Chef's Prerogative 

Robert Ramsey chooses what you'll eat at the Fox Head Inn in Goochland.

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While the Fox Head is a fancy place with fancy prices, the food is straightforward American with a continental touch. "I don't know what fusion is," Ramsey jokes. What Ramsey and his small staff do know is how to get the best out of top-of-the-line products. Simply put, the food is as immaculately cared for as the surroundings.

Tasting menus, or chef's choice, have long been a staple at high-end restaurants, but about a year ago Ramsey began experimenting with offering only a tasting menu — first one night a week, then two, and now every night the Inn is open.

Such a bold move requires a chef who is supremely confident in his abilities and clientele who agree. At the Fox Head Inn, those forces blend like butter-braised lump crab pearls in a cauliflower puree, a silky-smooth concoction served as the second course on a recent evening.

That evening began with a cold seafood trio consisting of two slices of salmon, one hot-smoked and one cold-smoked, surrounded by capers and onions, and a large shrimp in a cocktail sauce.

Next came an inventive salad featuring a home-cured duck prosciutto perched atop a bed of thin strips of romaine. The meat was framed by radish sprouts, snow peas and golden raisins, sprinkled with pine nuts, drizzled with orange vinaigrette and served with a chunk of homemade focaccia.

The beautifully presented main course was, as it often is, a mixed grill. This particular night it consisted of an oak-grilled, medium-rare beef tenderloin, seared duck breast and a bacon-wrapped quail breast (the last was so tiny and tender it could be mistaken for mushrooms), all resting in a wine demi-glace. The vegetables of the night were mashed potatoes and butter-steamed broccolini.

The final course was a colorful bowl of blackberries and strawberries, marinated in Cointreau and topped with raspberry schlagg (German for whipped cream), a silver-dollar-sized pastry filled with citrus crème brûlée and tartlets of chocolate-covered pecans.

As if that weren't enough, the check came with a Meyer lemon tart pastry.

Other evenings the main course may be combinations of rockfish, steak, lobster, salmon, skate, scallops Provençal, duck or lamb.

The Fox Head, our well-informed waitress needlessly explained, "is for adventurous diners." It's also for well-heeled customers, whether it's a couple seeking a romantic evening in an intimate setting or those looking for an occasion to pad the corporate expense account.

Whatever the motive, such a bacchanal screams for wine from the restaurant's selection of 150 labels, which range from less than $30 a bottle ($6.50 and up for a glass) to $700.

The setting, both inside and out, prepares a first-time diner for the experience ahead. The antebellum two-story white frame house with columned portico and wrought-iron furniture is the centerpiece of an eight-acre spread in the rolling hills of Goochland County, a half-hour drive from downtown Richmond.

Inside there is a mood-inducing bar and three cozy dining rooms that seat a maximum of 35. In nice weather, additional tables are placed on the outdoor patio. The 14-seat front room has a beamed ceiling, large chandelier, working fireplace with candles flickering on the mantle, dark green walls, upholstered chairs and benches.

The walls throughout the main floor are adorned with signed and framed menus from famous restaurants in France and the United States, including one from Napa Valley's French Laundry, where one of the sous-chefs trained. Ramsey, who ran the Bistro Express at Innsbrook before being wooed to Fox Head by its Virginia owners 11 years ago, has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America.

Savvy businessman that he is, Ramsey isn't going to force his choices-of-the-night down the throats of his customers. To those who express displeasure with his selections, he'll happily prepare whatever else is in the kitchen and even a vegetarian platter from the adjoining garden.

But that's not in the spirit of the place. S

The Fox Head Inn
1840 Manakin Road
Reservations required.
Dinner only: Wednesday-Sunday from 6 p.m.
(Closed two weeks in July and January.)

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