My husband and I are celebrating our anniversary in Richmond on a Tuesday night. We're both vegetarian (no meat, fish, or fowl) and are looking for something a little upscale (say, less than $100 for dinner and wine) and romantic (quiet) that might cater to our needs. I've read through some of the message boards, and seen recommendations for Ipanema as a great vegetarian place, but I think it sounds a little too noisy/college hang out for what we're looking for. Any recommendations are appreciated!
Well, we went to Avalon based on recommendations here and from a colleague at work. I didn't have a chance to read princsoreo's response, but maybe I should have!
The bar was packed at 9pm on a Tuesday night. We had no trouble getting a table and it didn't seem smoky, but BOY was it loud. The hostess was also our server who was obviously upselling us on a bottle of wine (Serendipity something). But she did bring me a taste of another I was curious about. The wine was great, especially for the price. It had an unusual salt-water type of taste, which the server said was due to the grapes being from a coastal region in France. I really liked it, but it ended up being a poor choice with most of what we ate. Where my husband and I had some complaints was in the food, firstly, it seemed to be a strangely winter-based menu for May--lots of heavy cream, mushroom, fall-vegetable type dishes. Also, grapefruit featured heavily.
The best part of the meal, which I would not have changed, was a delicious watercress salad that was well constructed, well balanced, springy and delicious. Mango vinaigrette (not too sweet) and Parmesan shavings were an unusual combination, but quite tasty.
Unfortunately, our other small plates were not so great. I'll talk about them all, in the order of best to worst.
Mushroom and cauliflower gratin thing, with crunchy something on top, and a micro green garnish: I thought this was quite good. A nice balance of textures, good mushroom flavor, and the cream sauce was fairly light. However, it ended up being much like everything else.
Israeli Couscous with some kind of cream sauce: Very heavy, flavorless except for salt, and obviously not very memorable. It was not, however, over-salted.
Fried Calamari with creamy remoulade sauce: My husband eats fish from time to time. He thought this was good, light breading, not too rubbery, but a bit too salty. And the sauce was a little heavy for his taste.
Brussels sprouts with pine nuts: They appeared to have been deep-fried, were extremely heavy, and almost too salty to eat. This is saying a lot, too, because my husband and I LOVE brussels sprouts. Which is a shame, because if they had been roasted (a better preparation for Brussels sprouts) and salted less it might have been better. It was also a pretty boring dish--I'm not sure why pine nuts were chosen to accompany them--the only flavor was the overwhelming saltiness.
Tempura Sorrel with cliantro cream sauce: Ok, this was my fault. I was enjoying the wine we had before we came to the restaurant and wasn't thinking. If someone ever tells you that they're going to serve you a deep-fried herb, just say no thank you. They were heavy, greasy, tasteless except for the salt, and just like lumps of fried tempura. The cilantro cream sauce tasted of nothing but mayonnaise. bleeeech.
The kitchen did prepare us a wonderful orange creme caramel for dessert, which they didn't charge us for in honor of our anniversary. That was nice. But the overwhelming saltiness of the meal left us sucking down water, which I had to ask to have refilled.
All in all, we were pretty disappointed with the food, but we had a great evening anyways. Sometimes the company and occasion can transcend the saltiest food!
My recommendation would be Avalon. They do a lot of small plates and a romantic/sharing vegetarian meal could easily be created.Comfort does a delicious vegetarian plate (they let you choose the entrees). Ipanema is cozy and kinda romantic and the college kids are on their way home for the summer next week anyway. Beauregard's is terrible.... worst Thai food ever. Nile is delicious, but not really upscale.
I went to Avalon for the first time a few weeks ago and while the food was pretty good (not great, pretty good) I would argue against the atmosphere. It's smokey, pretty bar-centered, noisy and if you don't have a reservation (I don't know if they take reservations) you're going to have to wait. I was pretty unimpressed and wouldn't exactly call the atmosphere upscale, although the prices and cuisine offerings were. Also, I know there were a few veg-friendly options and some soups, but not a ton. Just my two cents.
You might also want to check out TJ's at the Jefferson. I know Jannequin the vegan chef who worked there has left, but I know they were doing a lot of inventive vegetarian things when she was there. They may have hired a new chef in the same vain.
Some friends of mine tried Zed's last week, and reported back that while none of the entrees were vegetarian, they combined vegetarian salads and appetizers and were pleased. I've had some yummy veggie dishes at Mezzanine. Verbena used to do a pretty good trio of veggie raviolis, but I heard they were taken off the menu. I haven't been to Cafe Gutenberg since they reopened, but they're trying to build a reputation of being "carnivore and vegan friendly."
A few suggestions: Zed Cafe is usually pretty vegetarian friendly; If you like ethnic food you could go to Beauregard's Thai Room where I believe they have a good amount of dishes with tofu; the atmosphere is quiet and romantic; or Nile Ethiopian where you can share a vegetarian sampler plate. There are college kids there, but the atmosphere is nice and quiet.