Seafood is a sure bet elsewhere on the menu. Steamed Olde Salt clams — grown alongside Rappahannock’s oysters — kale and house-made lamb sausage in a spicy, sherry-laced broth comes with toasted bread for sopping up the heady juices, and sweet seared scallops share their plate with a ring of basil-laced shrimp salad and a garnish of popcorn, a nod to the way Peruvian seviche is sometimes finished. There is typically a whole fish as well, perhaps branzino on a bed of rice colored green with tomatillo and cilantro and flanked with tender baby carrots. The smoky perfume wafting through the dining room can be traced to a wood grill in the open kitchen.
With a few tweaks here and there, Rappahannock, which set sail last December with chef Dylan Fultineer at its helm, would be an even better restaurant. Its octopus terrine, an edible mosaic offered with a swipe of edamame puree, should lose some salt. And the glossy pork belly would be better with corn cakes that weren’t as tough as these are (twice). But those are slips that are easily righted.
The 33-seat, U-shaped bar dominates the center of the airy corner restaurant. “We wanted to encourage a communal dining experience,” says Travis of the space allocated to the concrete-topped counter. Rappahannock’s sophisticated cocktail program (a veritable herb garden lines the bar) was developed by Katie Nelson, a veteran of the chic Columbia Room in Washington.
A subtle nautical look prevails in the rustic yet stylish dining room. Close inspection of one of the vintage family photos on the walls shows the future owners of Rappahannock sitting on a couch sharing a box of Ritz crackers, a childhood snapshot Travis likes to call “our first board meeting.”
A weathered advertisement for bromide on the side of the building and a front door that creaks when it opens do not prepare the casual customer for the swank cocktails and the fried rice with kimchi waiting inside
The 48-seat dining room in Church Hill takes its name from the 32nd U.S. president, an interest for co-owner Kendra Feather, who opened Roosevelt two years ago “solely as a neighborhood spot,” says chef and business partner Lee Gregory.
More than nearby residents should know about his cooking, which is southern in spirit and sophisticated in style. The go-for appetizer is a plate of crisp smoked chicken wings draped with a twist on Alabama white sauce: mayonnaise, vinegar, black pepper and horseradish that deserves to be sold by the quart. I thought the moist catfish zipped up with a vibrant pureed salsa verde was my favorite main course, but that was before I tried the smoked pork shoulder and its cool cradle of coleslaw. The porcine pleasure splays across spicy red beans and comes with a ring of yellow barbecue sauce that reveals the chef’s South Carolina roots.
That pungent and eggy fried rice, dropped off in a cast-iron skillet, is Gregory’s wish to “be just a hair different” from the competition, although he points out that Korean food shares ties with Southern cooking: a reliance on rice, cabbage, fermented flavors and barbecue, among other bonds. The only disappointment in recent visits: desert-dry corn bread.
Roosevelt’s drinks, from Thomas “T” Leggett, rival those made by Washington’s best stirrers and shakers. The Kitchen Sink lives up to its name, powered as it is with gin, tequila, honey liqueur, the wine-based aperitif called byrrh quinquina, an absinthe rinse and (my!) kumquat bitters. Imagine a negroni crossed with a Manhattan. The only proof you know you’re drinking in Richmond is the price of the pleasure: $9.