You only have to stand for a few minutes on a Saturday night on East Cary between 12th and 14th streets to realize that this is the heart of Richmond's bustling tourist business. On weekdays you'll find it equally busy with office workers and VIPs on Important Business, which may include looking for a good meal. Many of Richmond's distinguished and/or sought-after dining establishments are close at hand. Lamentably, some move away (The Grass Hut to the Shops at Innsbrook) as new ones come to try their luck (Philly's famous Bookbinder's to 23rd and Cary). And , the latest restaurant incarnation at the Omni, tries to find its part in this dynamic scene. Hotel restaurants are in a tough situation. They've got to be there for their guests, usually for three meals a day. Most of us have been in hotel situations where it seemed we were captives to heavy-handed price gouging in their restaurants. Barlowe's Terrace seems, at least at dinner, to be competitive with many of the other eateries in the neighborhood. The Omni has had trouble finding a niche for its restaurants. The upscale chophouse Gallego is now a special-events room and Barlowe's Terrace has taken the place of Café Gallego. (Apparently Barlowe was a seafaring man who found a place of abundant food and dubbed it his Terrace, and so we have the name.) In our recent meal, we were seated on the "terrace," in the atrium of the hotel. I must admit to a certain apprehension of enduring another indifferent hotel meal, but the dinner turned out to be pleasant and rewarding. We were in no hurry, and with only a few other diners, the food was obviously prepared as ordered. We didn't find an extraordinary menu or presentations that required an engineering degree, but we had a very good meal with the leisure and quiet to converse and enjoy. As in many hotel restaurants which must appeal to a diverse crowd, Barlowe's doesn't avoid culinary clichés, but clichés can also be honest. We started with sautéed crab cakes ($9.50) - three of them - with a spirited rémoulade sauce. I would not proclaim them the best I've ever eaten, but if one had never tasted this regional treat, these would have given a good impression. Crab chowder ($6.50), served in the French style, was poured over a splurge of crab in the soup plate. It was very satisfying, and I had to restrain from eating all of it - it could have been a meal in itself with a salad. Other appetizers, including salads, ($6.25 - $9.50) do not push to unexplored territory - baked brie, shrimp cocktail, a smoked trout spread, sautéed mozzarella. They've been around long enough to be comfort food. All entrees are preceded by a mixed salad, copious in its size and quite varied in its ingredients. Salad used to be a standard in many restaurants, but you've probably noticed they're more often … la carte these days - a nice little addition to the tab. Main dishes ($15.95 - $24.95) and a trio of pasta dishes ($14.25 - $14.75) stay in the comfort zone - chicken breast, pork tenderloin, filet mignon, New York strip, veal chop, duck and salmon. A filet mignon, cooked to medium rare perfection on a bed of spinach, and a grilled rib-cut veal chop, flavorfully pink, with sautéed onions were simply presented (and without sauces - though our server offered them as he served). We were given choices for our accompaniments: the Southern option of collards and mashed sweet potatoes or the traditional three-cheese potatoes and asparagus. Our server was amiable and accommodating, particularly helpful and knowledgeable about the food and preparations. I suspect, as is often the case with a good server, he made our experience at Barlowe's more pleasurable by his professional attention and good humor. Inclement weather may be the catalyst for many Omni guests to try Barlowe's Terrace. But even on a beautiful winter night, it has its
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