Style Weekly's readers and Richmond Magazine both declared Pomegranate the city's best new restaurant in their respective 2002 food issues. Richmond Magazine threw in best downtown restaurant and best business lunch for good measure. And the awards don't lie I have not eaten in a restaurant in that area that has provided me with better food and service than Pomegranate delivered during my two visits. There are some heavy hitters down there, and I've made the rounds, but none are hitting with as sure a strike as La Civita's classy bistro.
Pomegranate's seasonal menu offers a wide range of Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. Several current selections struck me. The Seared Foie Gras over crostini ($12) was matched with raspberry preserves and pomegranate reduction. The texture was perfect and the flavor bold and heady. The accompanying caramelized medjool dates are featured widely on the menu, as with the Arugula Salad ($8) where they balance nicely with the peppery greens and candied pecans. The Grilled Quail appetizer ($9) was stuffed with mascarpone polenta (also widely used on the menu) and topped with fried spinach. The spinach was an excellent touch for both the texture and smoky flavor. The bird, however, exposed the only flaw that I found with the cooking. One leg was very nearly raw. Temperatures also were a problem with two entrees. My girlfriend ordered the Duck Breast ($23) medium rare. Two of the five slices were done so, while the other three were pushing medium well. My Frenched Lamb Chops ($25) were tender and accented well with a red wine and morel risotto. But one was medium rare, as I had ordered, while the other was well done.
Chef La Civita appears to be using excellent products. He deftly balances several flavors in each dish. Consequently, the portions are small and intense. In such a situation an off temperature is made all the more distracting. This aside, the food displays a passion and proclivity for cooking that is seldom so clearly evidenced in Richmond. If you have any question about this, take a peek into the kitchen.
La Civita presides over the calmest kitchen I've ever seen. Nothing crashes. Nobody yells. There is a quiet, intense focus and economy of motion that is truly amazing. I only got to watch this for a few minutes each time, but I was terribly impressed by it. This focus is reflected throughout the front of the house. The white tablecloths are starched. The corners are clean. But it's not stuffy. One feels welcome to tarry. The staff members are crisp and efficient. They don't leave you hanging. They know the menu. They know the excellent wine list. They know what they're doing. But they are not automatons. The three who helped me were amiable and chatty when I drew them out into conversation.
Though I was put off by a bit of overcooking, Pomegranate still provided the best meals I have had in the Slip. The small taste I enjoyed months ago from a smattering of soup was backed up by complete meals that exhibited the same subtle intensity and were further complemented by excellent service and a romantic room. There are a many restaurants to choose from on and around East Cary Street. I would recommend none more highly than Pomegranate. S
Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dish washer to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.
Pomegranate Euro Bistro ($$$$)
1209 E. Cary St.
Lunch: Monday through Friday, noon to 2 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
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