Into Temptation 

Food Review: Pomegranate gives Carytown another reason to shine, but service could use work.

click to enlarge The charcuterie board at Pomegranate is a satisfying flavor experience.

Scott Elmquist

The charcuterie board at Pomegranate is a satisfying flavor experience.

Rising from the ashes of the original Shockoe Slip location and filtered through the nose-to-tail experience of Blue Goat, Kevin LaCivita's new iteration of Pomegranate puts down roots in Carytown. The area can be a land of restaurants that pander to suburban visitors, punctuated by such exceptions as Amour, Curry Craft and Secco, where ambitious kitchens attract the city's food devout.

Pomegranate's new digs replace the former hipster hangout Moshi Moshi, dressing it up with a French country feel using fireplaces, pastel colors, soft lighting and a long, distressed-wood bench with floral cushions. The quaint factor ratchets even higher with a small, glassed- in room overlooking a brick patio, with five tables mere inches from the promenading masses of Cary Street. Jarring the mood-setting ambiance is a TV screen over the nine-seat bar, a distraction from the thoughtfully chosen music — European cafe one night, Beirut-driven world music another. Upstairs is a dining room overlooking the street with a semiprivate chef's table in the back.

Known for his European comfort food, LaCivita stays true to form, but his tenure at Blue Goat is imprinted all over the menu. Like many contemporary restaurants, there's a charcuterie board ($15). The house-made offerings of earthy country pork pate, silken chicken liver mousse with pomegranate gelée and elegant seafood terrine eat like a dream, and when you add in the Tallegio, petit Basque and parmesan on the board, it's a meal.

On another visit, a starter of house-made ricotta ($9) threatens to sabotage our appetites, nestled as it is under warm, white-truffle honey and sea salt that entices us to spread it on more bread than should be legal. For even more indulgence, close your eyes and dive into a plate of al dente house-made ravioli ($11), made plump with braised Autumn Olive Farms goat, ricotta and spinach, and swimming in a pool of sage-brown butter with lashings of shaved pecorino Romano.

Diners who consider this time of year a challenge to finding a beguiling salad need look no further than the spinach ($7), creatively conceived with a creamy avocado dressing that swaddles every leaf, decent but obviously not yet stellar local tomatoes, with pomegranate and crisp bits of pancetta cracklings providing satisfying textural contrast. Forest mushroom ragout ($8) arrives on a raft of easygoing mascarpone polenta, calling to more than just vegetarians. And while Brussels sprouts ($4) are getting a bit long in the tooth as every kitchen's darling, we make short work of their leafy version, laden with more of those cracklings.

Pan-seared arctic char ($24) is bested by its plate mate of sautéed greens despite an onion, mushroom and pancetta crackling butter sauce, while fennel pollen-crusted scallops ($21) are sweet and succulent but overshadowed by too much smoked savory vanilla bean sabayon, an egg-based sauce that quickly overpowers the seafood's delicacy. Desserts ($9) of chocolate soup, a holdover from the old Pomegranate, and profiteroles with sea salt caramel ice cream under that same chocolate sauce both make me wish for a less-sweet chocolate.

Keep an ear out for the daily specials. On my third visit, my eyes light up when I hear house-made scrapple with a sunny-side-up egg and pancetta maple syrup ($12), ordering it with a duck fat buttermilk biscuit ($4) and spinach salad. When my food arrives, the biscuit is missing, so I question its absence. "Oh, did you want that now?" I was nonsensically asked. While I should have had my biscuit right from the start, it doesn't impair my ability to enjoy LaCivita's Cinderella take on the lowly combination, transforming hot scrapple and a warm, runny egg into a dish of refinement and satisfying depth brightened by the titillating sweetness of the syrup, sopped up with the tardy biscuit.

Which brings us to service. In a recent conversation with an award-winning bartender about service at several new restaurants, he hits the nail on the head. "I don't care if you're hot," he says, referring to the scores of pretty young things — male and female — filling out restaurant ranks but absent of any real understanding of the service industry. During three visits, service is inconsistent at best. As a friend and I begin inhaling the ricotta, our server observes that we need more bread to finish it. Five minutes later, we still needed it but he's forgotten. Ten minutes later, I remind him, eventually getting it. Dirty plates sit unnoticed on my table on two visits. Getting the check requires patience.

Attractive and promising, Pomegranate has the potential to join the short list of reasons for food lovers to brave Carytown, but not until the pretty young things are schooled in the mechanics of hospitality. Something tells me that LaCivita is seasoned enough to know that we don't care if the staff is hot when the scrapple's this good. S

Pomegranate
3321 W. Cary St.
447-4365
Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., bar opens 4:30
Saturday, Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
pomegranaterva.com

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