The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: Introductions

Introducing Kanak: the Milan team brings Indian food to 5th Street Station

Kanak

Charanjeet Ghotra is at it again. The co-owner of several revered Indian restaurants in Virginia has opened yet another.

A native of Punjab, India, Ghotra came to the United States in 1996, at the age of 20, as he puts it: “with the American dream in my mind.” Family friends first put him to work at a Long Island restaurant, and then sent him to Virginia Beach to help with another they owned, Nawab. There, he met his future business partner, Jaswander Singh. Now they have four restaurants.

It took a few years of learning the ropes before the duo opened their first one in 2002, Milan Indian Cuisine in Lynchburg. The following year they opened another Milan, in Charlottesville. And in 2009, they added Anokha, in Richmond. Each earned a loyal following. And, then this week came their fourth restaurant, Kanak Indian Kitchen, in 5th Street Station.

kanakroom

The idea behind Kanak is simple: bring their beloved Indian food to another part of the town. Milan fans on the south side of Charlottesville can now enjoy better access to favorites like chicken tikka masala, vin d’ alho, saag, and korma. But, beyond these standards, Kanak (Sanskrit for “gold” or “wheat”) also introduces new dishes not found at Milan.

A menu of small plates for sharing, for example, includes dishes like Rechado Prawns – prawns with chili, coconut, sugar cane vinegar, tamarind, and garlic. Or, one of Ghotra’s favorites, Stuffed Aloo Tiki – potato patties with a toasted spice mix, yogurt, and chutney.

potato

For entrees, Ghotra likes the catfish (yes, catfish!) – Punjabi Masala Catfish – spiked with garam masala, ajwain, lime juice, and tadka – Indian spices tempered in ghee. Chukundari Kofta, meanwhile, removes meat from the traditional kofta meatball, and replaces it with a bright red minced beets, cashew, and potato, encased in semolina, bathed in creamy spinach yogurt sauce.

beets

Kanak is in 5th Street Station at 385 Merchant Walk Square Suite 400. Lunch is Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner is Tuesday through Sunday, 5 pm – 10 pm.

 

potato

Introducing Pronto: Fresh pasta, fast, on the UVa Corner

pronto

You know how a group of enthusiasts can geek out about a fancy piece of equipment? Like cyclists marveling at a bike frame, or car mechanics going nuts over an engine. For some chefs, the toy that really excites them these days is the Arcobaleno AEX18, the so-called Rolls Royce of pasta extruders.

What’s a pasta extruder? Touch a button, and a pasta extruder turns flour and water into fresh pasta, extruding it through metal dies into any of a variety of shapes. Its virtues are many. The quality of the pasta, consistency, and ease of experimentation, just to name a few. But, perhaps the biggest thing that extruders like Arcobaleno’s give chefs is the same thing we all want: time.

For many restaurants, the great obstacle in making fresh pasta is the time it requires. “Agonizingly slow and cumbersome,” one chef described the process. Indeed, the many culinary tasks that a restaurant menu requires often do not leave time to prepare pasta by hand. Even if a restaurant can afford to make fresh pasta for one or two dishes, a whole menu of handmade pasta can be next to impossible.

Enter Arcobaleno, a Pennsylvania-based company founded by a mechanical engineer who, in the late 1980s, left his native Italy for Canada, to build pasta factories. Initially, his company built industrial machines for pasta manufacturers. But, its breakthrough, as far as chefs are concerned, came when it took the same technology behind the industrial machines and created smaller units that fit easily on a countertop. Now, for $5,000 and up, a chef can have a unit that, in an hour, can create twenty pounds of world class, fresh pasta.

Chefs swooned. A fresh pasta revolution was born.

Fresh Pasta, Pronto

Here in Charlottesville, a trio of restaurant industry veterans aims to leverage the virtues of an Arcobaleno machine into a fast-casual, pasta restaurant. Public Fish & Oyster owner Daniel Kaufman and chef Gregg Dionne have teamed with former Parallel 38 chef Johnny Garver to launch Pronto, which opens today on The Corner. Fresh pasta for the masses.

“Fresh pasta is far superior to dried,” says Kaufman. “We want to offer that experience to our guests, using quality, fresh ingredients, and do so fast with great value.”

machine

Pronto’s Arcobaleno extruder

One of the virtues of the fresh pastas that Arcobaleno’s machines create is that they are a pleasure to eat even with very little sauce. The pasta has a soft, springy texture, and actually tastes of wheat, particularly when you use high-quality semolina flour, like Pronto does.

pasta

But, this does not mean Pronto is taking any short-cuts with its sauces. Together, chefs Garver and Dionne have created a menu of sauces that, as in Italy, showcase the quality of their ingredients. Cacio e pepe. Bolognese. Fra Diavolo. Pesto. And more.

Choose your fresh pasta shape. Choose a sauce. Add toppings if you must. And, you’re good to go.

We sampled a few, and all were excellent. Here’s Kaufman’s favorite, spaghetti with cacio e pepe.

Cacio

And, fusilli with pesto.

pesto

Pronto opens today, January 21, in the former Revolutionary Soup location on the UVa Corner. 104 14th St. NW Suite 4. Follow along on their Facebook page.

Introducing Luce: Fresh Pasta To-Go from the Bizou/Bang! Team

When they were young, Mt. Rushmore chef Tim Burgess’s five children would beg him to make the same dish on his days off: fresh pasta. Especially fond of the dish was Burgess’ middle child, Travis, who also came to share his father’s love of the food industry itself. Now 26, chef Travis runs food operations at both of his father’s restaurants — Bizou and Bang! — and is next poised to launch a place inspired by that favorite childhood dish. Offering fresh pasta to-go, Luce will open this month in the takeout window on 2nd Street NW.

Like many in the industry, Travis began by washing dishes, which is how he and his siblings spent summers as young teens, at Bang!. “I would prep goat cheese dumplings and crab potstickers, and scrub piles of pans that would tower above me,” Travis said. “Those summers are where it all started and when I got hooked on the kitchen life.”

During college at George Mason, Travis washed more dishes at Trummers on Main in Clifton, and then suddenly became garde manager when the prior one quit. It was there that Travis decided that this is what he wanted to do for the rest of the life. And so, after graduation, in 2015 Travis scored a gig at one of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants and best training grounds, FIG, in Charleston. As luck would have it, Travis was assigned to hot appetizers, which was essentially a pasta station, where he cranked out thousands of iterations of dishes like stone crab spaghetti and gnocchi bolognese. “Standing over the pasta pot became my zone,” Travis said.

Travis returned to Charlottesville in 2017, becoming Chef of Bang!. And, despite Bang!’s focus on Asian small plates, Travis’ heart remained with pasta, which he began working into the menu wherever he could, with dishes like ricotta gnocchi in curried sweet potato sauce.

Then, this summer Travis sprung on his father the idea of opening a takeout pasta place and calling it Luce, Italian for “light.” His father did not blink, and immediately pulled up from his iPad an old photo he liked, which he had stowed away in case it ever proved useful. A mural covering a storefront in Madrid, it depicted the beam of a streetlight in yellow paint.

luce light

“The concept of Luce is my dream,” said Travis. “To sell the pasta I’ve been making every day for the last two years, fresh cooked to order.” The idea is for the food to be fresh, fast, and affordable, he says. “Fine dining quality fresh pasta cooked to order for $10 or less,”  Travis said. “Kinda like Bodo’s meets Tavola?”

Travis says there is no secret to his pasta — aside from good quality ingredients: 00 flour and semolina, local organic eggs, and a splash of Spanish olive oil. That’s it. Though the Luce kitchen is tiny, the focus solely on pasta means there will be space to prepare it. Roll and cut fresh pasta by hand, boil it, and toss it in sauce. “It’s just fresh and cooked to order which is a real gamechanger,” Travis said.

At least initially, the size of the menu will match the size of the space: a kale caesar salad, cheesecake for dessert, and just three pasta dishes, like the “Bolo” – pappardelle with pork ragu, toast crumbs, mint, and parmigiano-reggiano. Travis’ favorite is the one that reminds him most of his childhood. The “Cacio” combines tagliatelle, parmigiano-reggiano, olive oil and cracked black pepper, and takes Travis back.  “Just the memory of eating my dad’s pasta was mind-blowing,” Travis said. “When we’ve had menu meetings for Luce, I’ve been licking the container reminiscing about the pasta my dad used to make.”

But, Travis says, his pasta and his father’s are not exactly the same.

“I think mine’s better. Sorry Dad?”

luce

Luce opens in late October at 110 2nd Street NW. Hours 11 am – 8 pm.