LFM: Sensi and Acacia

I know I’ve been a slacker with blogging lately – no new recipes for weeks now. But most of you know I’ve entered the wedding business and cooking anything worth blogging about with a full-time computer job and the season in full swing is truly impossible.  I cannot tell you how many pounds of buttercream my trusty mixer has churned out – so much so that I have committed the recipe to memory that I do not have to spend 15 minutes looking for my cheat sheet.

Anyway, before all the “marryment” began, Hubby and I indulged in some restaurants that we’ve been meaning to return to. Richmond has a pretty fair share of non-chain restaurant per capita. Some get rave reviews for reasons I don’t understand and some just do not get the recognition they deserve.

Richmond peeps, if you have not tried Sensi, you are missing out on one of the best Italian restaurants in town (which is why HH was first in line at his Broad Appetit booth). Paolo Randazzo is the master of his craft. He has the best fried calamari I’ve ever tasted – and believe me “Hungry” Hubby and I have tried plenty – never rubbery, always perfectly crisp and melt-in-your mouth tasty. And if he happens to offer the grilled variety that night – get it. If you like squid, you will not be disappointed. Just to let you know how much HH loves calamari, on our cheat day while we were on the Body for Life program years ago, we went to Franco’s ( Paolo’s old restaurant) and he wanted two orders of calamari for dinner all to himself – he would not share them with me. So I ordered one for appetizer and he shared that too. Our server was cheeky and she said out loud that she doubts HH can finish all the calamari – and she was right. J

Anyway, my entrée on our visit to Sensi was Maine Lobster over orzo pasta in caper cream sauce. This was one of Paolo’s signature sauces and each “grain” is just coated enough to deliver that medley of complex seasonings to your palate. But it was “Hungry” Hubby’s ginormous veal chop – all 16oz of it- that was a revelation. We almost never order veal because we think of it as a pretty boring meat (veal parm or scallopini anyone?). But since it was Sensi’s most popular dish, HH decided to give it a try.


I was beyond impressed and I would have gladly eaten my dish as well as his. Each bite was a study in succulence and flavor. Buerre noisette added the buttery dimension while the garlic chips extended the savory punch of a flawlessly seared exterior.

Paolo always has the same trio of desserts which he executes fabulously.  And Sensi is the only place in Richmond where I never leave disappointed in the last course.  The trio is a warm flourless chocolate torte, a creamy goat cheese budino (Italian crème caramel) and a hazelnut semifreddo. Uh…can I say orgasmic! The warm torte offers robust chocolate flavor which I find lacking in many Richmond restaurant desserts, the budino was oh so deliciously creamy which my tongue gladly savored.  I was too stuffed to finish the semifreddo but HH had no problem being the disposal.

This dinner was weeks ago and I took my time to write about it because none of my words would have given justice to the sheer pleasure I had with this meal.

 We also finally paid a visit to Dale Reitzer’s Acacia Midtown. A far cry from his former place, this new establishment boasts a cosmopolitan chicness. No doubt about it, I love the ambience!  The food though was sort of a let-down, but not necessarily bad.

I had to try very hard to discern a taste of foie from the foie gras terrine.  However, I did enjoy our second course of pan-seared scallops, mache greens and mushrooms immensely – it’s hard to go wrong with mushrooms after all. HH and I both ordered the soft-shell crab special for our main course.  Without a doubt it was perfectly cooked – lightly breaded and crisp – but both HH and I took issue with the overall flavor of the dish. This very well might be classified as nitpicking, but with Acacia Midtown being run by a chef who was awarded as one of the best new chefs in 1999 by F&W, one cannot help but analyze the logic and creation behind  his offerings.

 What can I say, I am my father’s daughter and he had a habit of dissecting dishes too.

 I think soft shell crab is, by nature, very rich and heavy – taste saturation comes quickly, so we thought it could use more tartness to cut through all that glorious crabby fat. I think it came with a lemon butter thyme sauce but the taste of lemon was but a nuance. It was brilliant that it was served with German potatoes though, as the mustard did aid in balancing out the overall dish. But you know that feeling of wistfulness whenever a dish would have been nirvana if… that was how we felt with this dish.

Ahh…dessert. Unfortunately, this has been my continued pet peeve with Acacia. This time it was probably my fault for ordering the devil’s food cake knowing from the looks of all the box mixes I've seen at the supermarket that this would never be my kind of cake even if it was baked with panache by a skillful chef. I took the first bite and I was done by my second cursory one.  Again, this was partly my fault…somehow I was expecting big chocolate flavor when it was not in the character of this particular cake. But then there was nothing that appealed to me on the dessert menu either so I settled…

But let me tell you, Acacia was packed on that Wednesday night.

So I wondered and pondered: maybe this was the type of fare people wanted over here.  And suddenly, the daunting dilemma that faced all the great chefs of Central Virginia dawned on me. Richmond is right smack in the middle of the East coast.  Not quite south and not quite north, you’ve got a mix of folks who want conservative southern cooking but you’ve also got the folks who have been exposed to bolder flavors available to the north of the city like Washington DC and New York.

And the reason why Dale Reitzer’s cuisine works?   It’s mostly upscale south with some European flair mixed in. I’ve been highly enamored by his crabcakes over cheesy grits (and I generally do not like crabcakes) and his rendition of polenta with mascarpone was simply to die for.  And though I admit ignorance with southern cookery and desserts, I hope that he would come up with a knock –the- socks- of-me apple tart next time – please?


12 thoughts on “LFM: Sensi and Acacia

  1. Your writing is as good as the best food critics I've read and so much better than most.
    When you start in on it's good, my tongue starts the drooling and my the time I finish reading, my bib is wet. Yes, I grab a bib when I see it's a review in anticipation that if you liked the food I'll be a mess without.
    The veal and those 3 desserts … wish I was there.

  2. Thanks for this wonderful review! My HH and I have been to Sensi and you put into words exactly what I felt with every dish that we ordered. I also finished it off with the trio, and Wow! Talked about it for days. Thanks for reminding me how much we enjoyed it and need to head back.

  3. I prefer Acacia's old place. It was a lot cozier. I wasn't impressed with the dishes either….but of course I'll be going back to try again.

  4. I forgot to say dido on sensi. They have the most delicious Fig icecream as well. Can't wait to get back!

  5. Sensi, good food, , good service, terrible, un-inspired wine list. Late 90's decor. I wish they preserved the original tobacco details.

    Acacia, good food, good service, boring wine list, I wish they had more focus, more reserve selections, decor is fine, a little to clubby.

    Richmond wants fine dining. Support these places.

  6. Tanna – that is so flattering! 🙂
    Belly Out – Hubby and I long ago determined that it's best to enjoy wine at home. If you find a good one at a restaurant chances are the prices are double what they are at retail. Besides, we love California wine and most restaurants here do not have the wines we want like Joseph Phelps, Shrader, Pride, Cakebread, Plumpjack, Sebastiani etc… I'm not sure if Hondo's still offer half-price wine Sundays…we found that very reasonable.

  7. Good Luck with all of the Weddings! Can't wait to see a Vanilla Tart (if you have time to get around to it). Cheers

  8. Good thing you and your hubby tried the pork dish again. It just goes to show you, everything can be cooked right. Most people, do not know how to do it right. That is why, I love to read about other peoples experiences.

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