Shagbark Preview

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Like every other Richmonder, when I heard that Walter Bundy, longtime Lemaire chef was finally opening a place of his own, I couldn’t wait to see what it would be like. Of course I’ve enjoyed Bundy’s delicious cuisine at The Jefferson, but what would his vision be like when it was all his own? Well, last night I got to see for myself at the soft opening of Shagbark and I got the scoop about this exciting new addition to West End dining. The restaurant opens to the public tonight, so go check it out.

Upon walking in, it’s clear to see why Bundy chose the space—it’s big, warm, modern, and well-lit. While I love the many tiny dining spots downtown, this is a welcome departure with lots of wood and space to spread out. Stunning live-edge slabs from the Shagbark Hickory tree for which the restaurant is named separate the dining room from the bar.

 

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The main dining room is a spectacle with a large, wood communal dining table set off by a collection of blown glass light fixtures and eye-catching antler chandeliers throughout. Two smaller dining rooms featuring cool blue tones can be open for dinner or shut off for parties of 20 to 40, plus there’s a roomy bar and soon-to-open patio. Bundy has thought through every detail in this long-awaited dining spot—the plates are made by a local potter, management don food-inspired ties designed by Peter Blair, and the menu incorporates stylish iconography to highlight locally-sourced products.

 

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Bundy told me his goal with Shagbark is to provide meals for all types of people: shorts and other casual wear are welcome in the bar and on the patio where there’s also a more casual menu. Guests can have higher end meals in the dining room. It doesn’t matter where you sit though, Bundy’s razor-sharp attention to detail and appreciation for fine dining is clear: dishes were always served and removed from the proper sides, new silver for each course arrived on a tray, and even while Bundy relaxed and chatted about his vision for the restaurant, it was clear he had an eye on every move taking place around him.

Okay, enough blathering on about aesthetics. Let’s get down to what you really care about: eating and drinking. First things first, drinks. Wine director and general manager Rodney Rosser and beverage director and assistant general manager Derek Salerno have created a lovely beverage program. A nicely curated list of cocktails includes light summer sippers like the Shagbark Smash, a refreshing strawberry cocktail; classics like the Jack Rose; and even a brandy milk punch I need to try on my return trip. While the cocktails looked fab, on this visit I was intrigued by the wine list. Salerno and Rosser have worked hard to create a quality list without a lot of markup: “We want to put a good bottle of wine on every table,” Salerno told me. I was excited to see a selection of bubbles featuring actual champagne for $60, along with two of my Virginia favorites: Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay and Barboursville Brut Rose. In addition, the regular wine list included a variety of intriguing selections at all price points, including a host under $30—hooray! I’ve got my eye on a Tannat from Uruguay that Salerno said is absolutely fantastic to try on my next visit.

And, then the food. Like I said, the menu features a lot of locally sourced ingredients. Even if I was sad to see chef Aaron Cross leave Rancho T, I love seeing his continental expertise as chef de cuisine combine with Bundy’s knowledge on this menu. Even the bread and honey butter were absolutely delicious. I’m trying to minimize my carbs these days, but there was no avoiding one slice.

 

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Next, I scored half dozen raw oysters, which were fresh and fantastic. Through his time at the Jefferson and in Richmond in general, Bundy has some unique farm connections, and some of the oyster farmers he knows pretty much only sell to him.

 

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The brandy-peppercorn-crusted tuna carpaccio was a unique twist on tuna and a salad. Fresh, flavorful, pepper-crusted tuna was topped with a combination of black-eyed peas, roasted peppers, celery salad, and truffle vinaigrette. I loved the way the crunchy veggies combined with the tuna for a fresh flavor profile that isn’t usually found in carpaccio.

 

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The one thing you absolutely need to order when you go is a Bundy signature item—the slow-simmered Vidalia onion bisque. Rich, creamy bisque combines with grilled onions, salty Sunburst Farms rainbow trout caviar, buttery lump crab, and chile oil for an amazing flavor party in your mouth. The soup is so reach and creamy—if you can happen to have a glass of champagne to sip alongside it, you are definitely winning at dinner.

 

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In terms of entrees, you might be tempted to overlook the Autumn Olive Farms Berkabaw Pork Chop, but listen to me and order it ASAP. A perfectly cooked, juicy piece of pork is accompanied by roasted sweet potatoes, garlic broccolini, and black sticky rice—I have no idea what was on this rice, but it was amazingly delicious. The whole dish is topped with lime-scented coconut curry broth poured table-side that’s rich and sweet, but not overpowering. The combination provided a distinctive, satisfying meeting of the South and India for a unique result I haven’t seen on any other menu.

 

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And dessert. If you’re sharing, I suggest you go for the chocolate croissant bread pudding. A layer of custard is topped with flaky bits of chocolate croissant, then the whole thing is smothered in Wild Turkey crème anglaise. It’s so amazingly indulgent and rich, a few bites are all you need, making it perfect for a table to taste.

 

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We also went for the special dessert: peach-blueberry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream and star-anise sauce. Here, the “cobbler” topping was more like an amazing piece of cake, and the star anise sauce added an unexpected layer of complexity to a classic Southern favorite. If you’re not sharing, this one is dangerously devour-able by one person.

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I also can’t miss mentioning the dessert wines: right now there are three, but Salerno said he and Rosser have big plans to expand and source unique varietals not seen on other menus around town. Cheers to that! Last night, a glass of 10 year Malmsey Madeira definitely hit the spot.

I can’t wait to return and taste more of the Shagbark menu. For now the restaurant opens for dinner at 5 and you can make reservations online.