Dining Section


Patina Grill

Rating: ?

Where: 3416 Lauderdale Drive (The Shops at Wellesley)

Phone: (804) 360-8217

Website: www.patinagrill.com

Smoking: Non-smoking

Hours: 5-10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday

Entr?e prices: $20-$27

Check for two: $153 (including two appetizers, two entrees, shared dessert, alcohol, tax and gratuity)

The menu begins with a rather brazen statement: “If you’re not in the mood for adventurous food, please ask your server about a simple presentation of your favorite dish.”

Presumptuous? Perhaps. Deserving? Indeed.

Patina Grill, an innovative outlet for fusion-loving foodies, has earned the right to issue such decrees. For eight years, chef/co-owner Brian Munford has redefined fine dining by fusing Asian, Indian and Caribbean tastes into unexpected entrees.

Take the antipasto platter ($8), for example. Pesto and Sicilian caponata share the plate with hummus, gherkins and house-made sesame crackers. Fresh pasta is paired with everything from crab cakes to rabbit.

And to think, this creative haven popped up in Short Pump long before the area became today’s Mecca of chains. In the past, a trek to suburbia might have dissuaded downtown dwellers, but as of this summer, there’s new reason to gas up the car.

Mainly Pasta, Munford’s Main Street take-out pasta shop, has expanded its operation and relocated to Patina Grill’s commercial-size kitchen. This means more grocers can join Ellwood Thompson’s and Seven Hills Market in selling the shop’s sauces and fresh linguine. More important, it places Patina, much loved but long quiet, back on Richmond’s dining-out radar.

On a Friday evening, Patina’s elegant d?cor — copper-topped tables, wrought iron-framed mirrors and dark, intimate booths acted as an impressive visual omen for an equally impressive meal to follow.

Patina’s lengthy wine list ($20-$300) isn’t afraid to stray from the ordinary. Try Caymus Conundrum ($46), an adventurous white wine blend, accented by hints of S?millon and Viognier, perfect for the menu’s varied global flavors.

Starters are few but action-packed. A quesadilla special ($8) combined fork-tender beef tenderloin and Vermont white cheddar for a sharply flavored twist. Seared crab cakes ($11) lump meat loosely bound by red pepper-studded cream sauce — were an unexpected hit atop fresh linguine, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and Parmesan.

I wouldn’t categorize all Patina’s entrees as “adventurous,” but those that vigorously push the envelope live up to the menu’s introductory boast. Pistachio-crusted sea bass ($27) is going on my list of top entrees. Sweet currant and rice dolmades were magically checked by the pungency of sun-dried tomato and feta tiropita. Honey-lemon-thyme drizzle provided a harmonious bath of sweet and sour.

Succulent grilled beef tenderloin ($27) was shrewdly paired with balsamic-red wine glaze and anasazi beans — sweet, maroon-speckled Southwestern gems — to elicit eye-opening complexity.

Dressed conservatively in Marsala sauce and sliced mushrooms, rabbit ($25) flaunted a pleasant mildness and fine texture, making it a good gateway dish for game novices. The filling side of spinach and ricotta manicotti will push aside any thoughts of Thumper.

Saut?ed shrimp ($25), served atop hand-cut tagliatelle, were sizeable and plump, but the pasta was bland. Artichoke, roasted red pepper and pine nuts added texture, but an underwhelming lemon wine sauce couldn’t compensate.

Desserts ($8) are monumental in size and flavor. Bubbling-hot cherry cobbler tantalized with whole cherries, cinnamon-laced crumbles and cr?me fraiche ice cream. The prickly tartness of an imperviously rich blackberry-lime cheesecake was balanced by raspberry drizzles and sinful butter cookie crust.

Patina’s entire staff, marked by an aura of cool confidence, possesses a sixth sense that turns dinner into dining. Added details, such as a sorbet palate cleanser, unobtrusive crumb removal and leftovers cared for by the hostess, enrich an already impressive experience.

When a restaurant graces its menu with a slyly self-gratifying statement, expectations are set high. With superb service, tastefully modern atmosphere and innovative menu, Patina Grill lives up to its well-deserved confidence. If you feel the need to request a simpler presentation, go elsewhere. Munford and staff deserve diners willing to embark on their culinary adventure.

Freelance writer and graphic designer Dana Craig considers dessert the most important food group. The Times-Dispatch pays for the meals on her unannounced visits to restaurants. Contact her at [email protected].