Adoring Adarra – VirginiaLiving.com
Attentive service and a Basque-inspired menu make it an unmissable address.
Step into Adarra in the Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond and you’ll feel a wave of tranquility. The lights are dimmed, the music ambient, and the entire staff of 11 is working to ensure your experience is smooth and hassle-free.
“You’re in an extension of our home in Adarra,” says Lyne Doetzer, co-owner and dining room maestro. “We wanted a place where the restaurant could come in and sigh, sit, relax and have fun.” The Doetzers see their role as employees who happen to own the place, and you’ll find them there — Randy commanding the kitchen and Lyne pouring glasses of natural wine — reliably, on every visit.
Straddling Spain and France
named one of Squire magazine’s best new restaurants in 2020, Adarra offers a Basque-influenced menu, blending Spanish and French techniques and ingredients, such as Espelette pepper a paprika-esque spice. The menu offers a mix of tapas-style small plates and larger dishes with stewed beans, stewed lamb, and seasoned seafood.
Inspired by visits to the Basque region, a region that straddles Spain and France, the Doetzers named their restaurant after the mountain in the Spanish town of San Sebastián. “Basque cuisine is so good because it puts so much emphasis on fresh, simply prepared food,” says Randy Doetzer. “We follow their ethos, the cultural demand for better and higher quality things.”
In the “Cured & Pickled” section of the menu, there are no bad choices, but the Spicy Iberian Chorizo has a special way of preparing your palate for the journey ahead. A must for tapas, the Pintos Gildas are skewers of marinated peppers, oil-soaked anchovies and olives, served with an ounce of Amontillado Sherry, another clever dish from which to embark on a night of bold flavors.
Deep flavors, rendered with love
While skate wing and stuffed calamari were offered in Adarra’s early days, the kitchen has added canned fish to the menu, embracing the European obsession with upscale and craftsmanship. preservedoften recognizable by their captivating label designs.
This centuries-old Spanish craft of keeping seafood at its peak of freshness is as far removed from the canned foods of our childhood as Wagyu beef is from Vienna sausages. And Adarra’s six chefs, crammed like sardines themselves into a tiny kitchen, have a way of coaxing every morsel of salty, savory flavor out of those cans.
Take for example the sardines swimming in escabeche, a spicy carmine sauce with Spanish paprika. They are served with toasted bread, which works wonderfully both as a vehicle for the small fish and as a sponge for the sauce. Presented simply, the beauty of the dish is in the restraint – the decision not to include is just as important as what appears on the plate. Quality fish, bread, sauce. Do.
Adarra’s sauces fall into the “to drink” category, but neither does the smoked butter that accompanies Natural navajas, a special knife. Whenever it is offered, it sells out quickly.
Beyond preserved, there is another world to explore. In the warm bowl of smoked mussels, plump shellfish mingle with Serrano ham and the soft jazz of melted alliums – leeks. The Ajillo Shrimps worth every messy second of shipping the head off and ripping the meat out of a butter-glazed shell. Plan to have dinner with a friend who won’t mind if you lick the garlic (ajillo) and fingertip parsley, because that’s exactly what you’ll want to do.
Guiso is like a code word for deep, lovingly rendered flavors, and the Guiso de Corderoa sultry stew of merguez – a kind of lamb sausage – with white beans and potatoes delivers on that promise.
Intuitive wine pairings
On my last visit, Lyne whispered to me some Sardinian wines I should try, and after polishing off a glass of bright and crisp Cava Oriol Rossell Brut Nature, I let her know I was ready. But was I? The wine, a Deminera de Sa Defenza, hit me with a touch of salt and kept me in its tannic, gripping grip until I emptied the glass.
Lyne described the next selection, a Tresbingias, as the twin wine of the previous glass, but the two could not have been more different, and the second glass was more reminiscent of the Guiso vibes, with a lingering smoky finish that still haunts me.
Adarra’s wine program is a true labor of love, born in equal parts from the Doetzers, both sommeliers, and skilfully managed by Lyne and her front desk team. “What we’ve done is very personal,” Lyne says of her selection of nearly 300 bottles. The menu features around four wines by the glass, and the rest – natural wines from around the world – live in Doetzer’s Rolodex.
“Wine is like perfume,” says Lyne. “It’s subjective. We ask, ‘What are you in the mood to drink tonight?’ Based on this information, she guesses three bottles to choose from. “And we bring someone into a wine they may not have known they wanted. It comes down to reading our guests. It’s not my job to overwhelm you with information. I’m your guide. It’s about establishing levels of trust.
Captivating salty notes
The cocktails, an efficient collection of five drinks, reflect the ethos of the food and wine menus – from bright, herbal White Nights, with Aquavit and bergamot liqueur, to robust and invigorating Long Way Home, with mezcal and mole bitters.
Likewise, the dessert menu offers the right conclusion. A simmering Basque cheesecake, drizzled with oil and sprinkled with sea salt – more cheese dish than dessert – invites the guest to keep returning to those mesmerizing salty notes in their mind.
Adarra has cultivated a reputation for serving the unexpected – from orange wine to canned squid – while always accommodating the needs of each guest. You may notice, during your meal, that the chefs gaze intently from the kitchen into the dining room, when not laser-focused on plates to compose. “We look at body language. We look at what comes up on the plates. We try to gauge the situations,” notes Chief Doetzer. “Everyone who comes here needs something different from us, and we have to give it to them.”
This article originally appeared in August 2022 publish.