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When master chef Paul Elbling opened La Petite France in 1970 he introduced Richmonders to classic French food, tuxedoed waiters and fresh flowers. For two decades the restaurant reigned as the city's premiere dining establishment, but in the '90s a wave of trendy, chef-owned cafes eclipsed its bombastic style. In retirement, Elbling appreciates the blossoming of ethnic choices but bemoans shoddy service and careless preparation and young diners who aren't demanding enough.

Frits Huntjens greets guests in his cozy, formal restaurant, 1 North Belmont, and then disappears to pursue his passion: turning freshly prepared stocks into sauces for Dover sole and other French classics. Huntjens, considered by many the city's finest classical chef, credits the proliferation of ethnic restaurants -- he hangs out at Kuba Kuba on a rare night off — with transforming Richmond from "a wasteland to a solid culinary town, comparable to larger cities." He thinks there's room for more diversity, perhaps to be found in South American cuisines.



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