Long before she became the owner and executive chef at Europa Italian Cafe & Tapas Bar, Michelle Williams cut her teeth in the restaurant industry as a hostess and a cocktail waitress. Ambitious from the start, Williams soon finished a rigorous chef apprenticeship program, became a sous chef, and learned to cut onions so expertly that everyone nearby would weep tears of joy. Today as a founding member of the Richmond Restaurant Group, she oversees a slew of unique local eateries.
At Europa Italian Cafe & Tapas Bar, Williams and her cooking staff blend dozens of Spanish tapas with classic Italian pastas and seafood. The restaurant's signature paella mixes scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, and fish to harmonious ends, and the meat paella alters the classic recipe, replacing seafood with chicken, chorizo, and lamb sausage. More than 50 bottles of European and American wine—as well as housemade sangria—complement the dishes.
Overlooking the James River, Sensi delights the senses, serving modern Italian fare in a lush and luxurious atmosphere. Modern artwork decorates the warm walls of the chophouse, and comfortable, elegant plush chairs surround red-clothed tables so they can’t escape. The menu features a variety of fragrant appetizers, salads, pastas, and entrees to enchant taste buds and stomach branches. The warm and dimly lit round bar showcases an ample selection of specialty cocktails, beers, and other lust-worthy libations.
At Flames 231, you might find owner Danny Taormina and his brother, Joe, stoking the fire of the wood-burning oven or assembling the delicate parts of a tiramisu. Housed in a rehabbed industrial space, the dining room features large windows and exposed brick that create a stylish environment for enjoying authentic, fresh-from-the-oven pizzas. Made in the style of Sicilian pies, the thin, airy crust is topped with fresh mozzarella, Italian meats, and secret messages written in sauce. Other Italian favorites on the menu include pasta bolognese and paninis stacked with fire-roasted chicken breast.
Accanto Restaurant sets itself apart with an urban atmosphere cultivated by hand-colored, concrete tabletops and a large, vibrant mural. Owners Alberto and Peppino Mastromano evoke the same unique vibrancy in their menu of Italian cuisine and tapas, setting off pleasure receptors with filet mignon and tiliapia in puttanesca sauce, along with inventive dishes such as fontina macaroni and cheese. While taking swigs from the extensive selection of wine, beer, and cocktails, diners can pass the time watching one of three big screen TVs, surfing free WiFi, or folding a napkin into a swan before eating it.
In the true style of a pizzeria, Zeytin Pizza & Pasta's tables covers its tables with red-and white-checkered tablecloths. And in the spirit of modern design, the eatery’s tables stand out as tall booths, each of which is lit by a stainless-steel fixture that dangles from a high ceiling. From within this airy atmosphere, diners can feast on familiar favorites such as eggplant parmesan and calzones, or the Zeytin special, a pie topped with sautéed spinach, ricotta, virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, and mozzarella. The chefs also output house specialties such as ravioli, stuffed shells, and baked lasagna made using the secret ingredients of love and, probably, flour.
Family owned and operated, Italian Delight whips up a massive, multi-faceted menu of savory and fresh pastas, pizzas, and salads for gastrognomes and gastrogiants alike. Dig into dining with an appetizer such as the bruschetta ($6)—ideal for practicing for impending sharing competitions—or sink fangs into the foliage of the Caprese salad ($7.50), a hillock of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Pastaholics can shirk table manners and slurp their way through the baked spaghetti ($8.50) or linguine with shrimp sauce ($13.99), spiting a nefarious nanny with each disappearing noodle. The Italian sub ($6.50) makes munchables from a motley crew of ham, salami, and provolone, while the traditional New York–style pizza ($9.50 for a 12-inch, $11.50 for a 16-inch) can be bedecked with toppings ($1 each) such as pepperoni, pineapple, and green peppers.