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White-chocolate deviled eggs from For the Love of Chocolate are a sign of the season. The shop, almost a year now in its larger digs at 3136 W. Cary St., carries the country's largest assortment of chocolates and candy -- it will even dip yellow Peeps and bunnies in chocolate, if that's what you're craving. We prefer the cherry-chili pepper chocolate bar, the personalized chocolates, and the international range of sauces, powders and truffles.
Chef Ed Blasé brings New York flair to a California concept fresh, local ingredients prepared with reverence and served in a countryside setting at The Edible Garden. His touch also extends to desserts, including this pudding-filled chocolate blackout cake covered in dark chocolate shavings. 12506 River Road in Goochland County.
We've loved Da Lat's gracious service since it opened. And when we found out about an off-the-menu delicacy, clay-pot fish, we developed an addiction. The clay-pot chicken, shown here with owner Kha Bui, is also divine. Mekong remains another favorite for tasty, affordable Vietnamese, giving us reason to salute both places' sibling revelry and individual charms. 9125 W. Broad St. and 6004 W. Broad St.
The martini garnished with lychee is a sweetly sublime prelude to dinner at Dd33 Asian Bistro near Innsbrook, but what really gets the juices flowing is the pyramid of lamb chops with cilantro mint raita, served with miso sweet potato mash and braised gailan, all set off by the sophisticated décor and co-owner David Du's elegant hospitality. 3601-A Cox Road.
The same old grocery-store salad bar can't cut it after you see the one at Shockoe Bottom's new eatery Relish: caramelized walnuts, grilled asparagus, cashews and pumpkin seeds, sesame tofu nuggets, roasted beets and butternut squash are a few items. Factor in the international-foods hot bar, a made-to-order counter and luscious desserts, and this is a find for foodies from all over. 101 S. 15th St. (Park in the back lot and get a token inside before leaving.)
Bourbon St. Blues
Gumbo that's been simmered by a New Orleans native is reason enough to come, but then Louisiana Flair chef/owner Nate Sams puts his keyboard on the sidewalk to share the vibe, and things get really interesting. Open weekdays at 332 E. Grace St., this place brings new energy and authentic po'boys to a downtown that's clearly grateful.
Romancing the Red
At downtown's Bank, Chef Matt Turner writes a wonderful balcony scene: Can love really be a heart-shaped pequillo pepper stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with smoked-tomato vinaigrette? We're smitten. 1005 E. Main St.
The hard-boiled egg in tuna sauce shakes up your usual takeout routine. And if you can't deal with the crowds at Edo's Squid or Mamma 'Zu, then hit the counter at 8«, another Ed Vasaio-owned joint, for carryout. Try the sausage with polenta and beans or their succulent pizzas. 401 Strawberry St.
Lunch with Purpose
If the idea of another fast-food burger makes your stomach lurch, plan a day ahead and order lunch with a purpose from Breadwinners, a new not-for-profit boxed breakfast and lunch delivery service that trains women to excel in food service. Check out the wide menu options at nvnv.org -- a globally inspired assortment of dishes that do good and taste even better. 332-4937. All orders must be placed by noon one business day in advance.
New York City restaurants found their business improved when a smoking ban went in place. But Richmond's not so sure, and the General Assembly hates to alienate all that tobacco money. Even so, brave souls at Tarrant's, Six Burner, Joe's Inn - Bon Air, O'Toole's, Zorba's and many others have gone smoke-free anyway, and food has never tasted better.
Cup Bloometh Over
Along with a handful of new tearooms opening across the city, there's a growing and passionate fan base brimming yes, literally with knowledge about teas ancient and new. Trendy are the bursting-flower varieties such as marigold, jasmine and osmanthus from CaryTown Teas, which actually bloom in your cup to make tea-drinking a 3D rite of spring. 24 S. Nansemond St.
The Meat Whisperer
With the opening of Belmont Butchery, there's finally a place to get duck, even in prosciutto form, and hard-to-find cured meats such as bresaola and guanciale. At the meat saw is owner Tanya Cauthen an energetic chef who has the goods, the location and the willingness to share what she knows which is plenty. 15 N. Belmont Ave.
Gilding the Pantry
Remember when you couldn't find a bagel in this town, let alone some exotic ingredient for a recipe? Now there are several markets in town for nearly every foodstuff, from the obscure to the sublime -- say, organic Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract, or polenta with funghi porcini from the Church Hill Market. Online shopping at www.churchhillmarket.com, this business also offers the unimaginable, at least in this century: gourmet groceries delivered to the office or home.
Go down-ticket for a quick lunch at The Board Walk Café, off Broad Street at 2106 Henderson Road in a blue and white building with a certain dusty charm. Order a Philly cheese-steak from Frances, the cheerful blonde who works the counter Tuesday through Friday. "It's not Steak-Umms," she swears, and the fries are good and crispy.
Get to know Mo Roman. As he whips the former Wooden Spoon into a new tapas incarnation, this regional restaurateur (Bank is his first Richmond venture, and a beauty) says he's taking his time to do it right "because Richmond is a world-class city and deserves neighborhood jewels," he says. "We have higher aspirations, we're here for the long term, and we want the city to be proud of what we're doing." Watch for Si to open at 214 N. Lombardy St. later this spring.
Havana '59 is still one of the best things going in Shockoe Bottom, and the most picturesque. Even clouds of cigar smoke can't ruin the appeal of the superbly grilled swordfish in brown butter, lavished with pungent chorizo, black beans and corn. A wait at the bar is worth it. 16 N. 17th St. Back to State of the Plate 2007.