The restaurant garnered accolades, as much for the revitalization of a landmark as for the food. A few months ago, Ripp reinvented the restaurant and now offers us City Bar and Chophouse in the same lush environs. What's the difference? Well, it's subtle. The new menu draws from the old. The dining room is just as snazzy. The raw bar is still available. I think the difference is this: the place always was a chophouse. It just had a momentary identity crisis. In its new incarnation, City Bar and Chophouse is going to give every other chophouse in town a run for its money.
First, the setting is damned near perfect. You can't beat the building. Padding up the steps toward the front entrance, I felt giddy. The interior, with its floor-to-ceiling oak paneling, leather upholstery, marble accents, early political cartoons and old photos of scantily clad ladies, begs you to conduct yourself as a robber baron out on the town with something to prove. Though it's not required, dress smartly. The aura demands it.
The food and service do not betray the grandeur of the place. Go hungry. The steaks, dry-aged for 49 days (the longest in the country according to the menu), are both massive and delicious. They aren't hidden beneath any funky seasonings or sauces. They're steaks, period. Seared at more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, they exhibit a fine crust on the outside while remaining dripping and succulent inside. Each cut is offered for one or two people. The 20 oz. Strip ($33.95) was far more than I could finish and was accompanied by a mess of plump steamed asparagus and a dish of sautéed mushrooms. On a later visit, we ordered the Delmonico for two ($65.90) was served bone-in and outlasted both of us. I'm getting ahead of myself though. The raw bar is the place to start.
If you are an oyster fan, there is no better place in Richmond to visit. The menu offers a varying selection of fresh oysters from around the world. They are offered singly (most at $1.50 apiece) or in half and full dozens for about $8 and $14 respectively. This convenience allows you to sample a couple of these, a few of those, and to compare flavors and finishes. Accompanied by a selection of mignonettes (champagne, wasabi, red wine, green apple/Stella Artois), it is the finest offering of bivalves I've ever enjoyed. If you can't decide, a sampler is available for $19.50, as well as a pair of flights with accompanying wines for the same price. Salads, if you want to risk the room in your stomach, cost about $6 and are made with remarkably fresh greens.
The staff is mature and polished. The pacing of our meals was excellent. Our waitress tended not only to our table, but to our mood as well. The only shortcoming: I had to order three different bottles of wine before finding one that was in stock. Then, I was delivered a bottle that I hadn't ordered. This should be addressed, as the wine list is broad and an obvious focal point. I must say that the manager handled this stumble professionally and it was quickly forgotten.
The old adage is that you shouldn't change horses in midstream. That seems to be what owner Michael Ripp has done, but he has made the switch deftly. His reworked railroad rotisserie resonates as a retro chophouse. Pick a special date, put on your fancy duds, grab your wallet and go get your money's worth.
City Bar and Chophouse ($$$$)
1548 E. Main St.
Lunch Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m
Dinner Monday - Thursday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday - Saturday 5 p.m. to Midnight
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