Whale of a treat

Ironfish server Missie Ailor displays one of the restaurant’s daily specials: pan roasted Mahi Mahi with coconut black beans, lemon-olive oil grilled broccolini, avacado puree and fresh mango salsa.

I was overjoyed to head back for another meal at Ironfish by Pescados, considered the Best New Restaurant in 2011 by both the Richmond Times Dispatch and Richmond Magazine. I agree whole-heartedly with their ratings. Since I first visited the restaurant for my birthday in January, I was waiting for the perfect special occasion to return. I couldn’t wait another year, obviously.

Run by the same restaurateurs as Pescados Latin Caribbean Seafood in Midlothian and Eat in Oregon Hill, Ironfish offers the same unique dishes and top-level customer service. I consider Pescados my favorite restaurant in Richmond, so Ironfish has earned a special place in my heart.

After pulling into the suburban shopping center right off Lauderdale Drive near Gayton Road, I searched for the recognizable Ironfish logo plastered on an awning over a shaded outdoor dining area. The restaurant’s colors, blue and gray, offer a calming and classy feel and go along with the oceanic theme throughout the space. Cushiony, tan booths feel like soft sand, and eclectic art hangs on the walls. If you’d like to feel like you’re eating under water, the walls are painted halfway high with a deep blue paint. The actual iron fish hangs from the ceiling.

Although I wasn’t on a date, It’s the perfect spot for a date night because of the dim lighting, subtle music, and private seating. The distinctive dishes offer room for sharing forkfuls, discussing tastes and lots of “oohing and aahing.”

Now, about the dishes.

Ironfish focuses on serving fresh food from local farms. The appetizers are replaced by small plates including: “the soup of yesterday”--soup made the day before to allow the flavors to mingle; black bean and Jack cheese cakes; and crispy oysters.

I had the black bean and Jack cheese cakes while my friend ordered a tomato bisque with Arctic char. I ate all four cakes drizzled in a garlic basil sauce while sipping a glass of Sangiovese. The cakes reminded me of a similar appetizer at Pescados, and they were just as fantastic.

Our rich appetizers set the tone for our night. I was craving more black beans, and my friend wanted more char.

So I ordered one of the night’s specials: grilled mahi mahi, coconut black beans, grilled asparagus, fresh mango salsa, and avocado cream. My meal had every flavor I could think to write down. It was tart, spicy, sweet, and sour. To cover that many bases, the chef must know what he’s doing.

My friend also ordered a special: pan-roasted Arctic char, roasted garlic and rosemary new potatoes, sauteed spring vegetable medley, apricot-shallot sauce, and crispy shallots.

We were surprised by our server’s knowledge of each dish and its ingredients. In addition to his friendly personality and desire to go above and beyond to serve us, he made sure we knew the difference between every type of fish on the menu and its sauces and seasonings.

The restaurant may be a little on the pricey side, but it isn’t one of those fancy places that serve small dishes. Each plate is
beautifully displayed and generously proportioned. Fish is its speciality, but classics include shrimp and grits, crab cakes, bangers and mash, goat cheese stuffed chicken, pan roasted pork chops, New York strip steak and lamb tenderloin.

When our server asked if we wanted dessert, we decided we could find room somewhere for the chocolate flourless peanut butter torte with strawberry rhubarb ice cream. This dessert wasn’t what we expected. Instead of a fat piece of chocolate cake covered in ice cream, we were served a three-part dish of tiny delicate treats – the perfect unique ending to a fantastic meal.
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Henricus Historical Park will host an informational open house from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. introducing the new adult group programs to begin in 2018. The open house is an opportunity for organizations to discover what Henricus can offer their club, church group, college class, or other organization. In the coming year, Henricus will be adding afternoon adult-themed programs with topics such as 17th Century Medicines, Colonial Brewing, and Winter Holiday Meals. Registration for this free event is recommended by calling 318-8797. Full text

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