Bacchus Meadow at Main Street Monday-Thursday 5-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m. Sunday Brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 355-9919 A letter in another local newspaper complained recently that there are no good restaurants in Richmond. I suggest that the writer is not going to the right places or needs to examine her notion of "good." It's true that we don't have tourist-fed restaurants booked weeks in advance like New Orleans, or trendy hot spots like L. A. or New York, or the ethnic variety of San Francisco and Boston. But we have good restaurants that could hold their own in any American city. More importantly, our restaurants reflect who we are here in Richmond. As the population has become more diverse and more sophisticated, so have our choices for dining out. It has never been better. And Bacchus is one more to add to the ever-growing list of good places to visit. Making its place at the busy corner of Meadow and West Main where many have gone before, Bacchus gathers inspiration from the robust flavors of the Mediterranean. Chef and co-owner Christopher di Lauro, who worked with Jay Frank at the Dining Room at the Berkeley, takes classic dishes and updates them with fresh nuances and sophistication. The previous tenant of the restaurant, Cabo's, now in roomier quarters on Broad, renovated the space, adding a handsome bar and moving the kitchen to a more logical place at the back of the room. It retains the casual bistro atmosphere, but the food is definitely several cuts above most little neighborhood places. We arrived for dinner just as a freakish summer thunderstorm knocked out a block of power, including that of the restaurant. We were undaunted as was the restaurant staff. With doors open for cooler air, some extra candles, and the cooks at the gas range, we dined as nonchalantly as Nero fiddled. Starters include a quartet of salads ($5-$7) and another quartet of appetizers ($6-$8), which include a classic antipasto, beef carpaccio, a wild mushroom-cornbread combo in a contemporary update of a classic pave, and Indian-spiced shrimp with lentils. A special focaccia topped with tomatoes, peppers and goat cheese caught our fancy and was enough for several to share. Intrigued by an entree of homemade ravioli stuffed with sweetbreads and mushrooms, I asked for an appetizer portion, which the staff accommodated generously. Sweetbreads, much maligned and misunderstood by those who have never tried them, are deliciously subtle in flavor and firm in texture. The ravioli, in a subtle sauce with a tangle of just-wilted arugula, was sublime. Entrees ($13-$22) range from a vegetarian risotto with summer vegetables and a zesty tapenade to a grilled shell steak with gorgonzola mashed potatoes. Several fish and shellfish dishes are clearly a special interest of the chef. These include Bacchus bouillabaisse, a contemporary interpretation on the classic Marseilles fish soup. Slices of perfect, medium-rare duck breast and braised portobello mushrooms around a mound of creamy polenta with a heady port wine reduction is perhaps more an autumn dish than summer, but it is deliciously complex and appetizing even on a warm summer night sans air-conditioning. Seared sea scallops on a silken bed of garlicky orzo with wilted spinach and proscuitto was again a model of subtle complexity. A sprinkle of crisp frizzled leeks adds an interesting texture and flavor. Desserts ($5) are several and change every few days. We finished with a slice of lemon tart, a refreshing close. Whether by bacchanalian inspiration or hunger for something beyond the ordinary, try Bacchus. They'll treat you to a delicious
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