Shockoe Bottom keeps improving its restaurant game. While the bars and clubs that cater to roving packs of late-night revelers may create a hovering cloud of hormones, there's been a slow but steady improvement in the dining scene. Those who avoid the Bottom are missing out on creatively executed food in the grooviest of settings.
Billing itself as a bistro lounge, 2113 follows the trend of naming a restaurant after its street address. Beyond that, it isn't following many trends — at least for Richmond. The low-slung, brick building is painted a charming green, and the interior is, as a nearby shop owner opines, "very '60s, very cool."
It definitely isn't a very Richmond look. White light fixtures hanging from the ceiling resemble spheres of snowflake cutouts. The metal bar is inset with orange lights, with the orange-circle motif carried over to the long mirror on the nearby wall. Music and white lights produce the lounge vibe. But it's the bistro portion that's worth noting for thrifty food lovers seeking a talented kitchen. Chef Aaron Hoskins, working with chef John Maher, has created a menu that shows thoughtful execution and moderate pricing.
An inexpensive happy-hour menu ($2-$6) runs Tuesday through Saturday and offers simple pleasures such as banana-shallot hush puppies, fried oysters and pimento cheese fritters. A snack of duck confit with beets and smoked balsamic vinegar ($6) is notable not for its size but for the deeply flavored vinegar. Potato skins ($5) get an upgrade with aerated potato mousse, house bacon and cheddar.
The wine list, priced by the bottle from $24 to $36 with by-the-glass selections between $6 and $9, shows some variety with Portuguese and South African offerings. Wednesday is the night for a wine-and-dine deal of two appetizers, a shared entrée and a bottle of wine for $35. Expect to leave stuffed. On one of those Wednesdays, two of us begin with the blistered medjool dates — made even richer tasting with almonds, herbs, lardon and buttermilk dressing — and a generous serving of pan-fried sweetbreads with a grenobloise sauce of browned butter, capers, parsley and lemon. From a choice of three entrees, we select a roasted half chicken, the skin crispy and redolent of thyme, accompanied by carrots, squash, mushrooms and zucchini in an herb pan sauce.
You may be tempted to skip over the ubiquitous-sounding 2113 mac and cheese ($7), but then you'd miss out on the thick bottom layer of braised beef short ribs under the pasta. The beef tartare ($9) is just as creative, not for the quail-egg yolk sitting atop it, but for the grated, very hard-cooked eggs upon which the beef sits: a salty, unique and unexpected texture. Pacific sturgeon ($17) is delicately flavored and meaty, with accompaniments of smoked local tomatoes and black lentils.
The dessert menu (all $7) recently got a complete overhaul and the results are diverse, including sweetened beet parfait, Gorgonzola custard and mint panna cotta. Yeast doughnuts with cardamom crème fraîche atop coffee grains are appealing, even to this noncoffee drinker. Coca-branca cake is a sublime combination of delicately flavored Fernet Branca cake with airy vanilla meringues and a Coca-Cola sauce. Given the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's recent decision to stop carrying the herbal Italian liqueur on shelves, it may not be around for long.
Given 2113's lounge designation, music is important, but seems to be a work in progress. Several times, I've arrived to electronic dance music, which feels exactly right given the décor and the intention of the place. Another time, it's overplayed Top 40, changed to classic rock before settling into a suitable contemporary lounge groove. During dinner on the plant-filled patio another night, there's no music at all. I've yet to be there and see a DJ in place — though I know there are some, including Maher at the controls — although it seems to be exactly what 2113 needs to read the crowd.
In some ways, the concept of a bistro lounge harkens to the era of nightclubs, where people had one destination for an evening of dining, music and dancing. Wouldn't it be something if 2113 could deliver a place to eat well and remain to enjoy upbeat club music at a volume that creates a lounge ambiance but doesn't prevent conversation? That sounds groovy enough that roving bands of adults would keep the place packed. S
2113 E. Main St.
Tuesday-Thursday 5 p.m.- midnight
Friday 5 p.m.- 2 a.m.
Saturday 6 p.m.-2 a.m.