The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Five Finds on Friday: Robin McDaniel

Robin

On Fridays, we feature five food finds selected by local chefs and personalities.  Today’s picks come from Robin McDaniel, sous chef of The Alley Light.  McDaniel’s picks.

1)  Tom Yum Soup at Monsoon Siam.  “Kitty and Pooh make you feel like family when you enter the unique space; and the food conveys that sense of hospitality and warmth. It’s a hearty and home-style soup. I always order a large!”

2)  Any Wine sommelier Erin Scala recommends at Fleurie.  “Her knowledge and passion for wine is remarkable.  Not only does she pair wine well with food; more importantly, she finds the right wine for the right person.”

3)  Vongole Oreganato al Forno at Tavola.  “A town favorite that consistently delivers a quality experience. Food has a bright acidity, wine list is unique, and service is spot on.”

4)  Focaccia and Poached Eggs at Petit Pois. “The most consistent and best brunch in town. It is a perfect way to start a Sunday . . . huge patio in the summer, cozy in the winter.”

5)  Herb-roasted Turkey Sandwich at Market Street Market. “My favorite sandwich in town. Great deli selections on a central location off the mall. I always ask for extra watercress. Throw in some lamb curry from Revolutionary Soup and you’ve got lunch covered.”

Introducing Lampo

Lampo logo 2

There are not many things we miss about our time in the Washington D.C. area, but a shining exception is  2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  Real Neapolitan pizza, ingredient-driven Italian specials, a menu of “little things,” unfussy decor, and carefully considered wines and cocktails. It’s one of the best answers to the question: “You know what kind of restaurant Charlottesville could really use?”

There’s a good chance that’s about to change.  Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria is set to open any day in the Belmont space formerly home to The Farm.  After speaking with the ownership team, we’d say it could well be Charlottesville’s answer to 2 Amys – which is high praise.

And, what a team it is.  Has there been a better assembly of young talent to open a Charlottesville restaurant than the Fab Four behind Lampo, who all worked together at TavolaLoren Mendosa, 30, was chef of Tavola, and before that cooked at MAS Tapas.  Ian Redshaw, 26, was chef of L’EtoileMitchell Beerens, 33, cooked at both Tavola and Mas.  And Andrew Cole, 29, was beverage director of Tavola.  With just 21 seats, Lampo’s ratio of talented owners to guests is so small that some wonder how the numbers can add up.  Never mind.  That’s for them to figure out.

Customers meanwhile have so much good stuff to look forward to that it’s difficult to know where to start.

The focus, of course, is pizza – particularly authentic Neapolitan pizza, like those at 2 Amys, which Mendosa calls a “huge inspiration.”   Visits to 2 Amys and similar spots in other cities made the Lampo team wonder why Charlottesville doesn’t have a Neapolitan pizzeria.  While working at Tavola together, they would discuss how great it would be if Charlottesville did have such a place.  Eventually, they figured: “Why don’t we just do it ourselves?”

To ensure they got it right, they spared no expense.  To begin, they imported a three-ton wood-burning oven from Naples that needed to be lowered into the building through the roof.  That oven will give birth to pizzas that the team has been studying hard to perfect.  It’s a methodical process.  Start with top quality ingredients, like real San Marzano tomatoes. Gradually heat the oven, beginning well in advance, so that it can reach and sustain temperatures nearing 1,000 degrees.  Pizzas cook in less than a minute.  We saw it happen.

Pizza

Hence, the name Lampo, which means “flash” in Italian, as in “in a flash.”  The rest of the menu is built around food that can be prepared just as quickly as the pizzas – simple, ingredient-driven fare like cured meats that will be sliced to order with a manually operated slicer so as to avoid exposing the meats to the heat that electric slicers can create.  New York’s Salumeria Biellese is one featured producer, with wild boar cacciatorini and culatello, which Biellese calls the most prized pork product in Italy.  Also on the menu is house made ‘nduja, a spreadable salami of prosciutto, speck, wild oregano and Calabrian chilis, stuffed in a casing and re-cured for a week.

Vegetables will also be a big part of Lampo’s offerings – whether in small plates like roast cauliflower or salads like the kale salad the team first created at Tavola, where it developed a cult following:  shredded kale, fried parsnips, candied almond, and ricotta salata, tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette with pickled mustard seeds. “Vegetables are ‘in’ and we’re super stoked about that,” said Beerens.

Other antipasti include polpettine – baby meatballs of Timbercreek Farm pork and beef, with marinara, pecorino, and basil, as well as a conserva of preserved swordfish, chick peas, orange and fennel.  “Classic Sicilian,” said Mendosa.

Cole meanwhile has big plans for Lampo’s beverage program.  With a stronger background in wine than liquor, Cole prepared for Lampo by volunteering behind the bar at The Alley Light to learn from one of our area’s most devoted mixologists, Micah LeMon.  The result is a cocktail list built around amari – the beautiful bitter liqueurs of Italy.  A house barrel-aged negroni features Cocchi vermouth, Campari, and Greenbrier Gin. A Bitter Giuseppe (kin to one of our favorite cocktails, A Little Giuseppe) is vermouth stirred with Cynar, an artichoke-based amaro.

Wines likewise lean towards Italy, with an all-Italian list that Cole calls an “homage to Southern Italy.”  Chalkboard additions may reach beyond Italy to capture “wines that I couldn’t say no to,” said Cole. All the while, Cole’s focus will be making wine “accessible and approachable” just as he did at Tavola for five years.  “It all comes down to what the customer wants,” said Cole, who likes to keep the pretense out of wine.

Speaking of lack of pretense, you can’t have pizza without beer, said Cole.  Lampo will have several on tap plus more in the bottle, including a collaboration beer with Champion Brewing Company flavored with hops and oregano.  Other offerings will include Potter’s Craft Cider and the Italian beer, Peroni.

Finally, we may have saved the best for last.  Sandwiches! When you order a sandwich at Lampo, they will begin baking your bread.  Really. Fortunately, like the pizza, it takes just moments to cook in the wood-burning oven.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Fillings include Mendosa’s own porchetta, which Beerens calls “amazing.”  Timbercreek Farm pork belly and shoulder are seasoned with rosemary, fennel, garlic, and black pepper, and then roasted slow and low to allow the fat to moisten the meat while cooking. “Then we crisp the skin separately to add that awesome texture,” said Mendosa.  The meat and crisp skin are stuffed inside fresh-baked bread, with melted provolone, garlic aioli, broccoli rabe, and calabrian chili.

Sandwich bread fresh from Lampo's oven.

Sandwich bread fresh from Lampo’s oven.

Think about it: it would be cause for excitement if a restaurant were to open in Charlottesville serving nothing but extraordinary sandwiches on wood-fired bread baked to order. At Lampo, that’s just one of many treats in store.

Lampo will open Monday, December 22, at  205 Monticello Road.  Hours will be Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 12 am.  Sundays, the website says, they are “Closed to Watch Football.”

Is it Monday yet?

Lampo

 

 

 

Canele de Bordeaux at MarieBette

Canele

At a recent holiday party hosted by one of the area’s best chefs, we were turned on to a classic french pastry called Canele de Bordeaux.  While swooning over the pastries, we were surprised to learn that among the extraordinary spread of food — mussels, calamari salad, charcuterie, and more — the caneles were perhaps the only things the chef had not prepared himself.  What local source had made something the chef deemed worthy of serving to his guests?  MarieBette, the new patisserie and cafe on Rose Hill Drive.

If you’ve never had one of these beauties, head over to MarieBette now.  A dark, caremelized crust encases an interior that is at once custardy and airy.  They are sort of like a hand-held creme brulee.  Although the pastries are famously finicky and based on a secret recipe known only to Bordeaux patissiers,  MarieBette pastry chef Patrick Evans seems to have mastered them.  Perhaps best of all, they pair equally well with coffee and wine, so they can fill the bill any time of day.

 

 

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