If you were to take the convenience of a Panera Bread and mix it with the gourmet elegance of a European bistro, then add a dash of the Richmond prep-factor found at Mosaic's, you would probably have a restaurant that looked and smelled a lot like the recently-opened Cafe Caturra.
Last Friday, on the second night at its new location near the intersection of Libbie and Grove avenues, the only thing that Cafe Caturra seemed to be running low on was empty chairs.
The front patio was packed with groups and couples eager to ring in the weekend with a glass of special reserve wine and sampling platter of international cheeses. The spacious interior, with its brick walls, chandelier lighting and cracked leather studded chairs looked somewhat like a first-class Starbucks and the snaking line of customers eager to place their orders perpetuated the coffee shop vibe.
"Our idea here is coffee by day, wine by night and fresh food all day," a public relations representative for the restaurant said. "Nothing is ever frozen, everything is fresh."
The menu, which is displayed on wooden-framed panels above the two cash registers, is divided into "Morning" and "Afternoon & Evening" selections. Although the choices are not extensive, the culinary creations that are available are anything but typical. The breakfast sandwiches that are served until 10:30 a.m. are named for famous Italian-American actors, but don't ask me what Marlon Brando has to do with fresh lox and sauteed bell peppers or how Al Pacino feels about fried eggs and black forest ham.
The lunch and dinner menu, served from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. consists primarily of gourmet paninis grilled with delicately-blended, thinly-sliced, vine-ripe and fresh cut ingredients and salads sprinkled with your standard country-club extras: dried cranberries, warm goat cheese and walnuts. Most of the prices ranged from $8 to $12.
"A lot of the food is multifaceted," the PR Representative said. " It is a very euro influenced cafe with new and old world wines."
I decided to try the "Caturra Signiture!" curry chicken on a warm spinach tortilla and opted for a cup of the soup of the day, a maple habanera chili, as my side item instead of the kettle chips or side salad that come standard. Because I don't know all that much about wine, the woman taking my order kindly offered to recommend one for me from the selection of more than 30 after I clumsily requested their house red, whatever that means. She assured me that I would enjoy an Argentinean Malbec, and I assured myself that I would as well when I saw that the cost of one glass was surprisingly close to my $9.50 dinner.
After placing our orders, my friend and I awkwardly shuffled around the back patio looking for an empty table and decided to hover around two women (probably tennis partners) that were clearly done with their meal but leisurely sipping their (no doubt, pricy) wine and enjoying the summer evening. Apparently our hovering was not sufficiently obnoxious because a waiter came outside with our meals before the duo got the hint. The only available seating we could find was inside in two grandfatherly leather wing chairs beside the fireplace facing two other women in the same predicament. Because the four big chairs only shared one little table (appropriate for coffee, but not curry chicken) we ate with our plates in our laps and gushed about the "the beautiful presentation!" of the food with our new friends across from us. Halfway through our meal, we transferred to a more comfortable seating arrangement on the back patio when we saw that the duo had finished being leisurely.
Overall, my meal was excellent. The curry had a perfect balance of spice and sweetness and the chili was hearty without being heavy. My friend, a complete hummus fanatic, was very impressed by the spread on her vegetable panini and said that she could tell how fresh the ingredients were. To my amateur palette, the Malbec tasted expensive, bold and smooth with cherry or plum undertones.
"When you order wine here we won't tell you what it tastes like," the PR representative said, "We'll tell you where it is from, but nine times out of ten if you tell someone that a wine has a peppery finish, they will say that they taste the peppery even if they don't and we want people to decide what they taste and what they like for themselves."
This is the third location for Cafe Caturra. The original opened in Midlothian's Alverser Plaza in October 2005 and a second one recently opened in Midlothian in front of the new Capital Ale House.
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"We're really excited about this new location," the PR representative said. "We think that this area will really enjoy our cafe style."
Sandwiched between the Country Club of Virginia and Mango Salon, I would agree, Caturra's alfresco dining fits the area quite nicely. Move over Mosaic's.
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