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Best new restaurants of 2011: Your meal tickets

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You've probably already had your fill of "Top Ten" lists this year, and we still have two full days left for more recaps.

The little interest you did have in reliving the "Ten Most Talked About Twitter Fights" completely waned by the time you got to "@DomVaPower vs. The Entire City of Richmond Post-Hurricane Irene," and that was only #8.

But I shouldn't assume.

Maybe you actually are interested in 2011's "Ten Best Morning News Show Moments Involving An Anchor Wearing A Costume" — Al Roker as Prince Harry during the Today Show's Halloween special? Brilliant, I know! And Ann Curry as Princess Cath…

Well, anyway, I digress.

Regardless of what category you fall into, I know you care about food. Why? Well, we have to eat. It's survival, people.

Therefore, based on simple logical deduction, I've determined you must care about restaurants — more specifically the "Best New Restaurants of 2011." OK, OK, I'm painfully biased in this assumption, but let's roll with it.

This year held a veritable explosion of new local restaurants. But we all know the excitement that surrounds newness can fade if a restaurant fails to deliver consistency, a story whose ending won't be told until next year.

So instead of giving you a nice even number like 10, I'm narrowing 2011's best new restaurants down to six that I think we'll be talking about long after that first-year buzz dies down.

Enoteca Sogno

1223 Bellevue Ave.

(804) 355-VINO (8466)

If you're an oenophile, you really should know Enoteca Sogno. But even if you're not, you really need to acquaint yourself with this quiet Italian spot. It opened in a tiny hideaway on Broad Street in 2005, but in 2010, Enoteca was forced to find a new home after its lease wasn't renewed. Although I mourned the year there was no Enoteca, I couldn't have been happier when the restaurant reopened this year in bigger, more ambient North Side digs. From the extensive Italian wine list, owner Gary York can assist you in selecting the perfect varietal for your palate and your wallet while dishes such as wild mushroom tagliatelle and white beans and arugula produce big flavors with simple, quality ingredients.

The Blue Goat

5710 Grove Ave.

(804) 288-8875

Take one successful restaurateur (Chris Tsui, the man behind Osaka, Sushi O and Wild Ginger) and one acclaimed chef (Kevin LaCivita of dearly departed Pomegranate). Add some ultra chic décor and a menu of self-described "European comfort food, sourced locally, in a nose-to-tail concept," and what do you have? Based on the crowds filling the bar each night and the often booked chef's table with front-row seats to the kitchen, I'd say you have a bona fide hit. If you haven't been to The Blue Goat yet, give it a whirl on New Year's Eve when the special menu includes braised oxtail with truffle mushroom risotto and speck-wrapped pork loin stuffed with ground pork, sage and Gruyere sausage.

Sapori Ristorante Italiano

3513 Festival Park Plaza, Chester

(804) 425-4628

If you like all the charm of a mom 'n' pop restaurant but prefer a menu with a little more sophistication, Sapori is right up your alley. Run by Angela and Giuseppe Amato of Carini, Italy, as well as their two sons, Dario and Luca, this contemporary Italian spot fuses the Amato family's traditional Sicilian recipes with new-American culinary techniques, resulting in menu items ranging from lobster gnocchi to a panko-encrusted chicken breast stuffed with smoked ham and Asiago cheese. Frequent live jazz, date night specials and genuine service keep this restaurant's Facebook page loaded with raves.


1012 Lafayette St.

(804) 358-2011

It feels strange to call Stella's a "new" restaurant given its two former locations, storied history and rabid fan club, but when we're dealing with a multi-year hiatus and the prospect of never being able to taste Stella Dikos' heavenly moussaka again, the third reincarnation of this legendary Greek spot is reason for a rechristening celebration. Nestled in a neighborhood just off Monument Avenue, the completely renovated new space features a long L-shaped bar and large, communal table, making it even easier to nibble the night away on to-die-for favorites, such as spanakopita, shrimp Santorini and Stella's calamari.

The Roosevelt

623 N. 25th St.

(804) 658-1935

If my arteries could stand nightly doses of oyster stew, smoked bluefish, braised pork cheeks and Coca-Cola cake, you would find me permanently stationed at The Roosevelt — more specifically, parked at the bar inhaling not only chef Lee Gregory's amazing fare but also the extensive list of Virginia wines and spirits. Owner Kendra Feather, who also runs Ipanema Café and Garnett's Café, has put her eclectic signature stamp on this cozy spot by filling the open space with worn church pews and 1800s-era maps. The Roosevelt may be new but its lived-in warmth and comforting menu make it feel like a Church Hill fixture.

Ironfish by Pescados

3061 Lauderdale Dr.

(804) 249-4515

In the fastest rebirth of a restaurant I've ever encountered, Ironfish came to be after owner Todd Manley and company took customer feedback to heart and reworked their original concept, The White Anchovie. Within days, The White Anchovie's minimalist seafood entrees were transitioned into "creative, iron skillet-seared preparations of ultra fresh seafood, local produce and comfort dishes," according to Ironfish's debut press release. One bite into a barramundi filet layered atop grilled eggplant and chili-basil mashed potatoes, I was sold. Ironfish brings all the creativity of its downtown and Midlothian Pescados siblings to a Western Henrico neighborhood that once begged for a reliably creative seafood outlet.

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