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With a balanced menu and excellent service, Goochland's Manakin Grill is headed in the right direction. 

On the Right Track

The first thing that caught my eye upon entering the recently opened Manakin Grill was the wonderful collection of large-format vintage photographs hanging over each booth. Each depicts a Goochland County scene from yesteryear. What an interesting and welcome twist on restaurant art, which often has no correlation to anything or is merely purchased to fit a particular space.

So if first impressions are worth anything, I was on my way to a pleasant — at the very least, aesthetically so — experience. The restaurant is split into two rooms for smoking and nonsmoking. We were seated quickly on the nonsmoking side in a well-lighted (hallelujah… no flashlights needed) booth with a photo of an old homestead, "Rock Castle," hanging above.

The menu is divided into "small plates" (appetizers that could be minimeals), salads (field greens, Caesar, spinach or Cobb), sandwiches (burger, BBQ, grilled chicken, etc.), "large plates" (entrees) and sides. Plus, there are specials (lobster tail, New York strip) and a children's menu.

Though coconut shrimp tempura with Thai chili sauce and steamed mussels in white wine both sounded delicious, for starters we decided to share a small plate of Carolina crab cakes with Cajun rémoulade ($8.75). The three minicakes, the diameter of a 50-cent piece, were composed of minced crabmeat, onions and peppers, and topped with a small dollop of the sauce. They were spicy and flavorful … I only wish they'd been larger in terms of value. We also shared a field greens salad, served with candied walnuts and Vidalia onion vinaigrette ($4.95).

Throughout our dinner our waitress was delightfully attentive, checking our water glasses, and delivering our courses with expert timing. So it came as no surprise that when our entrees arrived and Bottomless Pitt's 10-ounce filet mignon ($20.95) — requested to be cooked medium— was rather well-done (i.e., charred), our waitress readily returned it to the kitchen without batting an eye. I had to wonder how on earth a chef could have even put it on the plate to begin with. Plus, they had gotten BP's sides wrong and served his steak with two kinds of potatoes — Lyonnaise and mashed.

Nevertheless, all was made good. They quickly grilled B.P. a new filet and served it with the proper sides of Lyonnaise potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. The manager apologetically offered to strike the steak from our check. B.P. devoured his new, much larger, filet, even if it was a tad underdone (he couldn't bring himself to return yet another). It was tender enough to cut with a fork and the flavor was first-rate. The potatoes, a healthy serving of layered slices, were too peppery, however, to really be enjoyed.

Meanwhile, I'd been happily savoring my shrimp picatta ($16.25). About a dozen medium-sized shrimp were accompanied by capers and diced tomatoes on a bed of linguine, all with an absolutely heavenly lemon cream sauce. All ingredients combined just perfectly for an ideal pasta dish. The lemon was not overpowering, but delicate and complementary.

For dessert, I chose my perennial favorite, crŠme br–lée, and was not disappointed. It was served on an artfully presented plate — berries and squiggles of color with a sprig of mint — and was creamy and sweet. B.P. chose the New York cheesecake and was satisfied. We both hit the proverbial wall and were unable to finish either.

All in all, we agreed that Manakin Grill is worth a drive to the country. The service was flawless, and the menu has enough variety, from smoked baby-back ribs to hickory-smoked duck. The brunch menu looks awfully tempting as well, with its pancakes, French toast, waffles and eggs of all kinds, all priced from $3.95 to $11.95. Despite a misstep or two, Manakin Grill is surely on the right track with a nice, balanced menu and excellent service to
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