I’ve eaten at Cous Cous twice recently, and both times had an incredible experience.

The first was after working all weekend, my colleagues and I went there to celebrate the conclusion of a successful project on a busy Saturday night.  We got there early before the crowds, and as we left, there was a long line.

We made good use of the tapas concept and ordered a bunch of dishes:

  • Flaming sheep’s milk cheese served over apples with pita wedges
  • Cous Cous with moroccan vegetables
  • Paella with mock chicken
  • Smoked salmon on potato pancakes
  • Sweet corn fritters with chipotle creme fraiche
  • Lentil soup
  • Crispy eggplant with apricot marmalade

The flaming cheese, which was brought to our table still on fire (and most of the other tables too- it’s a popular dish), was easily the best dish I’ve had in Richmond.  I’ve had flaming cheese at a Greek restaurant in Detroit before, it was incredible. But the addition of tart green apples took this over the top- the nuttiness of the cheese with the tart apples and toasted pita was a perfect combination.

The Cous Cous, which should be a signature dish as its the restaurant’s namesake, was too dry.  It was well-spiced with a good mix of vegetables, but that couldn’t compensate for the dryness. But that was the only disappointment out of all the main dishes.

The Paella was unlike Spanish paella, a very different flavor palate was used- a spice I couldn’t quite identify.  It was outstanding, and satisfyingly different than any dishes available in other Richmond restaurants.  And the mock chicken is some of the best in town.

The smoked salmon was excellent- high quality fish, well smoked, with a creamy horseradish-dill-caper sauce. The sauce could have used more heat from the horseradish. The potato pancakes were well executed- not too starchy and they cohered well. Their flavor was overwhelmed a bit by the salmon and the sauce.

The sweet corn fritters were amazing.  Perfectly fried tiny bites of sweetness which paired nicely with the smokey-rich chipotle creme fresh dip.

The lentil soup was filling, thick, but not heavily flavored.  It was a solid dish, but I wouldn’t order it again as I prefer lentil dishes that are more strongly spiced.

Finally the crispy eggplant was surprising- very lightly fried, well cooked (not too tough or too soft), and well-seasoned.  The apricot marmalade was very sweet, but if used sparingly was a nice foil for the meatiness of the eggplant.

We then ordered desert- a flourless chocolate cake and baklava, with espresso and coffee.  By that time, the restaurant was packed, and service had ground to a halt.  Desert took an agonizingly long time to come- we’d all finished our coffee before it came.  I’ve since decided desert and coffee aren’t worth the time & money there.  No one was impressed with their coffee, the baklava was too dry, and the chocolate cake was rich and dense, but not particularly noteworthy.

Nevertheless I had such a great meal that I went back a week later with my wife.  We ordered the two standouts from my previous meal- the paella and the flaming cheese.  We added wilted spinach with currants, pine nuts, and apples, and seared scallops in a coconut curry sauce.  Both were excellent additions.  The paella disappointed slightly with too many artichokes- a problem absent the first time.  But the spicing was still right on.  The scallops were phenomenal, perfectly cooked with a slightly sweet curry sauce that I wanted to mop up every bit of.

Cous cous has become my one of my favorite restaurants in town.  An extensive array of dishes, which I haven’t even come close to exploring, and very little disappointment out of the 9 dishes I’ve tried so far.

And by all means, try the flaming cheese.  It’s incredible.


Rumor has it that Chipotle and Panera are coming to VCU- where the old Pizza Hut was on the corner of Grace and Laurel. Can anyone confirm or deny this news?  I cannot find anything online, but VCU students are all abuzz about it.

That’s the building under construction next to Hyperlink Cafe, which doesn’t seem a big enough space for both restaurants.

Chain restaurants are really taking hold in that part of town- 1 block away on Broad St. there’s Qdoba, 5 Guys, Tropical Smoothie, Extreme Pizza, Quizno’s, and a little further away on the corner of Belivdere and Cary there’s a new Chile’s.

**Update- rumor tentatively confirmed, read the comments for more info.

Positive changes coming in Richmond in 2009:

  • Affordable housing and environmental sustainability finally merge: all Habitat houses built in Richmond will be Earth Craft certified, something that Better Housing Coalition has been doing for 2 years already.  Look for 300 or more affordable units to be built by these 2 non-profits this year.
  • Legend Brewery expanding.
    The Nielsen Co., a consumer research firm, considers beer one of the most recession-resistant consumer products.”  They’ll start creating 6-packs and increasing production.
  • The new Bogart’s location is almost open. Good news for live music fans!
  • Richmond finally gets a good Indian restaurant (good, at least, according to Style).
    And it’s in an old Aunt Sarah’s I used to frequent in high school.  I’ll be sure to review it here when I get there.
  • 9 restaurants opening near downtown (from Rocketts Landing to Grove & Libbie) – including ceviche & tapas bar, another Carytown sushi spot, more soul food, and more.

And last, but certainly not least, Richmond enters 2009 a much safer city than it has been in years.  Though I haven’t seen a final tally, our murder and violent crimes rates have dropped tremendously.

I am a food snob.  I like to drink.  I’m also a cheapskate, which means I hunt down every restaurant special I can find.  I would love to see a directory of local restaurants that lists when they offer specials and what they discount.  Here’s where you come in- what are your favorite food and/or drink specials in the city?

While I’ve been thinking about this for years, it’s Style’s “Short Order” restaurant news section that reminded me of my goal with its report on a new special at Julep’s:

Deal at Julep’s

Early birds get a discount off the entire check at Julep’s New Southern Cuisine, one of the little jewels of Shockoe Bottom for its creative fare, professional service and two-level, fireplace-lighted dining rooms and bar. Owner Amy Cabaniss offers a flat 20 percent off the entire dinner check for parties of four or fewer who reserve tables Mondays through Thursdays, 5:30-6:30 p.m. 1719 E. Franklin St. 377-3968.

Other specials:

  • Sam Miller’s: $0.75 oysters during Thur. & Fri. happy hour (4-8?)
  • 821: Thursday is happy hour all day (with Legend on tap!)
  • Cafe Gutenberg: Wed. is half-price wine night
  • Sticky Rice: half-price sushi on Fri. (5-6) and Mon. (10:30-12:30)
  • Capital Ale House: cheap domestic drafts ($2-3) on Sundays (1-5); $1 burger night on Mondays (no sides included)
  • Que Pasa (church hill): also has $1 burger nights on Mondays

Additions, please…

The rumor mill is buzzing about a new restaurant to open downtown:

There is another exciting project on the way. The venue is going to be called AURORA and it is brought to Richmond by a company called EuroEnterprises. A former bank building on the corner of Grace and 4th Street is currently being converted into a coffee shop/bakery tastefully combined with a European style cocktail lounge and restaurant. It is scheduled for opening in summer. Promotion campaign should start in coming next several weeks.

The rumor mill in this instance is my blog, and the buzz is a comment left on an earlier post (two posts, actually).

EuroEnterprises– an intriguing name- trying to bring a little European flair to our city center?

A few savvy business people have taken to using my blog to promote their new restaurants and developments. They know that my blog is read by hundreds of thousands of Richmonders daily. (OK, hundreds, and I can’t guarantee where my readers live).

Nevertheless, I like this trend. Makes updating this blog easier for me; my content has been sparse recently due to a change in my work situation. So reader submissions can help keep this community conversation going about what makes Richmond great.

From Jake Crocker, Prodigy Partners, left as a comment:

Jake Crocker, partner with Prodigy Partnership and the Canvas Restaurant checking in. Yes progress is excruciatingly slow but trust us it is being made. 306 and 308 E. Broad had been gutted and the build out should resume any day now. We have scaled this project up from the original concept and of course designs take time to get approved when dealing with historic buildings. We now understand why Toad’s, The National and pretty much every other restaurant in town does not open when expected, it an effort just to get through the bureaucracy.

This will be an iconic facility for that area and do for that stretch of Broad what the Tobacco Company did for Shockoe Slip. Our website is not up yet either as we have been focused on the restaurant. We will update you all when we get that up and running. We’re shooting for fall but this thing is going to get done, we making a substantial investment in the block so it’s going to be done right so we’re not rushing.

With our project, The National coming online soon, the new restaurant opening up next to that, the Hilton, Federal Courthouse and Richmond CenterStage opening soon Broad Street will be a different world by 2009/2010. Don’t forget Douglas Jemal has his hands in the area and has already started renovations on his properties at 2nd and Broad, plus look for him to do something with the old CNB tower soon. Exciting times, just be patient.

Jake Crocker
Prodigy Partnership, LLC

Jake commented on an earlier post with details about the restaurant Canvas, click here for a restaurant description.

And if you’re wondering who Jemal is and what the CNB is, read this.

Saxbys, a chain coffee shop, has opened a franchise in downtown Richmond at Belvidere and Franklin. They’re hoping to capture some of the VCU market, according to yesterday’s TD article. There’s already stiff coffee shop competition around VCU’s neighborhood: Common Groundz, Crossroads (formerly World Cup), Harrison St., Common Cup, Starbucks, and probably one or two more I’m forgetting.

They’re also across Belvidere from most of the VCU campus, which is both a physical and a psychological barrier. Of course, VCU’s campus just moved east across Belvidere a block south, so perhaps that won’t be an issue.

And for you bargain hunters, while walking by today I noticed a banner advertising that if you buy a $10 gift card, they’ll add $10 to it for a limited time.

And, as reported elsewhere in the blogosphere (RVA Foodie being the first), Trader Joe’s may be coming to Richmond. The TD confirms:

The California-based chain is close to signing a deal to put a store in the Short Pump Station shopping center…

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