With every new restaurant that opens along the Grace Street corridor, Richmond gets one step closer to having a vibrant downtown that remains a destination after the worker bees clear out. But discovering what pulls people downtown in the evenings is a trial-and-error process that every restaurant faces. For years, Chez Foushee served only lunch before adding Friday and Saturday dinner hours. Pasture's menu has morphed from small plates to more traditional appetizers and entrees. And now into the fray comes 525 at the Berry Burk.
The former men's store pays homage to its roots with a masculine, spare design and tables so close together that on busy nights, servers must demonstrate their agility just to move through the tight spaces between them. The full-service bar is handsome and already popular after work, but the ubiquitous TV screen is a bit of a buzz killer. With two full walls of windows from which to admire the magnificent exterior of CenterStage, it's definitely a room with a view.
The owners have said they want customers to feel like they can get more for their dining dollars at 525. At lunch or dinner, starters are generously sized and a deal. Shrimp dip made with cream cheese, roasted red pepper, sautéed garlic and white wine ($6) is obscenely rich, if a tad skimpy on shrimp. Havarti fondue ($5) almost could be a dessert course given the toasted almonds, raspberry coulis and blueberries in it. Both come with what the menu calls focaccia breadsticks, which are very thin, toasted slices of baguette. Caramelized onion dip ($3), full of chunks of real onion and served with thick, house-made potato chips, elicits the comment, "No Lipton onion-soup mix here," from a friend. It's enough for all three of us as a starter.
A four-mushroom salad ($8) of sautéed crimini, portabello, shiitake and yellow oyster varieties over a bed of spinach, crispy bacon, shaved Parmesan and onion with lemon vinaigrette makes a satisfying lunch. The fried brie salad ($8) also includes spinach, and with the combination of crispy pancetta and spiced walnuts, that panko-coated fried cheese is
The section of the dinner menu labeled small plates is a bit of a misnomer. Most can be ordered in two sizes, the smaller ranging from $9-$14 and the larger from $16-$22. The fried green tomato napoleon ($10/$17) stacks crispy tomatoes with a layer of crab and a sherry-corn and red-pepper relish that's the best-flavored item we taste. Seared sea scallops ($14/$22) with an orange butter emulsion come with a stellar, and very green, sweet pea and lobster risotto. Pork tenderloin ($11/$18) is overcooked but arrives sliced on an herb and Parmesan grits cake and spinach with an incredibly spicy andouille sausage and chèvre cream reduction to save it. Grilled beef medallions ($12/$19) are served with succotash and radishes with a port reduction demi-glace. One time they're dry and overcooked and the next, medium-rare and succulent.
In three visits, service has been uneven. There always seems to be plenty of staff, but that doesn't prevent a wait for attention and follow-up service. It could be part of the learning curve of a new place. Certainly the servers seem friendly and eager to please, if not always on-point.
Whether having lunch to the sounds of Al Green, Luther Vandross and the Jackson 5 or dinner to the strains of Sinatra, this place can be a worthy addition to historic Grace Street. White tablecloths notwithstanding, the prices will appeal to many diners. With a few adjustments, the restaurant could become a downtown destination even without a performance at CenterStage. S
525 at the Berry Burk
525 E. Grace St.
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.