is one of those Fan places that, if it wasn't there, it ought to be. The building is in at least its third generation as watering hole/eatery. Avenue 805 reflects, as many Fan restaurants do, the general upscale climb that has occurred recently in this area we'll dub NoMo (north of Monument).
Chef-owner Andy Howell has led the latest incarnation for about two months now. Howell had his hands in Zeus Gallery on Belmont Avenue early-on before opening Portabella in Petersburg, and more recently taking over the dining facilities at Swift Creek Mill, where the restaurant is now open to the public as well as to the patrons of the theater upstairs.
Avenue 805 has a pleasant coziness and warmth. Howell has turned up the lights a bit, and the votive candles in their handsome holders add a festive note in windows and on tables. The decibel level is pleasantly low, as is the background music so that conversation is easy.
More light may not help you read the regular menu because the type is difficult to read in any light, but you may not want to bother too much anyway. The real "meat" of the offerings is in a separate sheet of specials. The regular menu is perfunctory and is supplied because it is expected. It does indicate that the direction of the kitchen is generally toward the Italian way. But, unless you're in the mood for pasta ($10), chicken ($14), or veal ($16) in traditional Italian preparation, go to the sheet of specials.
But on neither sheet does Howell do much with appetizers. Except for the soup "of the moment" ($3/$5), a grilled portabella mushroom ($6), and a medley of grilled seafood ($7), the appetizers are salads ($3-$7), from a simple house salad to substantial ones. Appetizers can offer delicious beginnings and let a chef show off his creativity. It's a shame to waste this opportunity.
[image-1](Stacy Warner / richmond.com) We tried a couple of the salads. Baby field greens are a bed for smoked salmon, artichoke hearts and aged provolone. Strawberry-walnut vinaigrette is too mild to pull these disparate parts together, but it acts like a good mother-in-law by not interfering. Another substantial salad is mixed greens, wilted with bacon, and served with Gorgonzola cheese and sliced pears and a balsamic dressing - a wonderful combination of flavors. The crucial ingredient to such is a pear that is au point of ripeness, in which case it can be extraordinary. With hard slices of pear, it was merely ordinary. Cream of curried carrot soup with a crunch of apple garnish is satisfactory if not inspired.
Beef, pork, fish and shellfish are featured in the entrée specials ($13-$20). Pork loin, taken from the grill at the perfect point to preserve succulence and tenderness, is paired with wild boar sausage and macaroni and cheese (dubbed "swanky" but not decadently cheesy enough for upscale claims). Seared diver scallops (three) over layered prosciutto and fontina cheese atop focaccia and moistened by portabella cream is never better than the sum of its parts. The cream sauce simply can't unify the parts or surmount the dryness of the focaccia. Each of the dishes was accompanied by an interesting mélange of vegetables that included Swiss chard.
The list of desserts is a familiar litany these days. A large wedge of a rich chocolate confection was more than even the chocoholic could finish.
My guess is that Howell, who is a restaurant veteran, is doing a bit of taste-testing himself, trying a number of combinations and preparations. He does not seem intent on making a culinary statement so much as providing good food for a clientele that often simply does not have the time to do as much at home. Let's hope he comes up with a list of
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