The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: Introductions

Introducing Kama

Kama logo

“I’ve never been more excited about opening a restaurant.”

That’s a big claim from someone with a resume like Will Richey, who has launched some of Charlottesville’s most beloved eateries. But to be fair, he says this every time.

This is not to accuse Richey of insincerity. Richey genuinely loves creating new restaurants, and is never more excited than about the next one. Plus, Richey’s projects are worthy of excitement. From conception to execution, no one has delivered as many stellar, novel food concepts to Charlottesville.

His latest is his most unusual yet: an “improvised Japanese” restaurant in a movie theater. Kama celebrates its grand opening this weekend at Violet Crown. Unusual as it may be, Kama has the bones of a place that could rival Richey’s past hits like Brasserie Saison and The Alley Light, a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the country.

The Origin

Props belong to Bill Banowsky, the Austin-based owner of theater mini-chain Violet Crown, with locations in Austin, Santa Fe, and Charlottesville. Eschewing the cookie-cutter food offerings of many theaters, Banowsky wanted to do something different at Violet Crown. And, he had the good sense to contact Richey, whom he offered full creative license to overhaul the theater’s restaurant.

As luck would have it, Richey had recently been in discussions about working with chef Peter Robertson of Côte-Rôtie – three-time winner of Charlottesville’s Best Food Truck. “I liked Peter immediately,” Richey said. “Within minutes of meeting him, you know that he is a no nonsense, straight shooting guy who knows his craft.” But, after trial runs at two of Richey’s restaurants, Robertson told Richey that his heart was really set on a dream of opening a Japanese restaurant, rather than any of Richey’s existing places.

This conversation sprung to mind months later as Richey toured the Violet Crown space with Banowsky. “As we stood in the dining room, I couldn’t help but notice the clean and simple lines, and a large fabric print with a duck pattern on it on the back wall,” Richey said. “This made me think of an Asian influenced restaurant, which made me think of my conversation with Peter.” Richey contacted Roberston, who leaped at the opportunity – and they were off and running.

The Space   

Richey’s role was to design, build, and staff the restaurant, and Richey beams about the team who helped execute his vision. “The chefs and restaurant people often get all the glory,” Richey said, “but the very talented artisans in our area who build these restaurants deserve every bit as much credit.” 

For design, Richey called on architect Stephanie Williams, who helped design Prime 109. “Our goal was to design a cohesive aesthetic that was respectful to the existing theater architecture,” said Williams. “We employed mainly darker neutral colors with shou sugi ban (Japanese burnt wood) accents and added pops of bold color.” KB contractors did the build-out, and Lost Mountain Woodcraft handled wood finishes, bar and table tops. 

The result? “The restaurant came out far better then I had imagined it could,” Richey said. “It is beautiful – an elegant place to repose in.”

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Photo by Kristen Finn

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Photo by Kristen Finn

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Photo by Kristen Finn

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Photo by Kristen Finn

The Chef

Côte-Rôtie fans will be thrilled that Richey has given a brick-and-mortar home to Robertson. Even from a tiny food truck kitchen, the Culinary Institute of America graduate and former owner of an acclaimed Hamptons restaurant was already one of the most creative chefs in Charlottesville. Now that he has a full kitchen, all kinds of new equipment, and a expanded budget for exotic ingredients, look out.

“Bigger kitchen, new toys, and top tier ingredients, like Japanese uni, are what make this job fun,” says Robertson.

Aside from brief stints helping to launch two Charlottesville restaurants, Robertson has  worked for no one but himself and his wife since 2006. So, while reporting to a boss may be an adjustment, Robertson actually cites the chance to work with Richey as one of the reasons he took the job. “His ability to problem solve creatively is something I really admire and enjoy being a part of,” said Robertson. “Building restaurants is extremely stressful but also incredibly gratifying, so the opportunity to learn from Wilson [Richey] was a big part of me taking this job.”

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The Food

Improvised Japanese is how Robertson describes the menu of primarily small plates, with a few larger options as well. Why “improvised”? Well, as much as Robertson has eaten, cooked, and studied Japanese cuisine, he has never actually been to Japan or trained under a Japanese chef. “We are basically trying to cook the food we love with as much respect and honor to the cuisine that has inspired us,” says Robertson, who regularly included riffs on Japanese food in his truck’s ever-changing menu.

And yet, despite the bigger kitchen and new toys to play with, Robertson says that the beauty of Japanese cuisine is keeping it simple: “taking great ingredients and manipulating them as little as possible.” King Salmon Teriyaki, for example, is simply grilled over wood and served with steamed rice and bok choy. 

That said, there are manipulations, too. Ever heard of tsukudani? Here’s how it works. Start with kombu, a type of seaweed most commonly used to make dashi, the stock for many Japanese soups and noodle dishes. For tsukudani, Robertson takes leftover kombu from making dashi, slices it thinly, and slowly simmers it again in shoyu, mirin, and red rice wine vinegar. The result he uses as an umami-rich garnish for a trio of sashimi.

When pressed for personal menu favorites, Robertson balked. “The menu changes almost every day so typically the new dishes are what I’m excited about,” said Robertson. “We get fish and different produce almost every day, and it’s those products that excite me.” During the soft opening period, Robertson says, guests really seemed to enjoy Kama’s handmade udon, noodles made from a dough with organic flour, which is kneaded for a long time to give it its chewy texture.  The noodles are served in broths of locally sourced beef and pork, and topped with a local egg. 

Sous chef David Morgan, who was Executive Chef of Tavern & Grocery before cooking at Prime 109, sounds like a kid in a candy store in his new environment.”I’m just excited to be learning a new cuisine and techniques,” said Morgan. “And I love that we are working with the best ingredients available,” like Bluefin otoro from Spain, kanpachi from Hawaii, uni from Japan, and wild king salmon from Washington.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

The Bar

Manning the bar is Mike Stewart, a Nick Crutchfield protege who got is break at age 25 when, as an electrician looking for a career change, responded to a Craiglist ad for a new Charlottesville restaurant called Commonwealth. Looking back, he can hardly believe his luck in stumbling upon a mentor like Crutchfield. “25 is a late start to make a career shift from tradesman to barman and really could have only been facilitated by a talented-beyond-belief mentor and friend like Nick,” said Stewart. “I soaked up every bit of knowledge I could from him, and got hooked on the quest for knowledge, history, tradition and all of the wonderful things that make being behind the bar a great privilege.”

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

At Kama, Stewart says, his focus is hospitality. “Passion without pretentiousness is contagious,” said Stewart, whose main aim is that everyone feel welcome, not intimidated. A novice in Japanese food and culture, Stewart has enjoyed being a student again, learning a new cuisine, and how to build a bar program around it. “I’ve taken everything I have learned and adapted it,” said Stewart. “Like notes in music, the tradition of crafting a cocktail is the same. With those notes you can play blues, jazz, country or whatever. That’s how I’ve approached this new palate of flavors.”

Take the “Tokyo” – a blend of a Boulevardier and Manhattan, with Japanese inspiration – combining the “familiar with the unfamiliar.” Stewart blends Suntory Toki Whisky, Aperol, Cocchi Rosa, grapefruit bitters, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram. His favorite way to serve it is two versions side-by-side – one made fresh and the other aged for 28 days in a charred oak barrel, where, he says, flavors become a well-rounded sum of their parts.

On the left, a barrel-aged Tokyo. On the right, an un-aged Tokyo:

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Kama’s Grand Opening is this Saturday, August 31. The restaurant is located at 200 West Main St, in Violet Crown. Hours are 5 – 10 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations here.

Introducing Dairy Market: Charlottesville’s First Food Hall

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“Charlottesville needs a food hall.”

It’s something I’ve heard often. And, there’s good sense to it. Food halls and public markets have exploded in recent years in other food-loving parts of the country, like New York, Napa Valley, Portland, and Atlanta. Why not us? The food-centric nature of a food hall seems a natural fit for a city like Charlottesville – passionate about food, but not fussy about it.

So, would a food hall work in Charlottesville? Next year we will find out.

In Spring 2020, Dairy Market will launch in the historic Monticello Dairy building on Grady Avenue, once home to businesses like McGrady’s Tavern, Three Notch’d Brewing, and Harvest Moon Catering. Renovation of the 1936 building is well underway, and once complete, the market will put side-by-side purveyors, chefs, and artisans in a single, open-market space, hosting up to fourteen stalls around communal dining areas. Employees of Dairy Market’s developer, Stony Point Design/Build, have traveled to dozens of food courts around the world and aim to bring to their hometown the best of what they’ve found. 

The site is an appropriate one. Designed by local architect Elmer Burruss, the Monticello Dairy building was not just a production facility of milk, butter, and cheese, but also a gathering place, known for its event space and ice cream parlor. Keeping intact much of the original construction, Dairy Market aims to revive the building’s historic use as a gathering place.

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Founding Merchants

What will the market hold? While not all tenants have been finalized, if the market’s Founding Merchants are any indication, expect a mix of local legends, rising stars, and a few imports. Stay tuned for news about additional merchants, including another addition that will go public next week. And, if you’re interested in running a stall yourself, email here.

Starr Hill Downtown
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Anchoring the food hall will be a giant of local brewing: Starr Hill Brewery. Before moving to Crozet in 2007, Starr Hill first opened in 1999 in, well, Starr Hill. Now, in a homecoming of sorts, the brewery will add its newest location at Dairy Market, Starr Hill Downtown, just around the corner from its original site. The massive 4,200 square foot space with an additional 1,000 square foot patio will be home to what Starr Hill is calling a “pilot brewery and taproom.” While the taproom will offer the brewery’s standard line of favorites brewed in Crozet, a 5-barrel onsite brewing system will also allow experimentation with small batch beers, and interactive customer feedback. As for grub with the beer, guests can enjoy food from any of the Dairy Market’s food stalls, so not everyone in your group needs to be in the mood for the same cuisine when you go out for a beer and a bite. Starr Hill Downtown will also revive the live music for which its original Charlottesville location was known. “We have been looking to find a great location in Downtown Charlottesville for many years,” says Starr Hill’s Duke Fox. “We are thrilled to partner with the Stony Point team to bring their vision of a local food hall to our home town.”

Angelic’s Kitchen
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First a catering company and then a food truck, Angelic’s Kitchen will find a brick and mortar home at Dairy Market. Owner Angelic Jenkins is excited not just to have her own restaurant, but also to be part of history, she says. “This is a milestone for Charlottesville and it feels amazing to be a part of it,” says Jenkins, who made news last year when a crowd-fundraiser helped her replace a stolen generator in just hours.

In addition to the fried fish for which Angelic’s is known, the Dairy Market location will offer an expanded menu of barbecue chicken leg quarters, homemade macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, corn pudding and more. Jenkins envisions her place as more of Mom’s kitchen than Grandma’s kitchen. “When people think about soul food, they sometimes think about eating at their Grandma’s house, but for my customers it will be a more of a contemporary look, with that feeling of being in Mom’s kitchen,” says Jenkins. “I always think about when my son was in high school and he would come home with all his friends – and teenage boys are always hungry.  I would start cooking for everyone, and they would call me Mama Angelic.”

Take It Away
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Famous for its house dressing, Take It Away sandwich shop has been a UVa tradition for nearly three decades. Yet, despite plenty of opportunities, it has never expanded in Charlottesville beyond its Corner location. What makes Dairy Market different? “I could see the potential to reach folks beyond our Corner district location,” says owner Thomas Bowe. “Even though we’ve been serving Charlottesville for 27 years now, a lot of folks still don’t know about us.” As for menu, Bowe says to expect something very similar to the original location’s menu: sandwiches built from all-natural ingredients, and, of course, house dressing. One addition for the new spot: hot sandwiches. Details to come on those, Bowe says.

Eleva Coffee
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If you want to be the gathering place that Dairy Market’s developers envision, you need coffee. For that, the developers turned to Eleva, a new Brooklyn-based, farm-to-cup company committed to connecting coffee drinkers with the small farmers who produce world-class coffees. After fifteen years as a global coffee trader, owner Emilio Baltodano could no longer turn a blind eye to living conditions of some of the small farming communities that produced the premium coffee beans he sold. He was determined to open a business that could serve outstanding coffee while also radically improving the standard of living of the farming communities from which the beans are sourced.

The close relationships Baltodano has cultivated with farmers during his fifteen years in the business are a win-win. Customers benefit from single origin coffees from the best small farms Baltodano has found, in top regions of Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Farmers benefit, meanwhile, from the duty Baltodano feels to help the communities of the farmers with whom he has become close — through direct trade coffee and infrastructure projects. “I just got back from Guatemala and Nicaragua, where we were refurbishing schools for local children,” says Balodano. “It’s the relationships we have with our farming communities that motivates everything we do.”

With just one other Eleva location in Brooklyn, Baltodano saw Charlottesville as the ideal next place to pursue his dual-vision of making great coffee and helping its farmers. “College towns really respond to Eleva’s great tasting coffee and social impact focus,” says Baltodano. “We hope that Charlottesville, which is home to a great mix of students and locals, will respond to Eleva’s uplifting message of bringing communities together through amazing coffee.”

While Eleva is serious about its coffee, it is not overly so. “We’re not about measuring grams to nth degree,” says Baltodano, who encourages baristas to have fun and experiment. One barrista creation, for example, – homemade blueberry lavender latte – has become a favorite of regulars.

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Introducing Bar Naturel

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If you’ve ever been to Paris and enjoyed the gutsy bistro food that seems to be on almost every Rue, you may bemoan how hard it is to find this side of the pond. If so, here’s some good news. Commonwealth Restaurant Chef John Shanesy is so fond of the cuisine that for the next three weekends he will showcase it at a pop-up called Bar Naturel.

Shanesy’s brother Scott makes bread at NYC’s She Wolf Bakery, and Shanesy has long wanted to collaborate on a project combining his brother’s bread, the best ingredients of Virginia, and bold Parisian bistro cooking. “I love the oily fish, the charcuterie, the stinky cheeses,” says Shanesy.  “It’s the restaurant and food and environment I would frequent most if I could.”

Why “naturel”? To accompany the food, The Wine Guild’s Will Curley has prepared a small wine list from producers that embrace the ethos of natural wines: organic, biodynamic, and sustainably grown grapes, native yeasts, and as little sulfur as possible. Similar to the natural wine bars that have blown up in Paris.

The full menu is posted below, but one dish that particularly excites Shanesy is sardines in goose fat. Like many food styles, chefs like to call this “simple food,” but to novices like us its preparation sounds anything but. First, Shanesy scales and rinses the sardines, and removes the head and offal. Rinse again. Next, he lines a sheet pan with the cleaned sardines and salts them liberally for an overnight cure.

The next day, he toasts sage, rosemary, and tangerine lace in a dry pan until aromatic, before adding tangerine peels and leeching out their oil. Next, he scoops rendered goose fat into the pan, and maintains a temperature of 180 degrees for thirty minutes. “Like tea,” says Shanesy.  While that stays warm, Shanesy quarters apricots and tosses them in lemon juice. In a pan, he simmers sugar, butter and lemon juice before adding the apricots and cooking until jammy. He purees the mixture, passes it through a drum sieve, and cools.

Next, he rinses the salt from the sardines, grills them on high heat, places them in a tin, and covers them in the infused goose fat, before chilling overnight.

Finally, the next day he’s ready to serve. He gently warms the sardines, grills some bread, tosses frisee in mustard vinaigrette, and puts it all on a plate with the apricot jam and some nice pickles. “Destroy with a half bottle of wine or a whole bottle,” says Shanesy, “or a Reason Collaboration 29.”

Bar Naturel Details
Where: Penny Heart, 223 W. Main
When: July 12, 19, and 26; 6 pm until it’s gone
No reservations

MENU

Cheese
Blu D’Auvergne
Tomme di Savoie
Pont-l’Eveque

Housemade Charcuterie
Boudin Noir
Rillette
Tete de Cochon
Pate Champignon
Liver Mousse

Le Royale: Chef’s Picks for a Crowd

Small
Malpeque Oysters, Mignonette
Marinated Castelvetrano Olives, Rosemary Orange
Roasted Almonds, Sesame
Red Corn Porridge Sourdough, Single Origin Butter

Medium
Tomato Salad, Blue d’Auvergne, Lardon, Frisee, Liver Vinaigrette
Whitefish Salad, Frisee, Piquillo, Fennel, Orange, Sprouted Rye
Bone Marrow, Frisee
Sardines, Goose Fat, Apricot, Thyme

Large
Halibut, Olive, Potato
Lievre al Royal: Hare, Foie Gras, Polenta

sardines

Sardines in infused goose fat