The Old Original Bookbinder's Restaurant; Sweetwater Restaurant 

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Bookbinder's is certainly the most famous restaurant in Philadelphia, and with a history of more than 100 years, it has proved its lasting power. And in what must be the most ambitious restaurant project in Richmond in years, the has come to town.

Seating 300 in several dining rooms, the restaurant has found a handsome home in one of the refurbished buildings on Tobacco Row. If the decor is traditional and comfortable, so is the menu.

Among the appetizers ($6.95-$14.95), you will find a shrimp cocktail, clams Casino, fried calamari, crab cakes, and fresh oysters and clams on the half-shell. The old-fashioned snapper (turtle) soup ($3.75/$5.25), billed as "Bookbinder's World Famous," is rich and complex, and a cruet of sherry on the side adds a charming touch.

A dozen main dishes ($16.95- $25.95) featuring seafood are clearly house specialties, ranging from fried shrimp to a rich shrimp-and-crab casserole ("imperial"), and, of course, there is a lobster tank where you can choose a crustacean ranging from 2 to 5 pounds (market price). Fish are frequently grilled, and most are enhanced with a simple sauce.

The wine list is fairly extensive and expensive, most bottles above $25. And as one would expect, the service is attentive and amiably casual.

The staff seems pleased with the reception in Richmond. There's much about Bookbinder's that is very Richmond, indeed.

— Davis Morton

Chef Andrew Manning has lifted out of the homey doldrums of grilled chicken breast and meatloaf by turning to a creative, carefully executed blend of classic ingredients brought into the contemporary Vulgate of casual dining.

Though you'll be faced with a menu of temptations and two chalkboards of specials, do not overlook the duck-liver foie-gras appetizer served with blood oranges and pears in a vanilla bean/blood orange sauce ($9.95). Competing appetizers ($7-$10) include smoked salmon with a goat cheese and rosemary tart with arugula cream, and confit of duck with rosemary roasted Fuji apples. There is also a refreshing selection of winter salads ($6). Manning's entrees ($17-$20) give a complete picture of his approach to the kitchen and provide the dot at the bottom of the exclamation point. The specials, together with the main menu, offer luxurious entrees skillfully prepped and artfully plated. Braised rabbit with potato gnocchi is accented with a grainy mustard sauce; roasted rack of lamb with white truffle, and chive mashed potatoes boasts a veal-stock reduction with thyme and garlic; seared grouper with garlic polenta is served with mustard sauce with shiitake mushrooms.

With Manning recently returned from two weeks in Italy on a creative dining and idea-gathering tour, the spring menus should be a treat.

— Noel Patrick


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