13th Annual Platinum Plate Awards
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For 13 of my 20 years as a food journalist, I’ve coordinated the Platinum Plate Awards, the annual recognition from Coastal Virginia Magazine of notable restaurants in our region.
Keep in mind that these are the opinions of myself and the critics. You may agree with them or not—we all have opinions—but these come from folks who dine out often and, in many cases, have worked in the food service industry, too.
But that doesn’t diminish what you like or don’t like. Food is personal and goes beyond simply nourishment. It's comforting and exciting all at the same time; it's made with love, and it's vital to life—and that's all that matters.
Good dining to you in the new year.
The Top 10 Restaurants in Coastal Virginia
1. Fin Seafood Restaurant, Newport News
If chef/owner Kenny Sloane (you’ll know him with his signature mohawk, which he calls his “fin”) isn’t in the open kitchen at his Newport News restaurant, he may be out in his garden. “At Fin, everything is fresh, local, organic, backyard produce,” Sloane says. “There is not much we don’t get locally.”
Over the summer, I had an ethereal honeysuckle sorbet, made with nectar from the wildflowers picked by the chef himself.
Of note: Fin offers five- and seven-course tasting menus every night.
2. Terrapin Restaurant, Virginia Beach
Located in Virginia Beach's North End at the Oceanfront, Terrapin offers an intimate dining experience showcasing chef/owner Rodney Einhorn’s award-winning, contemporary American cuisine and curative use of seasonal farm-fresh ingredients.
Terrapin’s elegant but warm and welcoming dining room features a striking zebra wood bar that offers a view of the action in the open kitchen. Comfortable outdoor dining on Terrapin’s terrace is available seasonally.
Tip: get the fried chicken, offered Wednesday nights as a special with truffle mac and cheese and a glass of Pinot Noir.
3. Zoës Steak & Seafood, Virginia Beach
Zoës is an intimate, upscale-but-not-pretentious 16-table fine dining restaurant, pleasing palates by Chef Jesse Wykle.
Wykle is one of only a handful of local chefs who have been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard Foundation House in New York City. Zoës is one of only a dozen Four-Diamond restaurants in Virginia.
The chef’s creative menu focuses on seafood and steaks; steaks range in price from $15–$150. Complementing those is an extensive wine list with 1,600 selections; prices vary from $10–$17,000; it is in the Top 600 wine lists in the world, named by Wine Spectator.
4. Harper’s Table, Suffolk
Located in historic downtown Suffolk, Harper’s Table delivers on food, service and charm. The southern-centric menu showcases chef/owner Harper Bradshaw’s experiences in personal life and as a chef. “We tirelessly work with local producers and farmers to source local ingredients in the peak of season,” Bradshaw says.
One bite of his signature pork belly biscuits will make anyone speak with a drawl, y’all; they are amazing.
5. Stove, the Restaurant, Portsmouth
Chef/owner Sydney Meers has enchanted us with his edibles for decades now, starting with the first incarnation of The Dumb Waiter. At Stove, where he has settled in nicely in the quaint Port Norfolk neighborhood, the surprisingly subdued jewel-box dining room reflects his work as a visual artist, while the plates coming from the open kitchen reflect his offerings as a culinary one. Then there’s the Cougar Lounge.
We always have to start with the house-made pimento cheese, and the bowl of classic Étouffée always pleases.
6. Coastal Grill, Virginia Beach
A favorite among locals for more than 25 years, Coastal Grill’s classic signature dishes feature freshly caught regional seafood, traditional American fare and the top seasonal ingredients.
Known for the extensive and ever-changing blackboard specials, we’ve loved all the offerings, regardless of what they are. Executive Chef Chris Reynolds knows his way around seafood, and this year we’ve savored soft shells, flounder and more here, perfectly prepared in his kitchen.
7. Regency Room at Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg
Off the heels of new renovations, this grand dame still delivers after decades of serving up fine, local fare. The experience is intimate and inviting, and a more relaxed approach in both ambiance and dress code make for an upscale but comfortable visit.
Under Executive Chef Travis Brust (winner, Best Chef, a few years back at the World Food Championship in Las Vegas), the menu is exceedingly creative and features Virginia’s seasonal bounty.
Crabmeat Randolph is an amazing decadent-but-not-too-rich way to start a meal.
8. Fat Canary, Williamsburg
Fat Canary, opened in 2003, has received AAA’s Four Diamond award every year and recently garnered kudos for OpenTable’s Diner’s Choice Best Restaurants in America. Chef/owner Thomas Power, Jr., a graduate of Culinary Institute of America, writes a creative, approachable menu.
Fat Canary is adjacent to The Cheese Shop in Merchants Square in Williamsburg, also owned and operated by the Power family since 1971.
A meal of large, sweet pan-seared sea scallops still lingers on the palate; bravo Chef Power.
9. Le Yaca French Restaurant, Williamsburg
Owners Chef Daniel and wife Joy Abid have created a comfortable, relaxed Old World feel in their French restaurant; the amazing food from the kitchen seals the deal. “My cuisine is simple, concentrating on high quality ingredients with respect of seasons,” chef says.
Several unique dining rooms accommodate guests. Soft colors, ivory linens, fresh flowers and attentive service set the tone that you are in for something special. And you are.
Prix Fixe menus at lunch and dinners are the way to go; our Saumon Grillé Vinaigre aux Truffes was world class.
10. (tie) Still Worldly Eclectic Tapas, Portsmouth
When we feel like a little getaway, Still fits the bill. The space, located in the English basement of an 1858 manor house, is intimate, cozy and secretive—perfect for a speakeasy, which Still does a good job replicating.
The creative, eclectic small bites from Executive Chef Mike Farrell pair perfectly with the classic cocktail offerings from the whisky and wine bar.
Oh, Tater Tots, you’ve stolen our heart with your bacon-wrapped, cheddar cheesiness, dipped in chili ketchup goodness.
10. (tie) Circa 1918 Kitchen + Bar, Newport News
A darling shotgun steampunky dining room in the heart of charming Hilton Village is the backdrop for the creative cuisine of chef/owner Chad Martin. We’ve followed Martin for decades, back to his days with Fire & Ice and Blue Hippo. He excels in taking fresh, seasonal ingredients and crafting them into delicacies that are cutting edge.
Tip: try the Duck Meatloaf, seriously. Or make someone at the table order it and sneak bites throughout the meal.