Let's Eat: 2001 Critic's Choice

Meadow at West Main
Dinner Monday-Thursday 5-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.
Dinner entrée $13-$25
Reservations accepted

Bacchus, at the busy corner of Meadow and West Main in the Fan, is a good barometer of how far the Richmond dining scene has come. This casual bistro is several cuts above most little neighborhood places. Chef/owner Christopher di Lauro, who left Bacchus briefly to head the kitchen at Cabo's, is back at the stove, updating classic dishes with fresh nuances and sophistication. The robust flavors of the Mediterranean are a source of inspiration, but di Lauro's subtle fusion goes beyond to the East and West.

Though the menu offers the usual range of meat, I almost always order fish or shellfish, which are always satisfying. They offer delicious scallops, perfectly prepared fish and a Bacchus-style bouillabaisse, which is a contemporary interpretation of the classic Marseilles fish soup.

A chef gets extra points when he goes to the extra trouble to make sure that accompanying items not only complement or enhance the flavors on the plate, but also add contrasting textures. Much as we love good mashed potatoes, they're not perfect with every dish. Chef di Lauro does an admirable job of making a difference.

Bacchus, like many Fan eateries, is small. Recently, a small balcony in the back has added a few more seats, and some choose to eat at the handsome bar. Wherever you eat, you'll find that Bacchus is a cut above the ordinary. - D.M.

7003-A Three Chopt Road, Village Shopping Center
Lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.; Dinner Tuesday-Thursday 5:30-8:45 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-9:45 p.m.
Dinner entrees $10-$16
Reservations accepted

The friendly staff, the good food and excellent location have made Grapeleaf a popular restaurant. Several restaurants offering Lebanese food have opened, but few have been able to sustain a customer base. The Grapeleaf is different. As the summer heats up, the refreshing foods of the Middle East are particularly appealing. A tabouli salad, cool with fresh mint and lemon and healthful with cracked wheat, hummus or baba ghannuj (eggplant spread) with warm pita, and falafel are delicious when summer appetites flag. Vegetarians have long known these appealing flavors, but others will find that shish kabobs, kibbi and kafta are just as inviting.

The Grapeleaf is straightforward and unpretentious, and so is the food. It's also carefully prepared. With the friendly and helpful staff, you'll certainly have a nice meal. — D.M.

2132 W. Main St.
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Dinner entrees $15 and up
Reservations accepted for parties of 6 or more

If she weren't so darn sweet, Stella Dikos could well be the Soup Nazi of "Seinfeld" fame. She could have folks lined up at a tiny little hole in the wall in New York if she felt like it. But, thank goodness, she'd rather be right here in River City doling out bowls of Brunswick stew, avgolemono, roasted red pepper soup and other favorites.

Soup is just one of the menu items that Stella's does right in its humble home on Main Street. The main event is Greek — tiropita, spanakopita, dolmades, etc. — and it ventures into a bit of Italian, too, with linguini and roasted red peppers and mozzarella. For lunch, a big fat grilled cheese on Stella's to-die-for homemade bread is ideal with soup.

For dinner, there is a host of blackboard specials featuring heavenly versions of lamb, chicken, fish and veal dishes — I once nearly passed on to the next world while dining on Stella's veal piccata. A bite of baklava or bit of rice pudding would surely have done me in.

The atmosphere in Stella's is cozy and bright. The walls are washed with a watery blue and oversize paintings by Richmond artist Ed Trask hang above. There's just nowhere I'd rather be than sipping soup or a glass of wine at this understated little Fan eatery. — C.B.

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