Barry Fleischmann is in his element at Rachel New American Cuisine in Riverside. The longtime chef-caterer now has the brick-and-mortar restaurant he always wanted.
Fleischmann said he couldn't resist the opportunity to take over the 1875 corner building that formerly housed restaurants like Breadbangers and Soigne, among others. He's a visible presence in the pristine three-level space with dining rooms on two floors and a bar on the first level. He also operates his catering business, The Scratch Mill Kitchen, there.
After renovations that included adding a contemporary wood-paneled wall and painting the main dining room in warm hues of copper and cream, Fleischmann opened the restaurant, named for his 26-year-old daughter, in late December.
Chef James Taylor works with Fleischmann to create artfully composed dishes focusing on mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake cuisine. Our attentive waiter was a good guide to the menu, which includes small plates, entrees, sandwiches like a Baltimore Cubano with locally sourced ham and dinner salads, one boasting a house-smoked salmon fillet.
We settled into a comfortable banquette with plush fabric pillows in the first-floor dining room, and we were calmed by the harmonious space. Decor like a Parisian clock, rooster prints, mirrors and stylish light fixtures provide interesting visuals.
The ambiance begs for specialty cocktails like the Love Potion, with gin, lavender honey syrup, ginger and tonic, and the Black and Blue Irishman with whiskey, grapefruit juice, blackberry and blueberry syrups and an herbal liqueur.
A carefully curated wine list and craft beers will also quench your thirst.
An appetizer that immediately caught our eye for its ingenuity turned out to be just as delicious as its description. The panko-crusted, bacon-wrapped runny egg, displayed on warm potato salad and adorned with a five-onion marmalade, reminded me of an embellished Scotch egg. The interplay of the flavors was terrific.
The shrimp fritters were another excellent beginning. The four seafood nuggets were uplifted with roasted garlic, sesame seeds, green onions and an intriguing turmeric aioli.
The pleasing red-leaf starter salad featured a nest of buttery lettuce with wilted heirloom tomatoes, English cucumbers, candied pecans and goat-cheese crumbles. A balanced basil vinaigrette united the components.
Rachel has incorporated one of its most popular brunch dishes into the dinner rotation: an expansive fried chicken cutlet coated in smoked paprika flour. It was sensational, especially when swiped in the carrot-habanero and tzatziki sauces. A grits-like white sweet potato mash proved to be a soothing underpinning.
The roasted rockfish is subject to availability, and we were happy to score this succulent, mild fish (market price, $27) on our visit. The fat fillet got crunch from a focaccia roasted garlic herb crust and pep from a citrus watercress horseradish drizzle. It sat on a delectable mix of grilled corn, pearl onions, roasted peppers and green beans.
Our server recommended the lemon-berry panna cotta, which sounded like a great finish, but we zeroed in on a luscious chocolate ricotta pound cake with success. The rich ball of cake was capped with a mound of vanilla whipped cream and a comet tail of Nutella streaked with candied hazelnuts.
During the evening, we spied the cheese plate being delivered to tables around us. We succumbed to one for dessert a good choice. The lovely spread is displayed on a wood-bark board that looks like a slice of a tree trunk. Ours showcased cheddar, Gruyere, a stellar goat-cheese mousse and goat-cheese Camembert enhanced with toasted nuts, dried apricots and grilled bread.
After all the restaurants that have come and gone at this location, Fleischmann seems to have come up with the right formula to appeal to neighbors and other diners. He has positioned himself for success at the previously jinxed spot.