This weekend was a whirlwind of running, mudding (by accident—more on that story later this week), popping ibuprofin, napping, and eating far too much good food in Richmond, Virginia. Love that town. While more of the recap will show up this week during Vegan MoFo (can’t wait for that to get started tomorrow!), tonight I’m all about Pasture, Jason Alley’s second restaurant in Richmond (he also runs Comfort over on West Broad). Disclaimer: This is not a vegan post in any way whatsoever, so if you hopped over here from the MoFo lists, don’t worry, starting tomorrow we’ll be all vegan all month for the duration of October. This restaurant, though, was too good not to write about ASAP.
I met Jason a few months ago at Lambstock. Drunk as a skunk that night, I think I stole his cider from him at some point, but he forgave me an even gave me one from his cooler. That, I think, sums up the incredible generosity of Jason. Friendly, easy-going, and open-armed—not to mention an incredibly talented chef—I bet he has a darker side, but I’ve never seen it. Needless to say, going to his new restaurant and trying as many dishes as possible was definitely on my to-do list for the trip.
Pasture’s space can be understood as something akin to ‘understated rural modern elegance.’ Tall ceilings, white walls, reclaimed wood paneling behind the bar and on the opposite wall, a stripe of teal, open kitchen, warm lighting—it’s a cozy place that feels as contemporary as you can get. It feels genuine too. The pail holding napkins and silverware, the cowbells on one wall—in any other restaurant they would feel kitschy, but at Pasture it seems natural. And I loved the floor layout—modified booths in the middle, the bar on one side, and semi-communal tables throughout. Couples often shared a table with one place setting between them, but for our party of four, we were given our own. Privacy mixed with community—it hit a happy center. Plus the music (a great mix of indie and pop from the eighties-today) was at a perfect level: just loud enough that you could hear it, but quiet enough that conversations were easy to carry on. I am so tired of restaurants that try to give me early-onset-tinnitus with their volume levels–the experience at Pasture was par none for comfort and experience.
Speaking of the open kitchen, isn’t that light amazing? Jason stayed up front expediting while his sous, Joe Sparatta, manned the kitchen with the other cooks. Call me voyeuristic, but I love watching a kitchen while I eat, it knits the whole experience together. Like watching Jason snap open Ritz cracker sleeves for the pimento cheese, then having the ramekin whisked to your table, the crackers lined up like rolos in a paper bag. Or like a sleeve of Ritz crackers. Take your pick.
But our meal, right? For starters, this apple cider-whiskey cocktail. (I forgot to steal the cocktail list so I can’t remember what’s in it besides apple cider, whiskey, lemon twist….other kinds of goodness?) I could drink the night away with this. I’m a strong whiskey girl, but something about the simple cinnamon-apple-sweetness hit the spot for me—you could barely taste the liquor. I ordered a few, there was never a bad one. G’s modified Manhattan was delicious as well. +1 for the cocktail program (& the local brews on tap)!
For starters while G & I waited for my uncle and his wife to join us, the infamous Pimento Cheese & Ritz Crackers. Yes, Ritz crackers. The dish wouldn’t be right without their buttery crunch. A throwback to retro Southern comfort food, this pimento cheese was achingly good. Almost airy but still rich, the lack of heaviness and the tangy punch of cheddar mixed with pimentos ensured that G & I would singlehandedly destroy an entire ramekin by ourselves. I couldn’t stop myself; one cheese-laden cracker after another made it’s way to my mouth. I was a pimento cheese maniac, unstoppable. Jason, I’d kill for that recipe.
Unable to make many decisions, we all decided to order a handful of small plates and one larger entrée, this Pickled Shrimp with Smoked Tomato Cocktail and Fennel Salad, being the first small plate. Out of all the dishes, this one left us a little underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the shrimp was cooked well, peeled, tail left on, the smoked tomato cocktail smokey and tomatoey, the fennel salad fresh, but over all it felt a little too expected. No pop of an incredible flavor, no wow factor. It felt safe. The shrimp needed a little more brine, the fennel a little more floral notes (I found it bland—and fennel is rarely bland), the cocktail sauce another element, maybe some heat. It was ok, but not extraordinary. And, thankfully, it was the only dish of the night in that category.
Next, the Steak Tartare with Jalapeno, Chili Ketchup, and Quail Egg. Oh. My. Lord. Jason, thank you so so so much for sending this our way. G, apparently, had been eying it on the menu but we ended up not ordering it. That, my friends, was foolish for this dish ended up being tops for almost all of us. Minced fine and uniformly, the beef held its own texture without mushing together, the jalepeno added a little pow, and the quail yolk oozed beautifully into the whole thing. Spicy, but not overpoweringly so, this steak tartare is hands down the best I’ve ever eaten. It was so different than any other I’ve had, so Southern but so finely executed—we fought over the last bite. Between the choice of liberty or this tartare, I might have to chose the latter. Apologies, Patrick Henry.
Third, one of the evening’s specials—Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Jalepeno Grits. I know we need to talk about the pork shoulder, how it tenderly forked off into bites, how it soaked up cider and smoke and pure pig, but we need to take a minute to talk about those grits. Those stone ground grits that sent me straight back to summer, bits of corn in every bite, a little heat from the jalapeno. Not a particularly innovative dish, but a beautifully executed one. It brought together the best of summer and autumn in one dish—no small feat. And, trust me, I almost licked that bowl clean.
Next, a dish I’d anticipated since browsing the website’s menu: Pasture Scrapple with Fried Egg, Toast, and Mustard. A little bit for brinner, yes? Scrapple: a mix of pork scraps, cornmeal, flour, and spices, it’s not particularly glamorous. Or even good. But I’d eat this scrapple any time of the day. Smooth with a dark, fried crust, the scrapple was, freakishly, in texture and taste eerily similar to my very vegan Tempeh Tube Sausage (no, really, it was…which is so weird), but, obviously, was very porky. The egg was fried perfectly, the yolk broke nicely over the scrapple, and the mustard was tangy and sharp and worked perfectly with each bite of bread, scrapple, and egg. We found the serving size to be a bit large, but other than that, a great dish that really elevated a traditional breakfast.
And, finally, last but not least, the Low Country Boil featuring shrimp, clams, sausage, potato, and corn in a smoked tomato broth. I grew up eating low country boil every now and then at the Georgia coast and, frankly, I hated it. It managed to take three of my favorite things—corn, shrimp, potatoes—and make them bland and soggy. So when this dish was suggested, I just went along with it, wasn’t holding my breath for greatness. It’s not like I thought it’d be the Old Bay soused, watery boil of my childhood, but I didn’t think it was possible to make a great low country boil. Apparently I’ve learned nothing in my years of food obsession, because this dish was dynamite. The tomato broth was so complex—fresh, acidic, a hint of smoke—the clams and shrimp beautifully cooked, the sausage spicy with a great snap, the corn sweet and fresh, the tomatoes perfect with the broth, it was another hands-down favorite of everyone. My uncle kept dipping and dipping and dipping some more the bread into the broth, I focused on fishing out small chunks of potatoes, G sliced corn off the cob. I’d eat that dish again and again.
It’s obvious to say that I’m over the moon about Jason opening a restaurant in Charlottesville—I make it up there often enough for shows and the thought of sharing another meal like this is intoxicating. G & I both agreed that it’s one of the more original and delicious meals we’ve had in a long time. Where the Southern comfort food theme could have veered too much in the line of tradition or too far into complex modernity, Jason and his team somehow found the line to toe. Every dish was familiar, a trip back down home, but, at the same time, and adventure to somewhere new and exotic. It wasn’t fusion, it was flavor—authentic cooking at its best.
If you’re even in Richmond, you must must must check out Pasture or Comfort. I haven’t eaten at Comfort, but it’s high on my list for a future visit. As is a return to Pasture—that steak tartare is calling my name.
416 E Grace St
Richmond, VA 23219