Richmond.Com – 2/18/2011

Ask most people why they eat out and one answer that will be shared is the desire to have a good time. In today’s era of celebrity chefs and foodie obsessives, that core philosophy has been too often lost in a desire to be cool or avant-garde.

Not so at Xtra’s. Once you sit down, you get the impression you could hang out for hours, munch a bit, imbibe a little and enjoy the company of friends. Is that not what we’re all hoping for?

A key ingredient in Xtra’s success is décor. Located above Bangles and Beads in Carytown, you enter the dining room from an elegant stairway and are greeted by vibrant walls and an impressive curved bar. Most of the tables are set against a long padded bench draped in fun green fabric for a loungy, relaxed setting. Each night, a different special is featured on a chalkboard menu—Thursday is Ladies’ Night, with specials on cosmos and Woodchuck cider (What, no Appletini?).

Along with the drink specials, Xtra’s offers a decent variety of beers on tap, plenty of wines and even some bubbly. The bartenders and wait staff seem more than helpful and have a good grasp of the food and drink options.

The menu samples a little bit of everything—from Thai to Creole to Greek, which warned of a possible identity crisis. While we appreciate the variety of unique dishes, sometimes it’s best to find a few things you do well and stick to that.

Fortunately, most of our choices were hits, starting with the savory crème brulee ($8). We vetted this one by our server first, who wisely gave us a heads up that the cheese is served cold underneath a crispy torched-sugar coating, so it’s more akin to a traditional brulee than to a cheese dip. With that knowledge under our belts, we enjoyed the savory cheddar with the buttery crostini. Intermittent bits of sugar provided a sweet surprise and Granny Smith apple slices added a nice accompaniment to the simple cheese and bread combo.

Jon chose the Italian Battalion pizza with a slew of toppings, including marinara, mozzarella, parmesan, bell peppers, red onions, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini, basil and Genoa salami ($9). The flavor was decent, but the mass of toppings left no subtlety to the meal. With the plethora of newer restaurants out there serving grilled pizzas, the flatbread variety at Xtra’s seemed bland in comparison.

With options ranging from a French dip to a hummus wrap, Xtra’s sandwiches offer something for everyone. Leah enjoyed the mini muffuletta ($9) with roasted turkey, Genoa salami, roast beef, cheddar and gruyere cheese. Served on toasted ciabatta with muffuletta relish and a side of vinaigrette for dipping, the sandwich was tasty. The thick-sliced meats added a bit of heft, while the tangy relish was the true star. We chose fries for a side, which, while nothing special, arrived hot and fresh from the fryer, which is all you can really ask of fries.

Dessert options vary, but we were lucky to enjoy a Bailey’s cheesecake with an orange glaze ($6) during our visit. The cheesecake was light and fluffy and the sweet orange glaze kept the richness to a minimum, making it easy to chow down, even though we were stuffed.

Xtra’s has the opportunity to be a mainstay among a laundry list of Carytown eateries. The excellent ambience made for a fun place to spend time with friends, while the value pricing on some unique dining options provided a little more than just a night at a bar. A sense of fun and whimsy is evident in everything from the menu to the lovely patio seating and the feeling is contagious.

Jon and Leah Nelson, like most married couples, can’t agree on how the dishwasher should be loaded, so they eat out a lot so someone else can worry about the dishes. As RVA natives, they have had plenty of practice checking out what the city has to offer. You can follow Leah on Twitter @leahwnelson.

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