The South's Best Restaurant 2018: L'Opossum
L'Opossum Sur La Colline de l'Orégon. The full name hints at mischief—and mystery. Besides Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond's Oregon Hill neighborhood isn't known for grandeur, so a grandiose appellation for a Virginia varmint is a clue that L'Opossum's executive chef and sole proprietor, David Shannon, appreciates cheek. The chef has a Cheshire cat smile, but he's not about to disappear from this wonderland, which he opened to acclaim in 2014. As the accolades for L'Opossum keep coming—Shannon was named a James Beard Award Best Chef Mid-Atlantic semifinalist in 2016—guests are smitten by his refined and irreverent restaurant, a major player in the city's dining renaissance.
An 8-foot, 6-inch coppery reproduction of Michelangelo's David greets guests at the front door, and 12-inch versions adorn the booths. The dark red dining room ushers guests from gritty to glam in a moment. You're in Oregon Hill, and you're out of this world.
The restaurant's unique decor includes a $3 painting (which Shannon threw a tantrum for on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk back when he was just 4 years old) along with intriguing Andy Warhol Rorschach-patterned wallpaper under glass tabletops. Hamilton Collection Star Wars plates hang alongside a Salvation Army still life that was once in a 1948 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts juried art show.
Now, take a peek at the winking witticisms on the menu. You're in the presence of a master. The conscious stacking of multiple layers is evident in every element, from the mélange of a menu to the elegant and eclectic tableware.
Shannon credits much of his approach to his eight years working at The Inn at Little Washington and the way chef Patrick O'Connell "talked about the building of the layers."
Sometimes L'Opossum plays it straight: "Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Fernet-Branca Soaked Apricots, Butternut Purée, Cherry Brandied Apples, and Brown Butter Toasted Pecans"—this dish is just as rich and multifaceted as it sounds.
Often, local flavor adds some risqué, riotous fun—"Vegan Orgy on Texas Beach: Totally Baked & Crispy Pappadams with Five Highly Addictive Vegi Spreads. ‘It's a Banger.' "
Then there are dishes that straddle the line, both solemn and jiggly—"Fabergé Egg Bèdazzled with Caviar & Dill Cured Salmon: Vodka Powered Accoutrements et les Jigglés de la Champagne Rose." Order them all.
There is no doubt that this kitchen knows how to perform. Chapel Creek Oysters arrive at the table with an absinthe mist. Other entrées like Porc Chasseur, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, and Filet Mignon of Beef "Swellington" set off all the pleasure centers in the brain.
Any one of Les Deezerts can be the pièce de résistance. Don't resist. Shannon notes that his menu "doesn't change as rapidly as some others, because I don't like experimenting on guests."
Together with chef de cuisine James Garland, Shannon delivers a nightly tour de force. So everyone is oohing and aahing en français (with a Southern accent) by the end of the evening.