One of the newer hot spots on the Richmond dining landscape is The Blue Goat - a restaurant beside the art house Westhampton Theater. It's a self-styled "gastropub", an appellation which hails from England where some clever restaurateurs decided to mix the atmosphere of a pub with fine dining.
So the environment at The Blue Goat is pretty cool - nice and open, plenty of exposed beams/rafters/whatever, and the kitchen visible through a window in a small, glass-enclosed private dining room. The bar, where I sat, was straightforward. There were TVs on the wall tuned to NCAA football. I can understand the desire - if this places is supposed to be a pub, patrons will want their sports. But I admit my own unfamiliarity with the dining concept made me feel a bit of cognitive dissonance at these flat panels in the middle of what is, theoretically for Richmond at least, forward cuisine. Otherwise the bartender was friendly, and I had a tasty glass of Tripel Karmeliet to boot.
How was the food? Well, I don't mean to nitpick, but when a place like this gets lots of buzz, purports to do something different in our city, and charges upscale prices, I'm not pulling punches. Now I don't have many punches to throw, but I was a bit disappointed with both food items I ordered.
First I had the house-made ravioli stuffed with braised goat, ricotta, and Swiss chard. These were dressed with sage, brown butter, and shaved pecorino. This dish sounded great, but a number of things bugged me about the execution - none more than the doneness of the pasta. Now I like "al dente", but either this pasta was undercooked or they had too much flower in their dough because it was slightly tough despite its thinness. As for the filling, I didn't catch any flavor other than the goat (didn't see ricotta inside either) - tasty, but not the only ingredient on the list. And the ravioli seemed to be swimming in brown butter. Sure, there was sage, but I couldn't pick up on its flavor (short of eating big wilted sage leaves). I'm pretty sure it was unsalted brown butter, too, with no salt added after the fact. This wouldn't be an issue, I think, if it didn't have to compete with the ravioli filling. But I felt like I was eating chewy goat ravioli in a grease puddle that occasionally had the nutty finish of brown butter. I'm not putting it that way to be snarky - that's really how the dish came across.
My second item was a pair of comically-large veal marrow bones (around 6 inches each), roasted and served with black olive tapenade, gray sea salt, and a little toasted bread. The marrow here was flavorful at the ends where it had browned considerably and came in contact with the salt, but the majority of the marrow was uninteresting. I feel like this would have worked considerably better had the bones been cut in smaller sections allowing for more browned marrow. That may just be my preference, but this is also my write-up. Just having bone marrow on the menu isn't enough to get me excited. You have to prepare it well, too.
So I know that's a bit harsh on the food front, but I'm not going to sugar coat things. This restaurant is supposed to be something new and different in an increasingly interesting Richmond food scene, and I always hope this sort of stuff succeeds in order to keep dining interesting in this town. I do plan to return in at least a few weeks to give it a second chance, however. A friend of mine who is a frequent Blue Goat patron told me they're changing their menu in about two weeks, and I'd like to see if things lighten up (there are like three pâtés on the menu right now in addition to rillettes, cassoulet, and the aforementioned marrow bones). I don't expect health food, but the menu at the time of this writing feels like an open protest against the existence of hypertension.
Oh well. I hope things are better when I check it out next time, but it'll be tough to go back and ignore my first impression. We'll see...