My dinner at L’Opossum in Richmond is the result of a Facebook post. A DC food writer crowdsources restaurant recommendations for Richmond, Virginia. Several respondents suggest L’Opossum. A few days later she posts a photo of of the menu and a one word description of her L’Opossum experience… “loved.” I am envious and more than a little intrigued. The very next next day my husband and I receive an invitation to join friends on their visit to Richmond. L’Opossum and I are b’shert (meant to be).
I don’t over-research L’Opossum. There’s that online glance at the menu, and an awareness that Chef/Owner David Shannon is a 2016 James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic semifinalist. Google informs me that Southern Living magazine named L’Opossum one of the South’s best restaurants in 2015. But I don’t read any further, desiring an element of surprise, and so I’m not quite prepared for the smack of nostalgia that hits me in the face as we step inside.
The darkened interior of L’Opossum reminds me of my husband’s kitschy-tchotchke filled childhood home in Lynchburg, Virginia. The walls are filled with eclectic and sometimes delightfully absurd artworks from the chef’s collection. Exposed industrial pipes are the only part of the decor that can be construed as typical, but those pipes are obstructed by dozens of hanging frosted glass light fixtures straight out of the 1970’s. A collection of Barbie plates on the wall, and an orange and yellow frosted glass orb that floats above our table, elicits flashbacks to my own youth. Black tables with gold leaf designs are faux ornate, while the leather chairs would be suitable in a diner. The decor is a mish mosh in the best possible way. Even the restaurant’s name is a mix of French and “hillbilly-fancy,” according to a 2014 interview with Shannon in Richmond Magazine.
The menu- which is what attracts me here in the first place- is pure joy. L’Opossum takes its inspiration in French cuisine, and jumps off from there. “A Tawdry & Salacious Arrangement of Freshly Procured” is described seductively as “… mesclun bound by the frigid embrace of cucumber, cilantro and lime then patiently edged with cardamom, pistachios and watermelon pickles to a happy Thai basil ending.” How can we not respond to the tease?
“Grilled Caesar with All of the Usual Suspects” calls attention to itself with the words: “You Know it. You Love it. You Want it.” Yes, we want it. And love is a good word for our feelings about this charred, smoky, anchovy- decorated, spicy rendition of a Caesar salad.
“Vegan Orgy on Texas Beach” is irresistible as well. The menu description is “totally baked and crispy papadoms with five highly addictive vegi spreads.” The words that follow: “It’s a banger.” Just for the record, it’s good looking too.
Our server bubbles over with enthusiasm as she conveys how ingredients are prepared for their journey to our plates. Each dish has an intricate tale. When she departs to retrieve our drinks, my friend suggests that we don’t ask questions, fearing we’ll elongate the explanations. But I can’t resist hearing more about the components of the dishes, which are as infused with flavor as they sound.
“Bayou Hootenanny” calls to me as an entree. It is a “Cajun inspired ‘feastival’ of lamb, quail, shrimp, and andouille sausage parading on a float of filthy, dirty, naughty rice, crawdaddy bisque and lavender pickled okra.” Each of the proteins bring distinct attributes to the plate with notes of salty, sweet, and tart. I am tempted to jump up and holler with enthusiasm. And maybe I do.
“Filet Mignon of Beef Swellington” gives the hootenanny some stiff competition. It’s “totin’ a first class hobo stick packed tight with truffled duxelles and duck butter.”
“Portobello Big Mac” gives vegans/vegetarians something to cheer about too. The Portobello is the bun to a satisfying filling of shallot fondue, roasted beets, butternut squash, kale, and cannellini beans.
It’s hard to ignore a flambé that lights up the room as it’s served repeatedly at nearby tables. The dessert is a charmer, as is the hot black bottom a la mode with ganache and whipped cream.
Each dish is elevated- literally- with an element that gives it height and texture. Everything here is a feast for the eyes. L’Opossum has a playful bent, but Chef Shannon’s talent for employing complex techniques, pairing quirky ingredients, and creating artful presentations is seriously terrific.
L’Opossum, 626 China Street, Richmond, Virginia
*Richmond is perfect for a quick getaway for those who live in the DC area. Quirk Hotel is charming and there are many destination-worthy restaurants. Plus, art lovers can while away the hours at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.