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Deceptively Simple 

Grab a table, not a bar stool, at the charming bistro, Grisette.

click to enlarge The charcuterie and cheese plate changes often at the detail-oriented Grisette at 3119 E. Marshall St.

Scott Elmquist

The charcuterie and cheese plate changes often at the detail-oriented Grisette at 3119 E. Marshall St.

At first glance, Grisette doesn’t appear to be much different from the plethora of other intimate, chef-driven restaurants in Richmond, including its across-the-street neighbor, Alewife. The one-page menu features local, seasonal ingredients. Chefs work in an open kitchen, and the bar offers the usual list of craft cocktails and wine specials.
Richmonders have seen all that before. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some details that set Grisette apart.

We got off to a rocky start, Grisette and I. Popping in for drinks one night, my date and I took seats at the bar. Either we got the only two broken seats in the place or Grisette’s bar stools have some new off-kilter and wobbly design element. Every time I rotated in my seat it threatened to slide me off.

Other than that, the dining room is charming. The cozy wood and wallpaper interior features the obligatory chalkboard for daily specials, trendy mismatched china and French-themed wall art. Warm lighting flatters every guest, and gentle music doesn’t interfere with conversation.

Bar service was leisurely. I loved the Be Easy, Viking ($9.50) with aquavit, honey, lemon and yellow chartreuse — it’s a creative cousin to the gin-based Last Word. The San Miguel Firing Squad ($10) pleased my mezcal fan.

Grisette is all-in on charcuterie and cheese, with most of the former prepared in-house. On two visits we made the most of the chalkboard list, delving into pungent cheeses like Maytag blue, Meadow Creek’s Grayson, La Gelinotte comte and bucheron.

Clearly the chefs are having fun with the charcuterie. It changes often, with tempting works in progress also listed on the chalkboard. Don’t expect to get the same delicious thing twice.

We had a pork and shiitake pâté maison that was packed with earthy fall flavors and garlic. A “tongue and cheek” pork terrine stood out for its texture: bits of Autumn Olive Farms heritage pork offset by a classic terrine’s soft gelatin. Saucisson sec and red wine basil sausages were balanced and well-seasoned, with none of the hard bits of fat sometimes found in sausages.

Cheeses and charcuterie cost $5 each for a small shareable slice, or three choices for $14. Our orders came with generous piles of two types of chewy, tangy homemade bread — I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have to request extra bread with a spread or dip.

In a very unusual twist, Grisette’s table service was faster and friendlier than at the bar. Table-side we were greeted with eye contact and smiles. Silverware was quickly replaced. Glasses remained full. Servers scanned our table frequently without interrupting conversation to ask how we were doing.

Menu items have clever names like “chicken wangs” and “salade Shenandoah.” We started with a deconstructed coq au vin ($19) — a stylish presentation in a small cast-iron dish. I wanted to like it, but it needed salt, the sauce lacked that requisite red wine richness and the chicken breast was dry.

We were more impressed by a turnip, apple and blue cheese tart ($13). The sweet-earthy flavor balance was perfection, framed by a crisp, flaky pastry shell alongside a tangy green salad. Our squash and chèvre ravioli ($18) were similarly delicious, with plump pillows of pasta tossed in brown butter with sauteed shiitakes, grated cheese and crunchy sunflower sprouts.
The fries and aioli ($4) are a tempting bar snack. Garlicky aioli is a welcome French-inspired dip, and the skinny shoestring-style fries are clearly homemade, but ours were flabby.

Grisette wins on wine creativity. The wine list and daily specials are a welcome departure from the usual suspects and invite the diner to try a rotating selection of featured wines by the glass. Not surprisingly, this leans strongly French, including selections of Vouvray, Sancerre, Chablis and several bubblies. I was happy to see both sparkling and still rosés. The discerning selection of Virginians include a Michael Shaps cabernet franc ($13/glass) and a Monticello viognier ($60/bottle).

Draft beer options also rotate seasonally, paired with the menu, while bottles offer French, German and Belgian specialties. I was delighted to see a sour from Ommegang, one of my favorite brewers.

Grisette’s bistro charm lies in its deceptively simple charcuterie and drinks. Choose a table, or a seat at the window counter, and dig in.

Grisette
3119 E. Marshall St.
Mondays, 4:30 p.m. - midnight
Thursdays and Fridays, 4:30 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturdays and Sundays, noon -2 a.m.
grisetterva.com

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