Soup to Nuts: Seven Things that Drive Richmond Restaurant Critics Crazy 

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In a relationship, there may be stuff that drives you nuts about the other person but isn’t quite enough to cause a breakup. It’s the same with restaurants. Some things are annoying and others appear insupportable until the food itself makes all bad memories recede into the distance. Here are a few of the things that Style’s restaurant reviewers wish would go away:

1. I like to think of myself as relatively schooled on foodie terminology, but I feel like I’m Googling menu items — secretly on my phone, under the table — too often. Seriously, people. Bring me a color-coded key or even better, a cute translator who sidles up to the table and reviews the chef’s terminology. — Rachel Machacek

2. How about some local music? Imagine how blown away an out-of-town visitor, much less a food writer, would be to hear a catchy soundtrack of local bands complementing local food. As for restaurateurs out of the musical loop, there are Richmond musicians only too happy to help make a local mix. — Karen Newton

3. I’ve seen an annoying increase in up-selling. I know, I know, the restaurant business is tough. Ask me if I want an appetizer — fine. Ask about dessert — also good. Charging me for bread? Not fine. Pressing me to order a second glass of wine when I’d like to stay sober for the drive home? Reprehensible. — Brandon Fox

4. The continued dominance of mediocre Tex-Mex among South-of-the-Border-themed restaurants is massively disappointing. The saddest example is the fantastic Venezuelan place, Kanoa Latin Cuisine, which shut down and re-branded itself as Alero Mexican Restaurant. There are 19 countries in Central and South America, and Richmond should support more diversity in Latin American cuisine.
— Matthew Freeman

5. Women have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of being afraid to eat alone. Not me — but maybe other diners’ fears have foundation. Although there have been occasions that I’ve been treated well — almost as if I were a VIP in one instance — most of the time I sit and sit, drumming my fingers on the table, waiting for a server. I also have a husband who tends to run late, and I wouldn’t mind a glass of wine while I wait — a fantasy, it seems. I don’t know if this is sexism or perhaps alone-ism — thank you, I just coined that term — but it needs to stop. — Brandon Fox

6. I respect that a chef wants to send out food in a well-timed manner, but I don’t want to be asked to order my entire meal at once. Let’s skew a bit more European, shall we, and put the diners’ wishes ahead of the kitchen’s? Often, I don’t know what I want for successive courses until I’ve savored the first. Americans tend to be in a hurry, but meals, especially those out, are meant to be an experience. Ordering at my own pace allows that. — Karen Newton

7. What do I hate about the Richmond dining scene? Can Can Brasserie no longer serves brunch. —Nathalie Oates

Food and drink editor Brandon Fox would have starved if she hadn’t worked in restaurants throughout college and graduate school. Former Style food and drink editor Deveron Timberlake discovered that Fox was writing Richmond’s first food blog, Brandon Eats, and hired her as a restaurant reviewer in 2005. Four years later, she moved on to become the editor of R•Home and then Richmond magazine’s dining editor in 2013, helping to establish the Elbys. She always wanted to return to Style, and after Timberlake retired, is happily ensconced in her mentor’s job. She’s won numerous Virginia Press Association awards along the way and eaten countless meals made by some of the best chefs in the country.

Matthew Freeman’s love of food has led him on adventures around the world, from fresh-caught breakfast sushi at Tokyo’s fish market, to street grilled goat in Nairobi, Kenya. Always restless, he’s constantly on the lookout for interesting food experiences in every corner of the Richmond region. He’s been bringing this adventurous spirit to the food pages of Style since 2011.

Rachel Machacek spent her childhood rating restaurants based on two criteria: fresh flowers on the tables and nice bathrooms. These things still hold true, although she recognizes exceptions to the rule because good food is, well, good food. She resumed restaurant critiquing in the late aughts while covering the food scene in Washington, and moved to Richmond just in time to experience the city’s amazing culinary renaissance. She believes food is medicinal, nourishing and a connector of people — and also that sometimes a takeout container of greasy fried food eaten alone on the couch is one of life’s great balms.  

Karen Newton was brought up in a family with a sterling silver pickle fork, where planning for the next meal began as soon as the last one was cleaned up. Biscuits, blue crabs, fried chicken and a daily dessert were childhood staples. Now all parts of fish, fowl or beast are fair game. Her favorite restaurant is one with an open bar stool, a killer soundtrack and a kitchen with imagination. 

Nathalie Oates grew up in Richmond and is delighted that Ukrop’s mac ’n’ cheese remains widely available. She developed her taste for local flavor while attending college in rural Massachusetts, where farm-to-table is the norm and breakfast establishments reign supreme. She returned a few years ago and happily rediscovered the city’s innovative Southern cooking. Her favorite place to sip a cocktail is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts sculpture garden, and chocolate chip cookies will always remain her first choice. 


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