Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going Coastal






Going Coastal

Westhampton snags a seafood standout.
by John G. Haddad

Succulent shrimp and grits and the seared scallop appetizer are helping Coast build a reputation for culinary finesse. Photo by Scott Elmquist


There are few disciples of food and wine in Richmond as fervent as Gary York. He eats, drinks and breathes the epicurean life and isn’t shy talking about it. As a fan of his first restaurant, the Italian wine bar Enoteca Sogno, I’ve been awaiting the opening of his latest venture, Coast, in the Libbie and Grove neighborhood. I was eager to see how his slavish attention to detail would translate to a new style of cuisine. My visit proved worth the wait.

My wife and I visit on a warm weekday evening. The front door is open to the street, inviting us into the softly lighted space. A blue granite bar anchors one side of the room, bright patterns adorn the walls and a large mirror reflects the sidewalk and street traffic, creating the illusion of a larger space. The plain gray exterior seems incongruent with the aesthetics of the neighborhood, but red patio umbrellas indicate newly available outdoor dining, always a draw in Richmond.

The wine list is diverse, an interesting mix of Californian and European vintages. York had just returned from the Italian wine expo in Verona, Italy, a few weeks earlier, his annual pilgrimage. My wife samples a Liberty School chardonnay, available by the glass or bottle, and is pleased by the oaky buttery flavors. The markup seemed a tad high at $9 a glass for a bottle that retails for around $13. When I couldn’t decide on a red or white, our knowledgeable server suggests a rosé that isn’t yet on the menu. It’s made with sangiovese grapes, and when I inquire about the production, York himself comes to the table to explain in layman’s terms the different methodologies for making a rosé.

As its name suggests, Coast’s menu leans toward seafood, but also includes several land options. We start with a scallop appetizer ($13). Two plump, seared scallops are served on a bed of asparagus purée surrounded by crispy fried shiitake mushrooms. A drizzle of truffle oil finishes the divine combination of flavors and textures.

The mixed field greens are dressed with light citrus vinaigrette ($8). A pistachio-crusted warm goat cheese fritter is the perfectly tangy companion to the slight sweetness of the dressing. My only criticism is that the serrano ham is overly chewy. The heirloom beet salad ($9) combines bright red and yellow chilled beets and oranges over arugula spiked with goat cheese and a sweet orange and beet vinaigrette. The colorful presentation enhances the overall effect.

We opt to stay coastal with our entrée choices: I have skate wing ($21), one of my favorite dishes and rarely seen on a Richmond menu. It’s classically prepared, pan-seared and finished with lemon-caper brown butter, crispy outside with a moist and meaty interior. A side of homemade tagliatelle, finished with butter and fresh thyme, and a serving of caramelized cauliflower with mustard sauce rounds out the plate, simple dishes executed with perfection.

Shrimp and grits are one of my litmus dishes — a benchmark wherever I have the chance. Coast’s rendition ($21) is among the best I’ve had. Perfectly cooked shrimp, tender, coarse-ground grits, roasted tomatoes that deliver pure flavors, and a creamy sherry-roasted garlic finish elevate this Low Country favorite to the realm of haute cuisine. Coast’s lunch menu includes simpler versions of the dinner menu and adds a series of sandwiches including a Kobe beef hamburger and an oyster po’ boy.

Desserts are traditional and seasonal. A strawberry shortcake is moist with just the right buttery density, straddling the worlds of salty and sweet. A vanilla bean crème brûlée channels pure flavors in its creamy interior and has the requisite tap-with-a-spoon crispy top.

Coast feels and acts like a restaurant with experience. Under the watchful eye of a seasoned gourmand, it has a winning, upscale formula that should bring success. The only missing link is waterfront property, but Westhampton is the next best thing. S

Coast
5806 Grove Ave.
288-8446
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m.
Nonsmoking

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