The giant windows in Dutch & Co. overlooking 27th and Marshall streets offer an expansive view of a complex and changing neighborhood with a sometimes-turbulent history. White flight, crime, and lately, gentrification have played their parts in shaping modern Church Hill. This excellent new restaurant shows the area’s recent changes as clearly as the Porsche sport utility that I watch circle the block for a parking place one evening. The menu reflects the location nicely: classic foundations, complex flavors and changing ingredients for each season.
The owners all come from great Richmond restaurants — chef Caleb Shriver from Aziza’s, and chef Philip Perrow and bartender and manager Michelle Shriver from Acacia Mid-Town. My dining companion one evening, who seems to know everyone, credits the Acacia pedigree for the large number of West End residents who’ve made the trek to Church Hill. The décor also plays on the intersection of classic and modern. The clean lines of the contemporary tables and bar are complemented by the intricacies of the pressed tin ceiling.
The complexity of Dutch & Co.’s offerings is immediately apparent on the menu, which reads like a foodie encyclopedia — gribiche, smoked bone marrow, duck lardons. One less-adventurous friend said “Don’t they have anything normal?” But the execution of these dishes is sure to please not only sophisticated palates but also those that prefer comfort food. The servers will navigate you skillfully through any challenges, whether choosing food or something from the list of wine and spirits.
Daily small plates and appetizers package the chefs’ bold flavors in small form, but these aren’t simply filling space on the menu or in your stomach. Creativity abounds, as in the homey malted porridge ($7) with almond cream and smoked mushrooms, and a play on the Scotch egg with a rye-crusted, soft-boiled egg paired with house-cured salmon, braised cabbage, sprouted quinoa and cumin yogurt. While each ingredient of the perfect egg ($9) tastes good enough on its own, the alchemy that happens when combined is inexplicable. With each bite I try, and fail, to understand the magic. For a food writer to be forced to turn off his analytical brain and simply enjoy the wonder of flavors is a rare and welcome occurrence. And this is what makes Dutch & Co. stand out: Despite the complexity of flavors, techniques, and ingredients, it all comes together to make simply excellent food.
Not even the smallest details are overlooked in the preparation of each dish. The mushrooms and root vegetables that accompany the skirt steak ($24) are cut into a small pieces that prevent you from overwhelming your palate, while complementing the earthiness of the steak and accompanying gribiche sauce. Made from eggs and pickles, the sauce provides both additional richness and a slight tang to offset the heaviness.
Other entrees are equally worth trying. The monkfish ($23) is plated on a smear of smoked bone marrow that adds delicious flavor to the perfectly cooked, crispy skinned fish. The risotto ($19) is the only dish that falls short, not because it isn’t good but because the magic melding of disparate flavors isn’t as successful as in other dishes. The individual components are excellent — tempura sugar toad fish, sweetbread sausage, sunflower pesto — and at any other restaurant it would be a noteworthy meal. But don’t take my word for it, because alchemy is more art than science, and what works for one may not work for all.
Remarkably, desserts (all $7) are as well-executed as other courses. Too often restaurants feel compelled to offer desserts without passion or expertise — not so here. With a nod to Dutch heritage, the stroopwafel is an excellent choice: two wafer thin waffles with a caramel-cinnamon sauce holding them together, paired with vanilla ice cream. The chocolate is a mélange of textures, with airy mousse mixed with slightly denser panna cotta mixed with crunchy chocolate “pearls.” The honey pot defies easy description. Served in a kitschy ceramic pot adorned with bees, the dessert is a milky sweet cacophony of flavors and textures and topped with edible flowers. Make sure someone at your table orders it so you can at least taste and see what might be the most creative dessert in Richmond.
If it seems like there are too many good choices, there are. Fortunately, you can order a three-course, fixed-price menu for $28, a steal for the quality, as long as everyone at your table does the same. And if they won’t, find some new dining companions who appreciate the full range of inventive flavors coming out of the kitchen at Dutch & Co. They may just become fast new friends, as the changing seasonal menu promises perpetually new reasons to return.S
Dutch & Co.
400 N. 27th St.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.