Dine or Decline 

Our critics take the gloves off.

Your come-ons aren't enough
Tess Bosher: Servers need better training. I'm always surprised by how careless and seemingly checked-out and unconcerned the staff is in most places, even at nice, higher end restaurants. LuLu's is one exception.

Brandon Fox: Too much insularity breeds boring food. Young chefs need to go to New York and get some experience there and then come back to open restaurants in Richmond. Older, established chefs need to go on eating trips to New York at least once a year for inspiration. I see too much of the same style of cooking around here.

Joseph Cates: My complaints? The attitude that good enough is good enough. And restaurants that use poor quality meat, dairy, grain and produce. We need more outdoor dining and more independent casual joints like the Black Sheep to provide good food that's easy in a comfortable space for an affordable rate. And get rid of televisions in dining rooms. Most of us still go out so we can talk to each other.

John Haddad: Well-sourced, local and seasonal ingredients in competent hands can go a long way. Shake free of the corporate-food shackles that make for a lot of similarly mediocre fare at too many restaurants. If more chefs search out healthy local ingredients, it will be a catalyst for more local farming and production. And maybe some of that will trickle down into our school cafeterias and democratize high quality.

Favorite star-tripper:
Jimmy Tsamouras (with hat) of Dot's Back Inn has been working the spiky blond hair since appearing with Guy Fieri on Food Network last year. Now he has a recipe in the show's cookbook, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” is listed on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), and is suited up for the big-time, should agents come knocking.

We love the food, but not the service:
I wish the service were better at Buz and Ned's. It's great barbecue, but because it takes so long I usually skip it. Unless they're individually smoking each sandwich as I wait, I can't figure out how a menu of mostly prepared food can take so long to assemble. — B.F.

Favorite servers:
Ed Trask at Millie's. He's a pro. And he's totally overqualified without making it seem so. Frenchman Gerard Brulon (pictured), perpetually switching up his venue — Racine, Tarrant's, now Sensi. The guy with dreads at Verbena. And how can we not mention Tracey Love of Six Burner (also a fashion stylist for Belle) who's sincerely gracious.

Buckheads and Chez Foushee draw talent. They keep an eye on a table and know when to give privacy. When you look up for the check they're right there, but they wouldn't dream of interrupting good conversation to pour a quarter inch of water into a nearly-full glass. — Joseph W. Cates

If we were casting “Top Chef” in Richmond, we would choose:

Andy Howell, CafAc Rustica — Irreverent bluster from a long-haired literate chef who knows his chops and hates kids, or pretends to.

Michael Hall, Bull & Bear Club — An already-recruited contender, he's a sweetly unassuming Southern chef with a stealthy way of showing off.

Kendra Feather, Ipanema CafAc — Soft-spoken, steady and persistent, she makes veggies even meat-lovers dig.

Owen Lane, Stronghill Dining Company — Feisty and opinionated, he's a modern mix of old-school and new-world cooking with the requisite tats.

Ellie Basch, Savor — Already an international contest winner, she's a bright, overachieving marathoner who's soft-hearted but serious about food.

We like the food, but wish the setting were better:
Full Kee serves the best and most authentic Chinese food in Richmond, but its building's exterior has fallen into shabby disrepair. Although the interior is clean, there's little if any attempt at decoration. I'd love to see the kind of over-the-top design of the dim sum palaces of Chinatown, or just a contemporary minimalist update. At the very least, they could pull the weeds growing through the asphalt in the parking lot. — B.F.

La Milpa, La Palmera and other restaurants that wrap otherwise lovely creations in Styrofoam and crowd the dining room with televisions. Food is the most important element of a dining experience, but it isn't the only one. — J.C.

Food items we're sick of seeing on the menu:
What started out great at Comfort Restaurant just isn't as good when it's copied ad nauseam elsewhere. Enough already with the mac & cheese (with the exception of Q Barbeque's light and luscious version), banana pudding and omnipresent and usually bland deviled eggs. Save 'em for the family reunion. We also prefer to avoid anything delivered in a pre-made state by a large-scale food distribution corporation and red-listed fish (Chilean sea bass, bluefin and bigeye tuna, among others).

Restaurants we want here:
Brandon Fox: I've found a few gaps I'd like to see filled: Korean food and good, authentic Mexican. I'd like a little competition for Full Kee's dim sum as well — ideally a place that specializes in dim sum and nothing else. And some good, reasonably priced, authentic Spanish tapas.

Joseph Cates: More restaurants that specialize in the farm-to-table mission. A soup and bakery cafAc. More bars of the British public-house model.

Don Baker: An authentic crab house, preferably on the James — a great opportunity for Rocketts Landing. A chef or chefs who would define “Richmond cuisine” in the way Low Country does for Charleston, Cajun for New Orleans, crab cakes for Baltimore, cheese steak for Philly, Asian fusion for California. And still greater ethnic diversity: Turkish, Korean, Persian, Russian. …

John Haddad: I'd like to see a high-end Mexican restaurant, A­ la Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill in Chicago or what Red Sage used to be in Washington. Mexican food that you wouldn't mind waiting a few extra minutes for… food that celebrates the vibrant flavors of red peppers, mole and cilantro.

Tess Bosher: Korean — especially some good bee bim bop, please! And some fresh and innovative Tex-Mex of the Bobby Flay variety. I'd like to find some good tapas and Spanish food here, like paella; and a thin, authentic Italian pizza.

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