Sailing to Balliceaux
No matter how much we love our city, sometimes we want to be transported. We want an experience to go with our supper, a carried-away feeling at least for the length of a drink and a meal. We want flavors that aren't test-kitchened in some corporate headquarters, interior-design drama that's tactile and authentic, service that's seasoned but personable.
We're about to get this at Balliceaux. Never has a Richmond restaurant transformed a space more respectfully or thoroughly for modern times. Bogart's, the Fan's long-running and beloved smoke-and-music haunt, still thrives a few blocks away after moving out of the space almost two years ago. That's when Steve and Lainie Gratz gathered a select crew to create a new restaurant named after an island, trim as a sailboat and decked in a design that balances midcentury modern and warm industrial. A full street-side window on Lombardy reveals some of this to passersby, who can see bold square lanterns and porthole sconces glowing against wood, brick and concrete surfaces.
“We wanted to build something really special,” Steve Gratz says. “It was all-consuming for two years … and I wouldn't have built this any differently if it were in Manhattan.”
The owners are quick to credit their team including carpenters Tom Brickman and Nikki Price, a construction crew that sometimes sang on the job, and local firm Tektonics Design Group, which provided distinctive metalcraft. The owners also brought in recognizable names in the city's food circuit: executive chef Russell Cook, formerly of Millie's; Holly Wrenn to manage front of house; and the inimitable Chris Bopst to book bands and handle music — a sure sign of a following.
The Balliceaux menu defies Richmond tradition, though ham, tomatoes and crab cakes appear in freshly tweaked versions. There's also edamame and plum leaf salad, whelk fritters, a heritage burger, house-made ricotta and melon with local honey, tandoori fried cauliflower and two dozen heartier items not usually seen here. They're supplemented with craft bartending, a wine list that's organic and bio-dynamic, exclusive Stumptown coffee, and an emphasis on sustainable ingredients and moderate pricing across the board.
Richmonders may always wish to be somewhere else during the August heat wave, but they may find unexpected relief in the city's new dining landscape. It's not a moment too soon. 203 N. Lombardy St. Dinner and bar nightly, lunch Tuesday-Friday, family-style supper Sundays from 4 p.m. 355-3008.