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DINING: New Tastes in Town 

Short Pump Town Center

Tara Thai (opening Oct. 1) is making its first venture beyond the Washington, D.C., area, where its half-dozen locations offer excellent, innovative food at moderate prices in a soothing, cool atmosphere. The food goes beyond such conventional Thai dishes as spring rolls and ginger perfect pork. An appetizer called Kanom Jeeb combines crabmeat, minced pork, shrimp and water chestnuts in won-ton skin that is steamed and covered with soy sauce. Entrees include whole fish dishes, such as my favorite, rockfish wrapped in banana leaves. I’ve eaten at Tara Thai more than a dozen times and I’ve never been disappointed. The whimsical décor includes jellyfish lights, murals of sea creatures and ocean bottoms, all bathed in electric blue.

Maggiano’s Little Italy is a red-checkered tablecloth place that serves Southern Italian dishes with lots of pastas and red sauces. It will be the Dallas chain’s 28th restaurant and second in Virginia (the first is in Tyson’s Corner). The 10,000-square-foot restaurant seeks to create nostalgia for pre-World War II Italian home cooking. A signature dish is rigatoni in a Marsala cream sauce with pulled chicken and button mushrooms. The average lunch tab is $12 to $14 and dinner is about $22 to $24. Maggiano’s seats upward of 300 people in a main dining room, mezzanine and patio. A piano bar provides music at night. The banquet rooms, which in Richmond will accommodate 150 diners, are a popular feature at Maggiano’s.

The Copper Grill Lobster & Steak House, where the average dinner check will run $75, promises exotic food served with Las Vegas pizzazz. Like a theater in the round, diners will sit on one of three levels overlooking an open grill at the base of the room surrounded by copper lobster pots. Stars will twinkle from a black-and-white ceiling, illuminating round booths upholstered with a leopard fabric print that matches the napkins. Giant steaks and lobsters are the mainstays of the menu. A signature 22-ounce cowboy steak is $30. Lobsters weighing 5 to 15 pounds cost $28 a pound.

Firebird’s Rocky Mountain Grill is designed to look like a Colorado ski lodge. With a high vaulted ceiling, exposed beams and stone fireplace, it may look a bit like an upscale version of the fancy Arby’s near the mall. The menu uses bold sauces, such as chipotle peppers and ancho chiles, to emulate the flavors of the Rockies and the Southwest. An open kitchen with wood-burning grills, wood-fire pizza ovens and rotisseries will turn out aged, hand-cut steaks, prime rib, fresh seafood, rotisserie chicken, pizza, pasta, sandwiches and salads. Lunch will average $11 and dinner $24.

California Pizza Kitchen serves premium pizza in a casual, contemporary setting. Based in Los Angeles, it has 148 locations, including Arlington and McLean.

The Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant is a 325-seat dinner theater. It is a full-service restaurant, but is primarily a nightclub with food. The menu has entrees up to $17, including the usual choices of steak, seafood and chicken, along with pizza, sandwiches and desserts.



Stony Point Fashion Park

P. F. Chang’s China Bistro has an innovative appetizer called Chang’s Chicken in Soothing Lettuce Wraps — quickly cooked spiced chicken served in cool lettuce caps as big as grapefruit. Chang’s blends traditional Chinese fare with a contemporary American décor. Its lengthy menu offers the flavors and styles of China’s five major culinary regions: Canton, Hunan, Mongolia, Shanghai and Szechwan. The Richmond location will be the 80th for Chang’s, which originated in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1993, and has locations in McLean and Virginia Beach. Another is opening this month in Fairfax.

Brio Tuscan Grill appears to be the Stony Point counterpoint of Maggiano’s, if you substitute the white sauces of Northern Italy for the reds of the South. The trend toward large portions means you can get an entire rotisserie chicken, just like at Costco or Ukrop’s, except that you don’t have to take it home. A wood grill also is used for salmon, lamb and pork chops, and pizza. The menu is basically the same at lunch and dinner, except for a slightly difference in price. The average check at lunch is $13 and at dinner, $21. If you like the bread, there is a bakery at the front door. Brio, which means lively or zesty in Italian, has locations in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, and is also opening this month in St. Louis, Cleveland and Palm Beach, Fla.

Rio Grande Café serves border-style Mexican food in a festive, faux 1920s art deco theater. Specialties include grilled fajitas, shrimp brochette and a margarita and tequila bar. The Dallas-based company has 12 locations, including four in the Washington, D.C., area, Entrees range from $7 to $18.

Champps Restaurant & Bar offers a wide range of entrees, from steaks, chicken, meatloaf and salmon to soups, salads and sandwiches. It stays open late for karaoke and sports on TV. The Denver-based company has more than 50 locations, including two inVirginia: Reston and Pentagon City.

Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar are scheduled to open at Stony Point by the end of the year. S

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