The latest outpost of Jessica and Josh Bufford's restaurant empire, Dash, is dubbed a kitchen and carry, brought to you by the owners and creators of Toast and Estilo.
And it's all about the details. Not content with the obvious, Dash is in the 1903 Georgian revival Chesterfield apartment building at Virginia Commonwealth University. The renovation is clean-lined and contemporary. A room divider separates the ordering counter from the dining room, and from it spring pipes and wooden boxes that house light bulbs. Absent curtains, the tall windows' shades stay up, flooding the room with natural light. Only the two flat-screen TVs jar the welcoming vibe.
Music slants indie with the likes of MGMT, Andrew Bird and the Shins at an ambiance-enhancing volume that allows conversation but contributes to a dynamic feel. As at Toast, there's a board near the door that lists temptations — in this case, beer, wine and kombucha, all on tap, as well as milkshakes and desserts. Dash makes it easy to keep the party going once you leave by offering six-packs ($14) of beer for sale, including Hardywood and Devils Backbone, and 1.5-liter totes of wine ($25).
A simply written menu ensures that a meal can be had quickly if need be, while the execution and attention to the finer points mean that if you choose to linger, it's worth your while. Unlike far too many places that serve a traditional Reuben ($10), Dash makes its corned beef in-house, a noticeable boost to the quality of the classic sandwich. Likewise, the kitchen takes the road less traveled with a Louisiana lobster roll ($11) of spicy crawfish salad in a split top roll, a sassy, Southern take on the New England staple. We may not have a bayou, but I can't think of a better sandwich to grab and take for an afternoon at the river.
Even a sandwich as ubiquitous as chicken salad ($8) boasts a Costa Rican update with roasted chicken, cashews for crunch, lizano sauce for a slightly sweet note with a touch of spicy kick, and a blanket of microgreens. But not every sandwich wows. A mozzarella caprese panino ($9) comes across as a little one-note, the tiny cherry tomatoes an odd choice during the height of tomato season.
Burgers are available in eight clever varieties, not all of which are beef, including a salmon burger ($10), a lentil and wild rice burger ($9) and a chicken burger ($9) of minced chicken invigorated with apricot Dijon sauce, so winning that it makes a strong case for eliminating chicken breast sandwiches from every menu in town. But if, like me, you have a true hamburger fetish, go for the meatloaf burger ($9) crafted with pork, beef, chicken and bacon, topped with fried onions and Monterey Jack. Creative or fussy types can build their own burgers, all of which are available on brioche, wheat rolls or gluten-free buns ($1 extra).
Salad fanciers should take my advice and see that an arugula pomegranate salad ($9) makes its way to your table, where subtleties such as candied fennel, dried blueberries and mandarin orange sections complement the peppery greens in pomegranate vinaigrette. Dash's bountiful Thai salad ($7) combines mixed greens, cabbage and romaine under a crown of shredded carrots and chopped peanuts. But it's the abundance of edamame, Thai chili sauce and crispy wontons that speak to a kitchen on point.
That's evident even in the sides, where apple slaw delivers crunch and creaminess, sweet-potato tots get glamorous with honey sriracha dipping sauce, and a side salad that isn't a throwaway, but a worthy addition to the meal. In the course of four visits, I've seen only two desserts ($5) listed, banana pudding and chocolate-bacon-peanut-butter mousse trifle, which I finally try on my last visit. While the combination is nice to have met, it isn't something I'm inclined to pursue long term. Perhaps the bacon needs to be crisper to deliver a salty component, because as it is, it offers a fatty note and not much more — and this from a card-carrying chocoholic. Better yet, order a milkshake ($5), available with a variety of toppings, and drink your sweet ending.
The Buffords have a way of picking up on what's missing in certain Richmond neighborhoods and filling the hole. Like snowflakes, no two of their eateries are the same. Like a summer breeze, their ideas are always welcome. S
Dash Kitchen + Carry
Daily 11 a.m.-midnight
900 W. Franklin St.