If the restaurant business is any reflection of the economy's well-being, then Richmond must be thriving. The ongoing wave of notable openings feels like a culinary renaissance, and Arcadia, in the former Café Gutenberg space, is breathing new life into Shockoe Bottom.
Arcadia is the "rustic home of fauna, the god of shepherds, hunting, fields and groves," the restaurant's website says. But there's not much that's rustic about the fine-dining destination that veteran restaurateur John Van Peppen has created.
Soft yellow walls, white linens, and furnishings from the former Copper Grill give the old peanut factory a bright, clean facelift, and allow the tall ceilings, big windows and original hardwoods to shine. The upstairs dining room is the place to be at night, when the twinkling lights of Main Street transform Shockoe's grit into a charming cityscape.
And yes, Lincoln did eat here, sort of. Daniel Day-Lewis was photographed dining on steak at Arcadia when the recent Steven Spielberg film shot in Richmond. The snapshot went viral and the resulting buzz was a publicity gold mine for the new restaurant.
The menu is full of Continental classics, some with a modern spin, but the star of the show is Braveheart beef, a specialty brand advertised on the restaurant's awning and described as superior to prime. Indeed, the steaks are sensational. Chef Matthew Tlusty, formerly of the White Anchovie, now Ironfish, and Bookbinder's, is firing with precision, making the $26 New York strip or the $28 filet a gratifying splurge. For the truly ambitious carnivore, there's a 22-ounce cowboy cut for $45.
The wine list is refreshingly simple and reasonable. Most glasses of white are $6 or less, most reds are $7 or less. If ordering for the table, you can choose from the "$20 per bottle" or the "$30 per bottle" category.
Navigating the rest of the menu is a less straightforward undertaking. In the extensive lineup of starters, salads, small plates, entrees and sides, some small plates look like sides and vice versa, and server assistance in choosing the right amount and combination of dishes would be welcome. But once ordered, almost everything is successful and artfully plated.
The starters especially hold their own next to the beef. The shrimp seviche, delicately flavored with orange and curry oil, shouldn't be missed. Even for those who've grown weary of deviled eggs, this is an especially nice version, made fancy with truffle oil and caviar. Beet-cured Atlantic salmon over turnip-potato salad is well executed. A special of oysters on the half shell on a bed of pink salt is beautiful, delicious and pricey at $18. If you must order a salad, the arugula-apple with walnuts and blue cheese is a good choice.
Entrees are mostly solid, if not standouts. The blue crab cakes ($24) are almost pure lump crab, but are overly salty. Whole bronzini fish ($24) is less flaky and more mushy than desired, but the horseradish-fennel slaw is a delightful accompaniment. The lamb shank ($21) is tasty but quite fatty.
All sides are $6 and are reasonably to generously portioned. Braised collard greens with duck bacon, and red and yellow beets both are good bets. Rock-shrimp mac and cheese with extra-aged Gouda ($11) is listed as a small plate and is big enough to be a side for two or three, but is so decadently delicious, sharing could prove difficult.
It would be a crime not to save room for the chocolate torte or pear tart tartine. Both are worth the calories.
The lunch menu is a pared-down version of what's offered at dinner, with the addition of entree salads and sandwiches, including a Braveheart burger ($11) and Rappahannock oyster po' boy ($9). The $18 petite filet with vegetable and potato offers a less expensive option for sampling the beef than the dinner portion. Takeout service needs some fine-tuning. The otherwise luscious cream of carrot soup is missing its crème fraîche and no silverware is included. The po' boy is underwhelming — slightly soggy oysters on a soft hamburger bun rather than the classic crusty french loaf — but gets a boost from caper mayonnaise, and the shoestring fries on the side are crispy and divine.
The kitchen may have some tweaking to do, but Arcadia raises the bar in Shockoe Bottom, proving worthy of its special-occasion prices, and turning out some of the best steaks in town. S
1700 E. Main St.
Lunch Tuesday-Friday: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner Tuesday-Thursday: 5-9:30 p.m.
Dinner Friday and Saturday: 5-10 p.m.
Brunch Sunday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.