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Indochine 

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Neither purely Vietnamese nor French, Indochine in Carytown is a fusion of the two cuisines. But not fusion by caprice — rather, as the name implies, is old-school, politically incorrect, imperialist fusion.

At the base of the menu are Vietnamese traditions of fresh fish, fish sauces, fresh herbs and spices, lean meats and earthy flavors. Marry that with French traditions of wine- and cream-based sauces, sauce reductions, pasta and the sauté method of cooking, and you get a highly textured, complexity of flavors.

My favorite example of this is the Chilean sea-bass filet ($23.95). Pan searing in a wickedly hot iron skillet creates a flavorful, light caramel-brown, crisp outer layer that contrasts with the soft, moist interior of the fish. The filet is topped with a sauté of crab, garlic and shallots, and is served over a curry cognac sauce.

On a recent visit, we also enjoyed the layered flavors of the Poulet a la Franchinoise ($19.95) — sliced chicken breast in a curry coconut sauce flavored with cayenne pepper, coriander and cinnamon — and the Indochine seafood ravioli ($22.95) — puréed shrimp, scallop and crab in rice ravioli with a creamy cognac sauce.

In spite of the French influence, dining at Indochine is not a fussy experience. The restaurant is casually formal: white tablecloths and candles, but you're fine wearing nice jeans and a shirt.

In a town whose western edge increasingly resembles anytown, anywhere, Indochine is an effective antidote, an example of Richmond's exceptional boutique dining experiences.





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