Poor service and average food await at the West End's Lava. 

Not So Hot Lava

It's hard to say what the owners of Lava had in mind when they opened the cavernous space at 4032B Cox Road in Glen Allen.

The promise of "fiery atmosphere, fiery food" fizzles almost as soon as you pass through the greasy-handprint-smudged glass doors. In the front you've got a bar/lounge/dance floor, in the back is the dining room — an enormous space dotted with 25 bare-topped tables and a handful of booths. To the right is the open kitchen, and all the way to the back is the door to the plaza's interior courtyard and some outdoor tables. Separating bar and dining room is a curved wall of windows.

After asking us if we were here for dinner or just drinks, our cocktail waitress — something of a specialist here — giggled and walked off without actually taking any drink orders. Seems she only takes orders from folks just drinking. Period. So we ordered our cocktails from our waiter, who stopped by to take our dinner order. When he brought our drinks back, we ordered three appetizers and explained that we needed a few more minutes to decide on the entrees.

In about 20 minutes, another staff person brought two of our appetizers — fried calamari ($5.50), and bruschetta ($5). About 15 minutes later, with our drinks now empty and the appetizers almost gone (the hummus and crackers never materialized), the hostess tried to make off with our menus. We explained that we hadn't ordered our entrees yet and asked if she would send the waiter back our way so we might order dinner. Our waiter, who had at least two tables outside as well as our inside table, finally returned … with our check.

We reminded him that we intended to order dinner, and he became so flustered that, on further thought, we told him we'd take the check and call it a night. We had been there about an hour and a half.

I can understand getting flustered and losing your place on a busy night. But of the 25 or so inside tables, three were occupied. There were only five outside tables. And the open kitchen allowed us to watch the kitchen staff stand around, kibbitz and look generally unprofessional. On our way out, the hostess apologized, put the blame on the waiter, took down our name and number and never called.

We got to order dinner on our second visit. But I can't think of a reason to make a third. The food is average at best, and not worth the trip, the time or the dollars. Lava has a big, soulless dining room with a big kitchen, lots of freezer space, limited skill on the line and an emphasis on quantity over quality.

My pork chop ($12) tasted like a hot dog. And I'll not soon forget the inch-and-a-half gash in its side where the cook sliced into it to check for doneness. He plated it up on top of roasted red potatoes and green beans. My wife ordered the meatloaf ($11) described on the menu as "certified Angus beef." They might think about adding "and twice as much filler" to that description. The spicy chicken quesadilla appetizer ($5.50) was good, but the bourbon/onion soup du jour ($4) was out of balance with an over-reliance on browning sauce and beef stock to make the point and a lonely slice of cheese-flecked bread floating forlornly in the middle of the wide bowl like a soggy bruschetta refugee.

What else is on the menu? Seafood pasta ($13), grilled salmon ($13), filet mignon ($18), chicken pasta ($10). At least it's not terribly expensive.

Looking for some redemption, we ordered the king of classic desserts: crŠme br–lée ($6). The br–lée was right-on, but the crŠme was pasty, not thoroughly mixed, and had a banana-mush gray color.

To his credit, the manager, noticing, I suspect, the intensity of our observations and hearing, most likely, of all the Q & A we subjected our waitress to, came over and checked on us a couple of times and tried to make conversation. When he asked how everything was, we said "fine." Because in the end, if you have your expectations set low — if food is simply fuel for the journey — you'll think Lava is "fine," too.


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