Verbena is actually the name of a lemon or a type of lemon but it is also the name of a new restaurant here in Richmond, which was by no means a lemon in our opinion. After getting much fanfare from the local blog scene and traditional press, and seeing that they had a couple of yummy veggie options on their menu, Megan and I decided to check it out. So after we hit River City Cellars for their tasting we headed over to Verbena for dinner.
We had reservations for 6:30 but arrived about 10 minutes early and were seated with no problem. The restaurant had 4 or 5 tables already occupied and it seemed to have a few patrons upstairs at the lounge, although I didn’t check for myself. Our water glasses were promptly filled as our menus were dropped off at which time I immediately dove into the wine list. The wine list was nice, with fair pricing, not overly extensive with about 18 selections each of white and red, and a nice diverse mix to suite everyone’s palate. Our waitress came over and introduced herself and promptly started in on the specials, although we stopped her to let her know we were vegetarians so she didn’t have to go into her schpeell about the duck and foie gras. She did however let us know what the 3 vegetables would be in the ravioli trio as they change everyday. We ordered our wine which was the Vino Robles 2005 Petit Sirah from Paso Robles and she gave us a few minutes to peruse the menu and make our selections. Upon her return she brought some fabulous bread accompanied by a homemade olive tapanade that we quickly scarfed up after ordering our food.
What we ordered –
Appetizer – Saffron potato cakes – $6
Salad – Manakintowne mixed greens with dressing of the day, a blackberry thyme vinaigrette – $6
Entrée 1 – Trio of ravioli (2 with Shitake mushroom, 2 with Butternut squash and 2 with Spinach) – $16
Entrée 2 – Phyllo wrapped vegetable medley (stuffed with asparagus, carrots, and squash accompanied by a light tomato sauce – $16
Dessert – Pistachio cupcake topped with white chocolate icing, surrounded by a passion fruit puree – $6
Coffee – 2@$1.50
The restaurant was fine dining in its approach to food and service. They had attentive and skilled wait staff, beautiful silverware that was almost ergonomic in design, Schott Zwiesel glassware (you know I am sucker for nice stems), and a simple yet elegant dining room. At the same time, they were able to make the whole experience seem very casual and relaxed, which some fine dining establishments fail to do.
The saffron potato cakes were simply amazing – I wished there were 10 on the plate instead of two, lightly pan fried on the outside but soft on the inside, with the saffron providing an excellent flavor without being overwhelming. The salad was crisp and fresh, and the homemade blackberry thyme dressing was refreshing and almost palate-cleansing. Both the entrées were great. The ravioli were a perfect balance between tender and al dente, and were chock full of their individual ingredients (sweet potato, spinach & ricotta and shitake mushroom). There was no hide and seek with the veggies to where you couldn’t even tell what they were filled with. They were topped with a light cream sauce which, if I were at home, I would have been tempted to lick out of the bowl. The phyllo wrapped dish (actually the vegetarian version of their phyllo wrapped salmon) was equally as good as the ravioli. Jam packed with flavor, the richness of the phyllo played well with the lightly grilled and steamed vegetables (which were plentiful), tied together by a wonderful yet simple tomato sauce.
Accompanying all this was the Petit Sirah from Vino Robles winery.
My Tasting Notes
Nose – black currant, cedar, plum, caramel
Taste – thyme, blackberry, blueberry, date and cinnamon
Mouthfeel – med body, soft and smooth
Finish – medium length and black cherry flavors
The wine was good and very “rich”, with loads of dark fruit that didn’t taste like fake, Hi-C fruit. I might have preferred something with a little more earth and vegetal notes to go with the food, but the wines on the menu that would have given me that would have been too tannic and full-bodied, possibly overpowering the food. All in all it was a good choice and excellent sip that would also be good all by itself, and at $30 it fit the bill.
Last but not least were the desserts. As soon as we heard “pistachios” our ears perked up and we didn’t even have to think about which one we were ordering. The cupcake had ground pistachio in it and was topped with an uber creamy white chocolate icing and fresh whole raspberry, surrounded by an exotic passion fruit puree. The savory aspect of the pistachio balanced out the sweetness of the icing and the tartness of the puree very nicely. Accompanied with some good strong coffee, it was an excellent way to finish the meal.
With 20% tip we were just over a hundred smackers for dinner, which for the amount and quality of the food was not bad at all. Our experience was great as you can tell and we walked out wondering when we would treat ourselves to Verbena once again.