After a bit of table jumping (due to pregnant belly and baby carrier) we settled in and looked at the menu.
The usual suspects were missing. No Eggs Benedict or variations there of. Actually only two egg dishes on the whole menu (Frittata Du Jour and a Egg & Proscuitto Sandwich). The bulk of the menu was pancakes, waffles, and the like with the addition of a number of savory items most likely inspired by their dinner menu. Additionally they had a couple of specials – while no one ordered it the chocolate crepes sounded really good. Other items, like the fish, sound a little like leftovers from the night before. The waiter said they had a couple of pieces of this and a couple of that and you could select one of several cooking methods. I am sure it was all fresh but left over fish leaves me a bit wary.
Once settled we ordered coffees and drinks. Our waiter was… well, distracted. Frankly I thought he might actually still be a little drunk from the night before. His service was fine, albeit at a very slow pace, but he mumbled a lot and his sentence structure could be described as meandering. Oddly, both M and RVA Foodie recognized him from the Village Cafe although they seemed to think he had lost a lot of weight.
After quite a pause the drinks started arriving. First my mojito. It was listed on the menu but I think the waiter (who was doubling as bartender) had not made one before thus causing the initial delay. It was actually pretty good, RVA Foodie was neutral thinking it too sweet. Much better than the pre-muddled mess with sweet and sour that Jack is mixing at his new gig at Havana 59 (not his fault, IVV and I declared them bad prior to his starting there). It did have an odd flavour that I couldn’t quite place. Kind of like a hint of papaya or mango. Regardless, it was tasty.
As we were sipping our drinks and stirring coffees Virginia (one of the owners and resident baker/dessert maker) brought out a plate of mini muffins for the table. It was like having a plate of muffin tops! They were delicious. While not on the menu they really should be (ok, free is good but having a cup a coffee and a basket of those while reading the paper at one of their outdoor tables….). Finn probably could have eaten the whole plate had we let him.
The menu doesn’t have appetizers (bummer) but they do have a number of sides, a couple of which could pass as munchies for the table. On Foodies recommendation we ordered the potato latkes. A large potato pancake with green onion and sour cream seasoned with a heavy dose of black pepper. There was some debate at the table about the al dente nature of the shredded potato. It wasn’t undercooked to the point of raw but did have a little crunch. The consensus was that we liked the added texture. Frankly, we liked it so much that one could make an argument of having a brunch based on the sides alone. Say the latke and a bratwurst.
Mr Foodie had the frittata du jour. Feta and spinach (if memory serves). He regaled the taste and the lack of potato filler that dominated the frittata at Bacchus. Mrs Foodie had the Chicken. That dish was a bit of a surprise. It looked like it was half a fried chicken (in 3 pieces). She said it was ok but a little bland. The haricote verte passed muster and the squash casulette was declared excellent. Baby Jasper had milk.
My order came out a bit wrong. I had ordered the Egg Sandwich which was supposed to come on multi-grain, instead it came on a baguette. Didn’t really notice until I was halfway through. It was a very nice simple meal. Egg, bread, proscuitto. The bread, as were all the in-house baked goods, was excellent. My only real complaint came at this point in the meal. My dish came with pomme frites. If your going to call a fry a frite it better be good. These were frozen from a bag. ‘Nuff said.
M had the real winner of the day. French Toast with Pan-Seared Bananas and Pecan. Baking meets desert meets breakfast. If you were going to create the perfect French Toast this would be it. Enough egg to give it weight and keep it from getting soggy, the bananas seared to heat and caramelize but not so much they get mushy. The crunch of the pecans. A real winner.
To end we all shared the espresso creme brule (how they made it espresso without an espresso machine?…). It may have been a left over from the night before judging by the uneven temperature throughout and was a tad runny but the flavour was good. I was just hoping it didn’t have too much caffeine as Finn wolfed a good part of it down.
The words in the name, Fine Dining, may make you think this a stuffy place. It isn’t. It’s much more relaxed and serves inventive food that we enjoyed. If your looking for a comparison think Dogwood Grille not Lemaire. I think we’ll have to give dinner a whirl, perhaps when it’s cool enough to sit outside.