Pomegranate, the newest eatery in Shockoe Slip, bills itself as a "Euro bistro." Examples of classic European cooking, particularly French and Italian, are all over its menu. But it strikes me that the menu is very American sophisticated and trendy American to be sure, but American nevertheless. Pomegranate is a kind of culinary barometer of how far we've come or how far chef-owner Kevin LaCivita gauges we have come in our appreciation of not-so-foreign fare.
LaCivita combines French and Italian elements with fresh American ingredients in the same kind of creative fusion cooks have been doing with Asian ingredients and techniques for years. We have wonderful food resources that are easily accessible these days, and accomplished chefs find an eager audience among those with a passion for good food and the financial resources to enjoy an evening of fine dining. (As the prices of main courses have slipped over the $20 mark in many restaurants, we expect a bit more than "a quick bite.")
A cup of cream of pumpkin soup ($3.75) didn't seem exactly like a harbinger of spring, but it was a good place to start. This savory version did actually allow you to taste the pumpkin, an idea which some may find appalling. A salad of baby greens, Gorgonzola cheese and candied pecans is dressed with an unusual vinaigrette, flavored with ginger ale and vanilla bean ($4.25). A roasted quail, stuffed with delicate mascarpone cheese polenta, and served with fava beans and a rich sauce ($7.25), is a wonderful and hearty beginning and a main course for lesser appetites. Shellfish crab, mussels, clams are the bases for other appetizers ($6.95/$7.25), always with interesting finishes.
The main courses ($15.95-$27.50) at Pomegranate are about equally divided between seafood and meat, with at least one vegetarian entree. A guest was pleased with two double-rib lamb chops, colorfully presented on cheesy polenta, strewn with diced vegetables and moistened with a well-balanced demi-glace sauce. A last-minute special, consisting of a beef filet on a potato cake and topped with a crab cake, needed more than the demi-glace to pull the flavors together, but, in this case, separate was equal. Rockfish on shrimp risotto was topped with crisp, fried spinach, which added a needed texture and color to the dish. Zarzuella, a Mediterranean seafood stew/soup, is an unusual offering that I want to try on my next trip to Pomegranate.
Many of the dishes on the menu sound rather fussy in the descriptions, but except for the minor exception above, we found that the flavors meld or complement rather than compete with one another, which requires good instincts as well as discipline. Most of us who cook have learned that adding one more ingredient, or more of one we like, does not necessarily improve the finished dish.
Desserts are not an afterthought. Pomegranate sorbet is subtle and refreshing. A taste of garlic ice cream was not love at first bite, but, hey, neither was Scotch. After the first bite, the garlic wasn't so surprising. Chocolate usually is love at first bite, and chocolate paté in a raspberry-cream sauce won at least one heart.
The prices of the wine at Pomegranate are steep. I'm puzzled that more restaurants don't feature a couple of house wines at good prices to encourage patrons to enjoy a glass with dinner. When bottle prices run more than $25 for most, it makes dinner even dearer. The European tradition of a dependable, though not great, white and red at reasonable prices would perhaps stimulate appreciation as well as sales.
The ambiance at Pomegranate is casual but stylish and urban; the servers are knowledgeable and professional. Add some good food, an interesting person or two, and you've got a nice evening.
Shockoe Slip on a Friday night in good weather is a happening place, bustling with locals as well as tourists. Pomegranate adds a new tony flavor to an already-interesting mix of dining
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