Fine Dining 

Let's Eat: 2001 Critic's Choice

8510 Patterson Ave.
Dinner Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.; Brunch Sunday
10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner entrees $17 and up
Reservations recommended

Reminiscent of those wood-paneled, atmospheric beef 'n' chops places in Greenwich Village or Chicago, Buckhead's offers a steak-house dining experience unparalleled in Richmond. Sure, there are other steak houses around, but many of them have a TM (trademark) next to items on their menus.

Beyond being one of a kind, you just can't beat Buckhead's' impeccable service. Waiters are prompt, knowledgeable and unobtrusive. They can answer myriad questions about the more than 700 bottles of wine that cover the walls in every dining area. They'll happily ask the chef about a particular ingredient.

All the while, you find yourself dining on some of the best beef in town — the filet mignon is a personal favorite, and the lamb chops are also wonderful. Of course, you may not be able to pass up an appetizer or two, say, the shrimp cocktail or escargot. And then there's the fresh-baked bread and whipped butter …

Still have room? Try the key lime pie — creamy and tart — or perhaps something from the after-dinner drink list, a list that goes way beyond the standard Glenlivet to include 150-year-old sips of Grand Marnier.

For the average occasional restaurant diner, Buckhead's might be a bit pricey, but it's worth every single penny for what your grandmother might call "a nice night out." It's head and shoulders above those chain places that purport to serve fabulous beef, and it deserves to be sampled at least once. You won't regret it.

Carter Braxton

12th and East Cary streetsLunch and dinner daily 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m.; 6-9:30 p.m.
Dinner entrees $22-$34
Reservations accepted

The food is reason enough to go to the Dining Room at the Berkeley Hotel, but unlike many hotel dining rooms, there's a comfortable intimacy here, even while you're looking out onto the busy cobblestone streets of Shockoe Slip. Over the past 15 or so years, the restaurant has earned a reputation for excellence. Brad Haley, whose tenure as executive chef was briefly interrupted when he pursued other interests, has returned and has kept the Dining Room on a steady course. He steers clear of the trendy and avoids the popular clichés, but his preparations are rarely dull.

The menu changes with the seasons and reflects an interesting variety. For many years the restaurant has showcased Virginia products, and in a hotel dining room, the exposure can be international. Virginia bison has made the menu for several years, and sitting succulent and rosy on a bed of mashed potatoes, it's better than home on the range.

Fine dining usually calls for good wine. The Dining Room has always had a good, if not stellar wine list, but you may be steered to a suitable wine that hasn't made the printed sheet.

Dinner at the Dining Room at the Berkeley is, for most of us, reserved for a special business or family occasion, but you can be confident in your choice. The food is interesting, and the service is polished. The ambience is pleasantly formal but not a whit stuffy. It's among our best.

Davis Morton

1840 Manakin Road, Manakin-Sabot
Dinner Wednesday- Sunday
$55 per person (not including wine, taxes and gratuity)
By reservation only

The Fox Head Inn in Manakin-Sabot used to seem remote, but as metropolitan Richmond has grown, the Fox Head is only minutes away from the megabusiness parks in the West End. Chef and co-owner Robert Ramsey has transformed this cozy farmhouse, a restaurant for many years in the shady countryside, into a dining destination with elegant formal rooms, a handsome shady terrace and sophisticated food.

While many business deals are cut along with the meat, the Fox Head provides a wonderful setting for a celebration of any occasion, from wedding receptions to intimate dinners.

The five courses of the fixed-price dinner ($55) are leisurely paced so that you can enjoy and afterwards not feel as if you've eaten Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's. Ramsey, like many of the better chefs about town, uses Virginia products or vegetables and herbs from his garden. The menu changes with the season and availability, but expect to find, along with popular favorites, venison, lobster, goose liver and such luxuries as caviar and truffles. With most of the courses you are offered a few choices so that you can shape your evening's destiny.

The wine list is imposing, the service is impeccable and the food is delicious. The Fox Head is my idea of country food!


2912 Maywill Ave.
Lunch Monday-Friday
11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner Monday-Saturday
5:30-10 p.m.
Dinner entrees $19-25
Reservations suggested

High decibels and energy in gregarious surroundings can be fun with a group of friends, but some celebrations suggest a quieter, more formal ambience. The plush, comfortable dining rooms of La Petite France are a haven from our daily hectic world. Here amid the soft lighting and music, patrons converse quietly. The servers keep a close and quiet watch over their tables. There's a nostalgic nod toward the past, perhaps, but this venerable restaurant has changed along with our tastes. The accent is unmistakably French, but with changing fashions and a resourceful chef, a great deal of this country's resources show in the menu. A Virginia soft-shell crab tastes mighty good dressed in French clothing.

Classic touches are found everywhere in the menu, but the rigors of haute cuisine have been relaxed to incorporate much that is new in the way we eat. You still find, appropriately, a classic hollandaise or bernaise sauce here and there on the menu, but more often the finishes are more contemporary reductions or emulsions (which are not exactly alien to classic French cuisine in the first place).

The menu of specials usually has the less traditional dishes, but there are times when the delicacy of sautéed Dover sole with almonds and brown butter, a Chef Elbling specialty for 30 years, is exactly the right thing. But recently, a filet mignon of Virginia bison with shiitake mushrooms, a livelier choice, made me extremely happy. And one shouldn't leave without dessert. You might even test your relationship by sharing.

La Petite France is a Richmond institution and as French as it gets around here. Go celebrate.

Jefferson Hotel, corner of Jefferson and West Franklin streets
Breakfast Monday-Saturday 6:30-10 a.m., Sunday 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Lunch Monday-Friday noon-2 p.m.
Dinner Monday-Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
Dinner entrees $36-$50
Reservations accepted

There is a fine line between pretension and haute cuisine. When you start using words like frisée and haricot vert to describe lettuce and string beans, you're walking that line. These are some of the words you'll find on the menu at Lemaire, the five-diamond dining room in the Jefferson Hotel. Other words you'll find are foie gras, crŠme fraiche, jus and reduction. The only word to describe the menu: classic.

Lemaire is the highest of Richmond's high-end dining establishments dedicated to the hundreds of tiny details that are the hallmarks of superfluous civilization: excessive flatware, ultraefficient waiters, soup that is poured with a flourish, table-side into your bowl from a small silver pitcher. None of this is necessary; all of it is delightful.

Though there are a handful of hotel-restaurant entrees and Southern clichés (peanut soup and crab cakes, for example), for the most part, Lemaire offers old-school French methodology leavened with subtle New World flash and ingredients. From the summer menu: pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras with rhubarb and strawberry compote and a blackberry-Sauternes reduction over toasted brioche ($18), and wild mushroom-stuffed Georgia quail with applewood smoked bacon, sweet corn and fingerling potato hash, braised red Swiss chard and a Calvados glaze ($32). Last summer, venison and pheasant were on the list, too.

This is serious food, and you can spend serious money, which can limit you to special occasions and expense accounts. But you can still go on a whim. Consider it not dinner out, but a tour gastronomique — continuing cultural education for your palate. — Noel Patrick


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