French Chef Paul Heitz opened Amour Wine Bistro in 2010 in the heart of Carytown, the thriving shopping area in Richmond, VA. His plan was to serve authentic French cuisine and bring a little bit of France to Virginia’s capital city. In the years since, he has found a loyal following. But is Richmond ready for a French Revolution?
We sat down with Chef Paul for a Q&A. Scroll down to learn more about this change agent, and further below, check out our Inkandescent review of the bistro that just may leave you longing for more.
Be Inkandescent: Why did you decide to open a French bistro in the heart of Carytown, VA?
Chef Paul: I thought back then, and still think today, that Richmond needs a place, a bistro, that uses fresh ingredients grown locally, changes menus regularly, and serves high-quality food in a peaceful atmosphere that is classy without being pretentious.
That’s why I serve lunch daily. In France, people take time for lunch. Sometimes it’s an hour, it doesn’t matter how long. They take time to enjoy the food, the company, and their lives. They are taking a break, but they are also doing business. I couldn’t find a place like that in Richmond, so I wanted to create one.
Be Inkandescent: How has your culinary concept been received?
Chef Paul: The people who come here fully enjoy the atmosphere and the experience, and five years later they continue to come back again and again — they can’t stop raving about Amour. It’s not just the food and the service — it’s the total package. And that’s what the French do best. They make you feel comfortable. It’s about you … your experience, your time, your meal. Every detail counts. The silverware, the china, the glassware, the water to the table, tablecloths, napkins, flowers. The food, how it’s presented, how it smells, how it looks. The ambiance and music are also critical. And the service is essential — the waiters are “there” when you need them, without being there too much.
Be Inkandescent: What are your biggest challenges?
Chef Paul: People who appreciate what we are doing keep coming back for more. But not enough people know about us. From the beginning, I chose a different ingredient every week — such as asparagus, leeks, and other seasonal ingredients. My goal was to show that fresh and local are essential to eating healthy and living well. It was natural to me. But I didn’t explain why we were doing it, and I didn’t understand that this wasn’t commonplace for everyone. So eight months later I changed the concept, and added an à la carte menu, as well as a prix fixe menu. Unfortunately, by then the reviews from the media had come and gone, and it’s been hard to get that kind of attention again.
Be Inkandescent: So in the last four years, you have been serving à la carte items and pairing them with wine. Tell us about that.
Chef Paul: The key to our success, and what sets us apart, is the wine pairing. It is something I grew up with, enjoyed, and studied for my own knowledge. I like to taste flavors and see how things feel on the tongue. In France, wine is a beverage that is part of the meal, part of the dish. People don’t really drink soda or juice. It’s water or wine with a meal. Wine is not a grape, it’s a region, a flavor from a part of the country. They know how a wine from a terroir will taste, and how it will pair with certain foods. It’s all about the flavor — if something needs acidity, berries, etc.
Be Inkandescent: What are your favorite dishes?
Chef Paul: I like everything we have on the menu. It’s based on the ingredients we buy from local farmers; though not all meats can be found locally. Or found locally for an affordable price. But whenever possible, I buy all the greens and vegetables from Virginia farms such as Manakintowne and Casselmonte. We change the menu every four to eight weeks, so the most popular dishes keep changing. The classics remain, including escargot ($12) — which I buy from Burgundy, France. People love sweetbreads ($12). Also popular is Pissaladière, a flat bread with caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives ($8). Of course, there is the foie gras poêlé ($19), which is served with toast and sauternes wine gelée, and fig marmalade. See more of the menu here.
Be Inkandescent: What are your goals for the future?
Chef Paul: I want more people to appreciate spending time around the table. I love what I do and I want people to get that real French experience — it’s not cold, distant, and upscale. It’s approachable, convivial, friendly, and is a place that provides ease to someone’s day. This is a place where you build memories. It’s quality — quality time, quality food, quality wine. And I believe that is how you create lasting memories.
Be Inkandescent: What do you want to teach Americans about French food?
Chef Paul: I don’t want to teach anything. I want to share what I enjoy. But people have to trust us. Working with the seasons is something that is done everywhere in the world. But because of the distribution system in the US, people have lost that sense of the seasons, what to eat when — and how much to pay to get that kind of quality. I want everyone to go back to the basics. Enjoy every meal with good ingredients that taste great. You don’t need to add salt and fry everything to give food flavor. A fresh salad is incredible, but people are used to industrial salads and have forgotten how real food tastes. Or maybe they never tasted it.
So it’s a challenge. And it’s a culture clash. Blueberries are not in season in December. Asparagus is not available year-long. It’s about price, and that’s an issue, too. So when I sell a salad for $7, my food cost is $4 if I buy it from a farmer. If I buy it from a big distribution, it’s $1, or less. That explains a lot. I will not argue with my farmer about his price because he is running a business, too. The key is for everyone to work together — and for consumers to understand what they are eating. If they want to eat cheap, fine. And they get what they pay for.
Inkandescent Review: Amour Wine Bistro, Richmond VA
1. The atmosphere: Lovely. Simple, but elegant. The white tablecloths invite you in; the glassware, candles, and fresh flowers make you feel like you are sitting in a favorite friend’s home. The soft French music puts you in the mood for romance — whether you are dining with friends, family, or a lover.
2. The food: Every dish we’ve tasted (including several salads, small plates, and some of those classic French dishes) is filled with flavor. While portions aren’t dinner-size, they are more than enough to leave you satisfied. So don’t worry about taking home a doggie bag (which is a very strange concept for the French); this meal is a feast for your tastebuds. Savor every bite.
3. The booze: While the food is fabulous, it’s Chef Paul’s gift as a sommelier that really shines at Amour. Always ask him which wines go with each dish — he is a savant when it comes to wine pairing.
4. The service: Professional, respectful, and knowledgeable — just like you’d find in France.
5. The price: Not cheap. But worth every penny. In fact, the quality, service, and style of this bistro will make you think twice about what is actually worth paying for when dining out.
Inkandescent rating: 4 corks out of 4. We’ll keep coming back for more!
Click here to make a reservation, or just pop in for lunch or happy hour. Ask for Chef Paul, and tell him we sent you. Bon appetit!
Amour Wine Bistro
3129 W Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23221