put yourself out to pasture

Last night was the first open-to-the-public night of service at Pasture, the new restaurant from Comfort’s Jason Alley. They’ve been serving friends and family since last week in a limited capacity, but last night anybody could take a crack at the menu (including actor David Straithairn, who was dining alone in the booth behind my wife). I’ve been looking forward to this new joint for a number of reasons. I’m already a huge fan of Alley’s work in Comfort. The concept makes me think of Comfort’s food with Secco’s format (i.e. small plates intended for sharing/sampling, but with refined Southern food in this case). And the location is in a part of town that could seriously use some evening destinations.

So Valerie and I arrived last night around 5:15 and were seated immediately. I have a feeling the weekend could be quite busy, but opening on a Wednesday on East Grace Street meant it wasn’t crowded before 7. But before I talk food, I have to say – the interior of this place is freaking cool. Spare, contemporary, and open, Pasture will be loud when it’s busy. But you’ll want to be there. Simple furniture and bright shades of green stand out against dark, heavy wood walls on either side of the restaurant. Dangling exposed bulbs on bundled cords shed additional light along the perimeter, and the bar is lined with tall stools you’d more likely see in a wood shop. And the bar! I think there are 16 taps (only draft beer at this place), and you immediately notice two things: there are no flashy tap handles, and there is no visible liquor or wine above the bar. They serve both, of course, but the real visual emphasis is on this gloriously utilitarian row of taps on a stainless steel drip pan, set into one of the aforementioned heavy wood walls. Superb.

But I don’t go to restaurants to gawk at the walls and banquettes. There’s food to be eaten. And the food here is off to an exciting start! Valerie and I ordered up some of the bread, butter, and jams while we decided on additional fare, and even that was quite nice: some rustic bread accompanied by sage-honey butter (Mmmmmm…) and three jams. These jams were cranberry, fig, and a spicy green tomato-jalapeño – a nice variety. We each had a few beers from a pretty nice selection, and explored the menu a little further.

Now Valerie LOVES deviled eggs, and I hate them. Full stop. But I tell you, her little plate of deviled eggs with bits of black truffle and salmon roe on top was quite pretty. They looked like the highest order of the form, and Valerie thought they were delicious. I, on the other hand, tried out the pork rillettes. This arrived in a cute half-pint mason jar with some really good toast,and two garnishes: pickled red onion with some herb (parsley?) and “quince mustard” which was chunks of quince cooked down with mustard seed. Valerie piled some of the rillettes, onion/herb mix, and quince on some toast, and I said “it’s a redneck bruschetta!” The rillettes, by the way, were super tasty without being too salty. Could have used a bit more toast, though.

Moving on from the cold to the hot, Valerie went for the fried chicken. This arrived in easy-to handle smaller chunks with a 1-cup disher of potato salad on the side. I tried some of the chicken, and while the crust was light and crispy, there wasn’t a whole lot of flavor going on. Granted, I’m not naturally a fan of fried chicken, but I think this one could stand some tweaking. Valerie enjoyed the potato salad, and felt more or less the same as me about the chicken, but she still ate most of it. I ordered up the braised beef brisket with grits and turnips, and Valerie and I both agreed this was fantastic. Some of the braising liquid was on the plate and added to the flavor of everything else. The brisket was tender and moist, the grits creamy with just the right amount of texture, and the turnips richly flavorful.

Then of course we had to try dessert. And wow, these were something to behold (and taste!). Valerie had the deep fried apple pie with salted caramel and whipped crème fraîche. It looked like a classic pocket pie (or Hostess fruit pie, if you will), with a paint stroke of the caramel across the plate and two cannelles of the crème fraîche permeated with flecks of vanilla bean. Sweet mercy, it all tasted incredible. But I think I liked my dessert a bit more…the “candy bar” made with a rich chocolate ganache and filled with caramel and bits of hazelnut. There was chocolate painted on the plate and flakes of some sort of candy – maybe a hazelnut candy? – scattered across the top. A single, candied hazelnut adorned one corner of the bar. This was an absolutely stellar dessert that could hold its own against any other in the city of Richmond (and far beyond).

What a meal – and great service, too. Michelle Jones, co-owner and general manager, was making the rounds thanking and chatting-up guests, and Valerie and I had a very pleasant conversation with her at the end of our meal. She also told us that we can expect the menu to change around every month, which will certainly keep palates entertained.

Either way, I’m intrigued. And I’ll be back – repeatedly!

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