Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Dining Out Review: Mansion five26″
Dining Out Review: Mansion five26
Presents Southern comfort food with flair
Credit: MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH
Mansion Meatloaf is $16. Slow-braised and then grilled, it was moist with a nicely seared exterior.
Published: February 16, 2012
As glossy new shopping wonderlands and cookie-cutter housing developments continue to pop up farther and farther away from the city limits, I reflexively cling to any semblance of downtown with renewed passion.
I’m not knocking on suburbia, but downtown is where the events we revere as the building blocks of our city’s social and cultural history occurred, and yes, some of it has fallen into disrepair.
But areas such as Shockoe Bottom, Manchester and Scott’s Addition are only a few examples of modern-day Richmond working to bring life back to once-thriving neighborhoods.
OK, maybe I’m getting a little dramatic for what I promise is a restaurant review, but the opening of Mansion five26, the new Southern eatery on historic Second Street, and the corresponding renovation of the neighboring Hippodrome Theater, mark Jackson Ward’s triumphant return to its roots as a true entertainment district.
These two spaces — the former combining elegantly appointed dining rooms with culturally relevant soul food, the latter evoking the bygone era of Hollywood — along with The Speakeasy, a large bar and mezzanine overlooking the theater accessible through the alley, create a multidimensional venue already drawing huge crowds.
A friend and I made dinner reservations at Mansion five26 on a recent Thursday, not knowing that Thursdays at the Hipp, a happy hour promoters call “downtown’s newest tastemaker event for professionals,” was taking place next door.
Second Street was lined with cars awaiting a valet as business people passed en route to the theater.
Mansion five26 is in the former home of the Rev. William Lee Taylor, once president of True Reformers Bank, the first U.S. bank owned by African Americans. The browns, pale blues and subtle textures that envelop the dining rooms hint at the building’s historic opulence but create an environment both vibrant and comfortable.
Mansion five26′s menu of Southern classics, including an oyster po’ boy ($13) and chicken and waffles ($17), adds to this approachability, although dishes are presented with flair.
The wine list ($35-$250), however, skews more high-end with varietals including a 2008 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc ($55) and a 2008 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon ($110).
We began our dinner alone in the dining room just off the foyer, but as the night wore on, tables filled at a rapid pace, making us close friends with neighboring tables sharing the banquette.
We started with Mrs. Crowder’s Country Ham Drop Biscuits ($5) and oysters Charleston-style ($11). Four buttermilk biscuit rounds, as fluffy as clouds, were topped with a gooey mess of melted cheese and cubed Virginia smoked ham. Creamy Dijon sauce elevated them to heaven on the cheap.
Plump and briny, the generous portion of fried oysters was so flavorful we almost didn’t need the Cajun remoulade, although I could have eaten this dynamically tangy sauce with a spoon.
For entrees, we ordered Mansion Meatloaf ($16) and a special of crab-stuffed tilapia ($21). Take note: Entrée portions will give you leftovers for days.
Slow-braised and then grilled, the meatloaf was moist with a nicely seared exterior. Stewed tomato gravy added a unique piquancy that contrasted with the lethally creamy mashed potatoes.
Smothered in a rich crab cream sauce and sprinkled with ground pepper, the nicely cooked tilapia was expected but nonetheless enjoyable. Grits on the side were too mellow alone, but when mixed with the sauce, they were indulgent.
Topped with a puff of whipped cream and a drizzle of raspberry sauce, lemon mascarpone cake ($7) was deceivingly light yet wonderfully decadent.
On its own, Mansion five26 is a lovely spot for an upscale meal without the upscale pretense or prices. But when seen in context of the larger development, including The Hippodrome Theater, this manse of dining, drinking and dalliances gives Richmond a true taste of the grandeur of Second Street’s heyday, a revitalization that will surely put Jackson Ward back on the map.
Freelance writer and graphic designer Dana Craig has been reviewing restaurants for The Times-Dispatch since 2004. The Times-Dispatch pays for the meals on her unannounced visits to restaurants. Contact her email@example.com. Follow her at http://twitter.com/danacraigrtd.
This entry was posted on Friday, February 17th, 2012 at 12:57 pm
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.