Refined and Refreshing 

Dine at Shockoe Bottom's stylish and sophisticated Vondel Park, you won't be sorry.

The name echoes the famous green space in Amsterdam. Like its namesake, the restaurant is situated in a marginal neighborhood. You can drop $75 to $100 on dinner and then get panhandled on your way to the car. Some might have an aversion to this kind of thing. I do not. I like frequenting businesses in "rebounding" areas. I agree with co-owner Tanya Cornwell's sentiment that it's nice to see some diversity in the crowd and the flux of a changing neighborhood. Vondel Park fits in well with its surroundings. It aspires to a jazz-club atmosphere and the location lends itself to this. In time, I can envision the restaurant becoming the anchor in this part of town. It's worth checking out so you can say, "I remember when." For your interest, you will be rewarded with a refined and refreshing experience.

The menu offers a smattering of the familiar coupled with a few twists. Seafood and meat entrees are joined by a selection of vegetarian dishes. The sauces draw on some superb pairings of flavors. On my visit, the caramelized sea scallops appetizer ($8) was accompanied by a kiwi and jalapeno relish. This was blended well with neither the sweet nor spice overwhelming the other. It offered a nice zest while still letting the scallops speak. The Parmesan artichoke dip ($5) wasn't as striking. It's an overused offering to begin with. I did like that it was baked and a little crunchy on top, but it doesn't stand up in the midst of the scallops, not to mention the shrimp, bacon and scallion risotto($8). The Tilapia filet ($18) special was served with a chanterelle cream sauce and sided with asparagus and jasmine rice. It was a beautiful, thick filet and the preparation was right on. I had to use the sauce sparingly, though, as it could hide the delicate nature of the fish. The lamb chops ($19) were accented by a rich merlot demi and served over garlic mashed potatoes. The chops were tender, succulent and spiced nicely with a bit of thyme. The menu is brief, but every dish sounds interesting. I look forward to getting to know it better.

The bar is simple but well-appointed. Any place that offers Stella Artois on tap is a class act in my opinion. The owners were able to obtain a three-way license, so spirits are available as well as beer and wine. Over time, this could become a very popular watering spot with those looking for someplace out of the way with plenty of charm.

Weekends feature live jazz with Mark Lamano on Fridays and Walter Bell on Saturdays. We visited on a Thursday and our waitress explained that there had been a scheduling mistake, but that they will have a regular band lined up for Thursdays soon. A cable music channel keeps jazz standards rolling when the band isn't.

In addition to the ground-level dining room, a sweeping spiral staircase leads to a second room upstairs. With exposed rafters and a dim, intimate feel, this is the spot to enjoy the music over a romantic dinner. And for those of you who work in the area, Vondel Park offers lunch Tuesday through Friday beginning at 11 a.m. and featuring several salads and veggie offerings in the $5 to $8 range.

Vondel Park is a cool restaurant. They're doing their own thing with some style and pizzazz. The staff has a lot of experience in other restaurants around town, and they've brought it together to offer something different. I, for one, am appreciative.

Vondel Park ($$$)

1721 E. Franklin Park


Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.


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