Semolina is worth its wait


One thing we’ll say for Semolina: The Corner restaurant sure knows how to build the anticipation. It was a little over a year ago when Restaurantarama first mentioned Raif Antar’s new gourmet pizza joint coming to West Main. Good news! It opened last week.

Semolina owner Raif Antar (pictured) and General Manager Rebecca Deeds overhauled the entire restaurant, making way for new kitchen equipment and custom cabinetry.

Fans of Antar’s other restaurant, Best Mediterranean winner Basil Mediterranean Bistro (see page 39), will remember the pizza that at one time was on the menu there. But, says Semolina General Manager Rebecca Deeds, the ’za was too refined to be “just another item” in a list of so many yummy options. And so, Semolina was born as a special home for it.

Deeds says there are a few reasons it took so long to deliver. First, the space needed a lot of work. She and Antar completely overhauled the former Pacino’s Deli kitchen, server’s station and take-out counter, bringing in custom carpentry pieces and new equipment. Second, business at Basil was booming. Antar was preoccupied with his 14th Street restaurant, which Deeds says does just as much in-house business as it does delivery. 

But that’s all in the past. Now that Semolina’s open, let’s talk pizza, which Deeds and Antar tell us they hope will dominate its category on next year’s Best of C-VILLE ballot. Restaurantarama had dinner there last week and, we have to say, it certainly gives local contenders—including reigning Best Pizza winner Christian’s—a run for their money, with its fresh, doughy crust with San Marzano tomato sauce and creamy, fresh mozzarella. 

Semolina has a delivery option, too, so you can test the taste at home. And, as if that weren’t enough, Deeds says she and Antar are planning a third restaurant in a “surprise location.” She wouldn’t give any more details, but our stomachs are growling already.

Best news in town

In other Best Of restaurant news, Best French Restaurant Fleurie is adding pre-theater fare to its repertoire. The prix fixe menu is three courses (appetizer, main course and dessert) of delicious nosh. Our choice? Lobster bisque with tarragon; pan roasted beef tenderloin with mushroom risotto, sautéed shallots and red wine sauce and orange crepes with seasonal fruit and créme Chantilly. Owner Brian Helleberg says his other French eatery Petit Pois (runner-up for Best French) will soon be adding on, too—in this case with a website.

Down the street at Best Karaoke runner-up Fellini’s #9, the restaurant is adding outdoor seating, which will be open soon. We wonder, will the whole Mall be able to hear our rendition of “Dancing Queen”?