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Carnivore's conjures up images of all things meaty, but the menu would please even a vegetarian. 

Where's the Beef?

Carnivore's
1419 E. Cary St.
Lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner Monday-Thursday 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 4:30-11 p.m.
644-MEAT

Carnivore's, one of Shockoe Slip's newest eateries, conjures up images of big, juicy cuts of beef. As I headed down there on a recent Saturday night, I had visions of a lengthy list of entrees like a chart you might find in a butcher's shop identifying the parts of a cow. Surely there'd be a filet mignon or two, maybe one of those big ol' cornfed Black Angus steaks, and then there'd be the super-rare carpaccio on the appetizer list. I don't eat read meat all that often, but I was ready for action. This could be a new twist on the same old-same old and a clever counter to the veggie trend.

We arrived at around 7 p.m. and only a few tables were occupied — strange for a Saturday night, especially when the Hard Shell and the Frog and the Redneck, which flank Carnivore's, were packed. Our waitress seated us promptly under a brick arch and we began to peruse the menu.

Imagine my amazement, if you will, at the paucity of beef offerings! Expecting a collection of entrees a la Ruth's Chris, I instead encountered your basic menu with really no distinguishable niche. Yes, there was Carnivore's charred steak salad, an 8-ounce burger of freshly ground Angus beef and three steaks (skirt, hangar and sirloin), but no filet, Porterhouse, prime rib or T-bone.

I gathered my wits about me and redirected my appetite accordingly. And, once I'd recovered from the disappointment, I realized that there were some decent alternatives and my meat craving could be sated. For appetizers, I chose escargot with garlic butter ($6.95) and Bottomless Pitt chose fried calamari and popcorn shrimp with ramp mayo ($5.95). Served within five minutes (which we spent sipping two of their delicious frozen drinks), both seafood dishes were prepared right. My tender snails were still sizzling and drenched in garlic butter. B.P.'s calamari and shrimp were lightly battered. The accompanying dipping sauce, made of tasty ramp onions, was light and complementary.

For dinner I ordered the 8-ounce grilled sirloin steak with maitre d'H“tel butter ($12.95). A 12-ounce version is also available. B.P. ordered a special, a New York strip. I had requested medium rare and mine was just the right shade of red; B.P. had ordered "pink." which I warned him might be a bit vague and, when his steak arrived a bit too "pink," he agreed. He ate a few bites then asked the waitress to return it for another turn in Carnivore's special wood oven. She delivered it back to our table perfectly grilled and accompanied by a fresh serving of salad and fries — a nice touch.

The salad and fries piled on our plates were really a high point. A tangy vinaigrette dressed the mixed greens salad and the fries, described on the menu as "awesome," were truly that. Fresh-cut and fried to crispness, they made the dinner complete.

For dessert we shared a piece of what could have been plain, ordinary New York cheesecake ($3.25). It was creamy and fresh and we fought over the last bite. Other options included chocolate fudge cake, carrot cake and ice cream.

If you can get beyond the fact that Carnivore's is not the definitive wellspring of all things meaty, it's a respectable place for dinner or lunch. But don't expect adventurous cuisine. Caesar salads, grilled salmon Nicoise salad, a portabella mushroom burger, pork chop, chicken, fish and pasta — nothing unusual, but perfectly palatable and reasonably priced. All entrees were less than $17. Whether this place can hold its own smack dab in the middle of restaurant row, however, remains to be seen. So many restaurants, so few Saturday
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