RICHMOND, Va. — If there’s an antithesis to the sad desk lunch, it’s the once-celebrated “Power Lunch,” where brokers and agents came together to make the magic happen over an extravagant midday meal.
Power Lunch was first chronicled by Esquire’s Lee Eisenberg in his 1979 essay, “America’s Most Powerful Lunch,” which examined how the ideas exchanged at lunch at The Four Seasons shaped the mores of contemporary culture at the time.
Last month, The Four Seasons shut down in its historic location with plans to reopen at a later date a few doors down. The closing, however superficial, represents something bigger–the end of the Power Lunch as we knew it.
The Power Lunch was never about the food, though the food was certainly part of it. But, as Eisenberg puts it, the guests at the Four Seasons “dine[d] on ideas,” and that’s the exchange that mattered.
But, while The Four Seasons version of the Power Lunch is a hazy memory, the concept of a meal where professionals can share food and ideas is as relevant as ever, especially in Richmond. In its new iteration, the menu matters more than ever. Grilled fish and paillard of veal aren’t going to help you nail that book deal anymore.
So, where does Richmond go to Power Lunch? We’re rich with options–from places to see and be seen, like Maple & Pine; to tall-boothed hideaways where the real work can get done, like Lehja. Here are six of the finest power lunch destinations in RVA.
You’ve got work to do, and it might take a while. Pull up a chair, lean in, and order your first dozen oysters. Rappahannock Restaurant co-owner Travis Croxton says their waitstaff doesn’t mind if you put down roots.
“Rapphannock’s lunch menu is fashioned after some of the places in bigger cities where folks can eat quickly or linger all day,” owner Travis Croxton explains. “All items on our lunch menu, from our crab cake over celeriac slaw to our ever-changing fish salad, are prepped from scratch every day but can fly out of the kitchen.”
You’ll need a glass of bubbly to toast to your success–in business and in lunch, and you’re in luck: “One of the reasons we were the first in Richmond to put prosecco on tap is that it’s just the perfect leisurely drink to have during the day for lunch meetings.”
Place Your Order
- Assert your dominance over banality and start with oysters and pearls (six raw oysters with a rotating, seasonal shaved granita topped with trout caviar, $16). It’s the only way you’re going to get those Glengarry leads.
- For land-lubbers: Country Ham & Cheese Sandwich $12 Carr Valley smoked cheddar, Thousand Island dressing, bread and butter pickles
If you find yourself in Short Pump with a briefcase full of business papers, your path should be singular: Head straight to the corner of Short Pump Town Center that houses Lehja, and plop yourself down in one of their plush booths.
Lehja’s Executive Chef Sunny Baweja knows exactly what busy guests are looking for at lunch, and he’s directed the service at Lehja to suit their needs. “if you’re in a hurry, it doesn’t matter how busy we are, the food comes to your table in ten to fifteen minutes at the most,” he explains. And if you’re just too busy to sit, Sunny points out that any lunch menu item can be made into a boxed lunch, so even if you’re working from your desk, you can eat with a bit of dignity.
Place Your Order
- Start with the Chaat ($5), a crunchy Indian street food. Lehja’s changes every day but will probably be along the lines of spinach-kale, okra, or other vegetables that fry up nicely and play well with various relishes.
- Follow up with one of the $10 lunch platters, which include soup or salad, naan, and rice. Options include the universally beloved chicken tikka masala as well as a Kerala-style seafood curry (pictured), and tandoori lamb tikka.
MAPLE & PINE
Hotel dining has a certain extravagance to it (Holiday Inn continental breakfast notwithstanding), and Maple & Pine finds a modern way to conjure extravagance that makes the perfect backdrop for your very best Power Suit.
“Our business lunch is designed for efficiency of service and variety for the guest, explains Executive Chef David Dunlap. “If a guest wants a composed plate, we offer that. Salads with protein options? We have that too. We also have some of the most decadent sandwiches in Richmond”
Place Your Order
- Looking for one of those decadent sandwiches? Go for the roasted turkey club with smoked bacon, Virginia ham, egg, tomato, cheddar, and an herb mayo ($14)
- Not looking for that at all? Try a salad of arugula, peaches, blueberries, goat cheese, radish, walnuts, and lavender-buttermilk for $9, $15 with grilled chicken upgrade.
Channeling the Four Seasons with bold greenery jutting up around its cozy booths, The Daily is open and airy with a distinct vibe–casual but focused. Focus casually over the seared rare tuna appetizer or the surprisingly sustaining quinoa salad. No, seriously.
If your fellow lunch guests have dietary restrictions, lead them to the dietarily tolerant world of The Daily, where their gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, locally-sourced, potentially even paleo diet can be met with several delicious options and not just a sad, obligatory afterthought.
Place Your Order
- Try a tuna bánh mì, and don’t forget those sweet potato fries (pictured, $13.95).
- The quinoa salad, in all its glory, with chick peas, greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, carrots, red peppers, and feta ($9.95).
*Bonus: The Daily has wifi and a great breakfast menu, making it prime Power Breakfast territory.
Nothing says, “I will sell this house today” like a plate of twirly, steamy spaghetti carbonara. You may not be able to hear your colleagues clearly two feet away from you, but perhaps that’s for the best. Let the electric buzz of Edo’s speak for you because it speaks very well, and your mouth is full any way.
This is the lunch destination where you are most likely to see Doug Wilder, most likely to bump into the entire Arts Department at VCU, and most likely to witness otherwise well-appointed people splattering olive oil all over themselves. If you’re trying to reel in your dream client or land that BIG DEAL (the really big one), bring your associates to Edo’s and charm them over a plate of scungili insalata. Trust me, it can be done.
Place Your Order
- It all starts with the scungili insalata (conch with olive oil, lemon, and garlic, $8.00).
- Then make room for the eggplant parmesan, pleasantly dense with fried eggplant, piquant marinara sauce, and what I assume is probably an actual ton of mozzarella cheese.
Of all the sushi options in Richmond, Osaka’s got the business crowd squeezed between two chopsticks.
“We have lunch service six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from 11:30 am-2:30 pm,” explains General Manager JB Samuel. “Of course, it would be very easy to simply say all of our sushi should be on everyone’s do not miss list (and it absolutely should be for the record), but if we’re talking lunch, there are a couple of gems that ought to be on the radar: The business bento boxes are one of the best values around. A choice of six entrees (miso salmon, sesame chicken, grand marnier shrimp, haru chicken, or black pepper beef) served with fried rice, a crispy spring roll, half of a California roll, a ginger salad AND miso soup for between $10-14,” says Samuel. “Pair that with our rotating selection of featured wines at lunch (five whites and five reds for $5 a glass!) and you have what we think is solidly the best thing going on in town insofar as midday dining is concerned.”
Or, you can always throw caution to the wind and treat your associates to a Love Boat ($68), 21 pieces assorted sashimi, 10 pieces assorted sushi, a Huguenot roll & a spicy tuna roll. You are expensing this, right?
Place Your Order
- It’s not a Power Lunch without a Power Roll–shrimp tempura, with seared filet mignon, tobiko, and spicy mayo, served with Ponzu sauce ($16.50).
- Along the same lines we have a truly lavish maki experience in the Blue Oyster Cult Roll–fried oyster inside topped with filet mignon, spicy mayo, scallion, and black caviar ($16).
Stephanie’s company, The Apple Cart, works with dozens of food businesses in the Richmond area. Some of them may appear in her articles. To see what businesses Stephanie works with, visit The Apple Cart’s website.
Stephanie’s food columns will appear regularly on WTVR.com, sometimes in “Six Pack” form.