Side Dish 

Living Large on Small Change

The beauty of dining in Shockoe Bottom is the range of choices — from upscale steaks and seafood to more moderate sushi and pizza, and downright cheap soup, soul and island fare. This week's case in point is La'V's Homemade Dining at 1823 E. Main St., where nine bucks will get a meat, two sides and bread. Owner La'V Moore promises, "Folks have not had such good homemade meals since their grandmama's."

She's serving smothered pork chops, liver and onions, fried chicken, Southern-style vegetables, sweet potato pie and apple cobbler — all made according to old family recipes. It's her first restaurant venture, and she's decorated the place in red-and-white checks and Jemima hats in what she calls a "very homey family atmosphere."

The restaurant, formerly Chef's Appeal, seats 20 people at its fullest and offers takeout. It's set to open this week for lunch and dinner daily, with a 2 p.m. starting time on Sundays to allow workers to go to church. Breakfast with soul-food favorites like fatback meats, salt herring and grits will be added in May. 405-1911.

At the other end of the spectrum but on the same block, Rocks nightclub is entering its third month in business, and first-time owner John Collins, who moved here from Ireland when he was 13, is becoming known as a mighty presence behind the bar. He suggests the Cream Soda — vanilla vodka and ginger ale — or the Rock Bottom with Sour Apple Pucker, J„germeister and Bushmills. "It sounds weird, but it's tasty," Collins says. He's proud of the club's "high-quality but low-cost food," like the $7.95 steak, the Rocks salad plate and grilled chicken. Electronic dance music spins nightly.

The Douglas Freeman High School graduate says he's hoping to get his former classmate, "American Idol" finalist Elliott Yamin, to come and play a live music gig on the club's heated patio when the television series ends.

Until then, "Idol" watchers can join the weekly party at Ham's Restaurant, 9498 W. Broad St., on Wednesday nights as long as vocalist Yamin is in the running.

Food on the Brain

If your Mardi Gras feasting led to a Lenten fast, there's food to look at or think about instead of eating. A new exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, "Feast," pulls together pieces as diverse as a terra-cotta food-storage vessel from the Neolithic period to a contemporary painting by Tom Wesselmann that challenges our assumptions about women and food.

"What we're hoping is that the exhibit will have universal appeal, but that it will also provoke thought about how food is defined by the cultures we're born into, and how food is experienced across history and culture," says curator Dr. Shawn Eichman. "It's an interesting vehicle for cross-cultural exploration and a diverse exhibition that covers practically every collection in the museum, which is a rare thing to do and most fun." It opens March 16.

A number of food-related events tie the "Feast" theme to workshops, tours, classes and discussions. A culinary highlight should be "An Evening of Dining Elegance" with food historian Alexandra Leaf, April 28 in the Marble Hall. A five-course dinner paired with wines considers the themes of abundance, indulgence, the hunt and the kitchen. Call 340-1405 for reservations to the dinner, which is $90 per person, $75 for museum members. For other events, visit www.vmfa.state.va.us..

And when your dietary willpower is deflated, VMFA Café serves luncheon fare Wednesdays through Sundays in the Marble Hall while construction on the museum continues.

Have a tip about the Richmond restaurant scene? Send it to sidedish@styleweekly.com.


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