Short Order 

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Lounging With Tea Leaves

Not all tea salons are the girly kind. Just opened near Virginia Commonwealth University is a tea lounge with couches, a fireplace, flat-screen television and the feeling of someone's living room -- except for the tins of teas displayed on shelves and the earnest attempt to convert coffee drinkers to the other side.

Myra Ceasar, Sean Battle and Bonnie Sparks, all from the Washington, D.C., area, chose Richmond for their pilot project, a health-conscious tea business that's appealing to a student/faculty crowd and their coffee-loving friends.

"We're offering espresso drinks," Ceasar says, "but we want to transition them because of the health benefits of tea." Her current favorites are Kyoto, a Japanese sencha green, and Twiggy, an oolong from China said to have slimming effects, hence the pop model name.

The business, TeaCo, at 902 W. Broad St., is open daily and serves Jean-Jacques pastries for now — light fare coming later. "We really want to educate people about tea and to cater to their needs," Ceasar says. "This is a great place for students to hang out, and we want to attract everybody," not just traditionalists. Call 775-9595 or visit www.tea-co.com.

Braising Fall

While local restaurants welcome the harvest season, hearty new menus are getting their test runs. Has there ever been a better time to eat out in Richmond?

At Nile Ethiopian Restaurant and Café, chef Yeshareg Demisse is serving goden tibs, marinated prime short ribs with herbs and spices that take hours to prepare but are worth all the trouble, she says. Also, dinich wat, potato stew in a mild sauce that warms the body with nuanced potato flavor. Nile also introduces tej, a traditional honey wine, and other Ethiopian wines and beers, new for fall. 309 N. Laurel St. Call 225-5544 or visit www.nilerichmond.com.

Escabar has a new chef and seasonal menu. Former Millie's chef John Elliott is presenting duck breast with duck confit johnnycakes, foie gras and walnut-sautéed rapini; pumpkin pesto and Gruyère-baked orecchiette with cremini mushrooms; and as a starter, braised duck ribollita with pancetta and white beans. 5806 Grove Ave. 288-4885.

Chef John Bullen, a kitchen guru with lengthy San Francisco experience, is into the groove at Helen's. "I'm having a good time here," he says, and "we're getting more of that Fan neighborhood restaurant thing going. The food is special, but it's not just a special-occasion place, because of our more approachable prices."

Bullen's dishing up ahi tuna tartare in a potato tower, roast pheasant breast stuffed with coq au vin served with artichoke mousse, and a fall dessert menu with new twists. Helen's now serves dinner nightly and a weekend brunch. 2527 W. Main St. 358-4370.

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