When a new restaurant opens it helps to have buzz. Balliceaux certainly got it by coming into existence by killing off local music hotspot, Bogart’s. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The people who owned the building had every right to not to renew the lease and Bogart’s has found itself a spiffy new home. The people of Richmond, however, can be a tad resistant to change so there was more then a bit of horror at the fact that a ‘landmark’ was being displaced – mostly by people who probably hadn’t even been to Bogart’s in years. Well, Bogart’s has survived the move and now we have a new eatery. Time to move on.
The renovated space is great. Period.
While I am all for historical authenticity too many of the restaurants in the Fan all look the same (deLux being the exception but not necessarily in a good way) – same ceilings, walls and even booths. Balliceaux has been rebuilt using reclaimed wood and materials (much from the old space) to create a modernistic Zen space. You now what? It works. It’s not really out of place, like deLux, and is visually interesting. The music was a bit odd, and noticeable off the hard surfaces, but wasn’t offensive. Just one of those bumps that a new place has to work out over time.
The lunch menu is full of interesting items but a little difficult to read. It’s visually pleasing but is not very clear – just needs refinement that comes over time. Simply an issue of style overriding function.
Both Marinara and myself started with soup. He had the Golden Gazpacho – he enjoyed it and my taste of it was very nice – fresh golden tomatoes with herbs and spices. It was not suffering from tasting like salsa as I had heard elsewhere. I had the Chicken Tortilla – huge chunks of chicken (I had to cut one piece into three smaller pieces) with onion and carrots in a beautiful broth with hints flavours tasting more Asian then Mexican to me. Elias, at 7 months and trying chicken broth for the first time, approved. The soup was not as hot as I would normally like, somewhere between warm and tepid. On a warm September afternoon it wasn’t a real issue but had it been a cold day in January I probably would have sent it back. Hopefully, just a bit more of new restaurant adjustments.
For an lunch entree I tried the Crab Cakes. This is a tough one. The crab cakes were excellent and nearly all crab. The golden horseradish with it was the perfect blend of spicy and creamy without overpowering the crab. The issue was the size. Two two-ounce cakes are not really enough for lunch. The $12 price really wasn’t out of line, for a cake that is crab and not filler with crab flavouring, I guess it was the lack of a side. Had I not ordered some soup to start this would not have been enough for lunch for me – think dinner appetizer not lunch entree. Still, it was really very, very good.
Marinara ordered the Cider Braised Pork. Both of us are on low-card diets so he asked if he could have something other than the red beans and rice. The answer was ‘no’. I do not disagree with the answer. Menus are not ‘pick and choose’ and when people create their own dishes it plays havoc with food cost and is disruptive to the kitchen. On the other hand, people do have dietary restrictions. Once it was clear he would simply buy a different side the issue became moot. The pork dish was the opposite of mine, I would not have been able to finish it. Six slices of pork braised to perfection. I was able to get one slice for myself, as well as some of the garlic greens that he had chosen for his side. Another winner.
While not all the buzz about Balliceaux before it opened was good, it got people talking and ultimately helped to spur interest in the place. Several weeks after opening we arrived for a late lunch, at around 1:30, on a Tuesday and had to wait for a table – that’s a good sign for a new restaurant. While there I heard no complaints from other guests and even ran into other friends dining there (RVA Foodie) - another good sign. Sure, they need a few tweaks. Any new place does. The food was good, the service competent, the space inviting. I’ll be back for dinner.