Trio of deviled eggs. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Housemade ricotta and lavash. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Little Gem salad. Photo: Charlie Villyard.
Grilled octopus with fennel two ways. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The Americana burger. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
All-Star doughnut bread pudding. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The bar area of Causwells. Photo: Charlie Villyard.
The dining room. Photo: Charlie Villyard.
Everyone wants the perfect little neighborhood spot, and some neighborhood joints are so good that we’ll leave our own neighborhood to go to someone else’s. And in the case ~CAUSWELLS~, a place that’s over the hill and in the Lululemon thicket of the Marina that inspired my two gay male pals who live across town near the Swish Alps to declare, “Oh, we’re coming back to this place,” you know it has to be good.
Business owners Alvin Garcia (previously GM at Delarosa, Lolinda) and Tom Patella (previously California Wine Merchant)—along with the design assistance from Bon Vivants Design+Build—did a solid job transforming the former Bechelli’s, with its charming Art Deco details but challenging diner layout, into a new kind of hangout.
You can grab a glass of wine at the bar with your gal pals (guys, there are a lot of ladies up in this joint, jus’ sayin’), small groups of dudes hanging out at the high-top tables, and dates and diners will find slightly quieter seats in the side dining room (although the bright light that comes streaming in from the theater needs some mitigating). There are also sunny tables outside, and since Causwells serves brunch and lunch, those are coveted tables to land.
Chef Adam Rosenblum (previously a sous at Flour + Water) has crafted an American menu that is almost Mediterranean in its freshness—there aren’t a lot of fried or overly decadent items. (Well, there’s the burger, but we’ll get to that beast in a second.) The plating also shows some thought and care, but it’s not fussy. The food is designed to share, which fits with the easygoing and social vibe of the place.
Start with the trio of deviled eggs ($6.25), topped with a feisty paprika, another with avocado crema and puffed farro, and my favorite, smoked trout. The creamy housemade ricotta ($9.75) comes drizzled with rosemary honey and crisp lavash, a good pairing with the roasted beets ($11) in a pistachio vinaigrette (the beets and baby garnet yams come on a pool of gribiche). The menu has a nice array of salads, including a simple but well-executed Little Gem ($10.75) number with a Champagne vinaigrette and almonds, grapes, and avocado mousse. I wanted a touch more finishing salt to make a couple of these dishes really pop, but alas, there isn’t any on the tables.
Heartier starters feature one of my favorite dishes: grilled octopus ($15.75) with fennel prepared two ways (raw and cooked), garbanzos, chile, and a strong citrusy zip. Octopus has been done to death on every menu in town, but this balanced execution stands out. The hickory-smoked and then steamed pastrami ($14.75) has rotated off the menu, which is fine, because I needed it to come with much more mustard (especially if you were going to follow your server’s suggestion and tuck it into their rye Parker House rolls, which I find to be a slight misnomer—they just feel like a dense but tasty rye roll).
I’m not one to go for chicken breast for dinner, but their pilsner-brined Hoffman Farms bird ($18.50) is so juicy and cooked just right (they flatten it)—the earthy side of dirty rice mixing with the pilsner jus is very satisfying (and pushing the sodium levels juuuuuust a bit).
I laughed over the nomenclature of the grilled teres major steak ($22.50) on the menu (you know the servers always had to explain that one), but now it’s a bavette, with salsa verde and baby potatoes (fingerlings and Yukons).
A couple of other choices include a seafood option and a vegetarian summer squash and farro dish, but I see you eyeing their Americana burger ($14.50). It’s like your dream Big Mac: two thin patties are seriously seared (I’m a rare to medium-rare burger lover, but the way the kitchen does these well-done patties is on point), layered with Kraft American cheese (truly one of the best melty burger “cheeses”), paper-thin onion shavings, and lacto-fermented pickles, and then sauced up with their zippy Thousand Island-inspired Causwells sauce (featuring housemade Worcestershire sauce). Grilled sesame bun, but of course.
After a couple of bites, this burger has implanted itself in my brain as a kick-ass mofo burger I am going to crave hard when it’s burger time. Notable beefy flavor (there’s some dry-aged fat in there, and they are having Marina Meats across the street grind the Five Dot beef for them daily). It’s a juicy, cheesy, slightly sticky (delightfully so, thanks Kraft!), saucy bite and the only thing they need to fix are the flaccid housemade chips on the side. There’s also a brunch burger, take note.
So, the desserts have not really captured my affection, I found them all to be too sweet. But for novelty’s sake, you have to try the buttery and browned All-Star doughnut bread pudding ($8.25)—although after you have a couple of bites, you are pretty set. Don’t attempt it alone. It’s so rich, especially with the eggnog-like spiced milk it’s served with. They are still loyally using All-Star doughnuts, although it’s from the other location in the Richmond since the Marina location closed (sad thing, that).
I just have to say the entire staff they have hired here is quite wonderful—they are so friendly and helpful and—bonus—cute too. They really help elevate the neighborhood bistro sensibility. Servers also make informed suggestions on the wines, depending on what you’re looking for (you’ll find 20 wines by the glass, and many are small-production, family-owned, and good value wines). I liked their crémant (J. Laurens), which tasted of ripe pear. I just wanted a couple more interesting lighter reds, and not pinot—the reds read a bit heavy to me. And I’d also like to see a cooler serving temp. Craft beer options, check.
The place gets busy—you can call ahead to put your name down on the list (always appreciated), or there’s always that thing called reservations. The music can be bumping, and with the concrete walls, yeah, it can get loud. The late hours (open and serving food until 1am!) make this a place to keep in your back pocket (because, that burger). They really aim to please here, and it shows. Welcome to the neighborhood, even if it isn’t my neighborhood.
This review was based on two visits.