If you were to ask me where I think the worst location for a restaurant in Richmond is, “in a house, somewhere behind Costco” would probably be rather high up that list. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to open up a restaurant on one of the least busy streets in Richmond, tucked away from most of civilization. So tucked away that most people would never know there’s a restaurant there, which would explain all the confused stares I got when I mentioned Starry Night.
It was being renovated when the Google car rolled by but you get the idea…
Despite sounding more like a children’s bedtime story than a restaurant, Starry Night is a Asian/European fusion restaurant in Richmond. I say “fusion” but that’s really only in the fact that there are both Western and Asian dishes available on the same menu. Most entrees are quite ordinary with no Asian influence while a select few are almost purely Chinese. I find this a little strange as the focus of the menu is clearly on Western cuisine (all the dinner entrees are French, Italian or otherwise influenced). Fusion restaurants tend to have a creative take on traditional cooking, mashing up different styles to create something new. Starry Night seems like a Western restaurant with a few Asian dishes scattered in the menu.
For example, amongst the roasted rack of lamb ($29) or Berkshire pork loin schnitzel with garlic prawns ($26) are several Asian-influenced items like the double steamed soup ($9) and stir-fried noodles. Also, the pork loin says schnitzel but it’s really served more like a tonkatsu, complete with ground sesame in the dipping sauce.
Starry Night is probably named for the star stickers and paint all over. It’s more like a nightclub than a restaurant as the dim dining room is flush with coloured lights. Actually, it’s more like a karaoke bar since on most nights, there’s live music playing. On this particular night, the guy crooning while he played the piano was actually quite good and the volume isn’t blaring in your face like some other places.
Prices fall into the upper end of casual dining. Most entrees are around $20-30 while set menus are around $40 for a 4-course dinner. Starry Night is licensed and the bar looks decently stocked.
I decided on a 4-course dinner so my pork chop came with a soup, appetizer and a dessert. I’m told the appetizer changes regularly, possibly every day. I’m not quite sure because my server couldn’t tell me either. More on that later…but if the description of the food is lacking…well, I’ll just explain later.
This trio of appetizers is quite a pretty dish. Up front is a pan-seared scallop (although I’m sure the server told me this was a “crab cake”). Not bad, translucent in the middle but the glaze was a little sweet and the veggies are just for show. In the middle is a lightly dressed salad with a dollop of tuna. Strangely, this actually works quite well despite looking just like a spoonful of canned tuna on some baby greens. The dressing has a nice acidity.
The last piece of the appetizer…well, I really don’t know. It seems to be a piece of salmon wrapped in a thin strip of cucumber sitting on a tomato? If you’ve tasted those things separately, then you know what this tastes like. I assumed they were short on time and just threw some things on my plate.
The soup is some sort of chowder. I’m told it’s a seafood chowder but didn’t find much seafood in it at all. It tastes like a seafood or fish stock in there but more chopped veggies than anything else. Pretty tasty, though, and nicely mopped with the complementary bread.
Instead of garlic bread, Starry Night gives you a dish of whipped butter and a whole roasted head of garlic. A very nice touch and I don’t know why more restaurants don’t do this. Not only is roasted garlic delicious squeezed out of each bulb and spread on the baguette but it’s fun, interesting and smells amazing at the table.
I ordered the char-grilled double cut pork chop set menu ($40 with the set menu, $23 a la carte). The menu doesn’t really do a very good job of describing what the dish is and what it comes with so I really have no idea what that sauce is nor could the service staff tell me. It tastes somewhat like a cacciatore. The pork chop is cooked nicely and remains quite tender and juicy. I found the sauce boring (like the plain, steamed veggies) and slightly too sweet.
It’s not bad but just uninspired. Maybe I’m just being picky but when dinner is almost $100 for two, it should be a little more special.
The braised beef short rib ($26 a la carte) was a bit better than my pork chop. Although it comes with the same boring veggies, it also comes with a tasty baked potato. The potato is mashed up, put back in the skin and baked with some cheese for extra deliciousness. The short ribs are tender and the sauce is rich, full of flavor.
Dessert was a creme brulee. Not bad, not too sweet but felt like it wasn’t made to order since it was barely warm and the torched sugar on top was a little soft rather than shattering like glass.
Everything tastes pretty good despite lacking somewhat in personality. If that’s all it was, I might have an easier time saying I’d like to go back to Starry Night but my biggest problem with the restaurant is with the service. For starters, my server’s grasp of the English language was minimal at best. Considering the menu is in English and most of the dishes are Western-style, that’s a problem. “I’d like the pork chops.” was met with a blank stare and I had to point at the menu while the waiter copied down the letters exactly. If this was a Chinese restaurant, that would be par for the course but this is like sitting at a Cactus Club, being served by someone that doesn’t know what the menu says.
The rest of the time, they were fumbling at dishes and flatware at our table, asking every 30 seconds whether I was finished with an empty plate or a knife or pretty much anything that was on the table rather than in my hands. That simply doesn’t happen at other restaurants in this price range. They come and go like ghosts, taking empty dishes and refilling water glasses without the customer giving input or noticing. I’d rather tell someone taking a dish that I’m not done with it than have to answer every time they want to know if they can take a completely empty dish away. The only time they weren’t pestering us was when it came time to get the bill, where it took a good ten minutes to get someone’s attention.
The servers always seem unsure of what to do and they seem to ask each other before doing anything. I’m certain this restaurant isn’t new even if I only recently discovered it. I’m not hard to please. I prefer service to be simple and minimal. I enjoy vibrant, entertaining servers as much as anyone but I understand the job is hard and not everyone can do the song and dance. Starry Night clearly has the wrong idea about what good service is. Paying attention to a table is a good thing but the staff here are so inept and awkward that it really takes away from the dining experience. This is unacceptable when your prices rival some of Richmond’s fine dining.
I’ve gone to restaurants that have terrible service but serve great food. Sometimes that’s part of the experience because it’s a hoot to get insulted by the waitress as long as she brings you a badass bowl of wonton noodles. Here, the food is acceptable but a little boring and lacking in creativity. Maybe I just didn’t order the right dishes but my experience with the service doesn’t make me want to try again.
Summary: Starry Night is a very unique restaurant in Richmond. It’s one of few that plays live music and probably the only one located in what looks like it used to be a house behind Costco. In truth, it’s actually a very pleasant place to be. The ambiance is fantastic with the colorful glow of the lights and stars as well as the guy singing ’80s power ballads. However, it all starts to go downhill from there. The food is above average albeit a little lacking in creativity. Unfortunately, any positives are drowned out by the awful service, facilitated by servers that don’t speak English (when the menu is in English) or know what they’re doing. There are a few redeeming qualities to Starry Night but certainly not enough to justify the fine dining-esque price tags. I’d pass.