The Charlottesville 29

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

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Five Finds on Friday: Jahnavi Wraight

Not every chef has a muse, but Oakhart Social chef-owner Tristan Wraight’s sure seems to. Tristan’s wife Jahnavi is a vegetarian, and his vegetable dishes always seem especially inspired. Jahnavi herself has just opened La Vie en Rose, a salon she lured her friend Shana from Chicago to launch. Jahnavi and Shana share their salon’s Allied Street space with their friends’ boutique LOUISE, which offers ethically made and mostly women-owned fashion and home accessories. “We are all very excited to have this collaborative space to hopefully bring people together so we can create and support our community, especially about causes we find important,” said Jahnavi. “If you have any ideas for events, please get in touch with us.” Jahnavi’s picks:

1) Vietnamese Bún at Chimm. “I  could eat this every day, and actually do eat it every week. I wouldn’t be surprised if they recognized my name. It is delicious, can be made vegan, and is a wonderful fresh component to every takeout order.”

2) “Eriste” Pasta and Rom & Kola at Smyrna. “This new restaurant is amazing, so it was hard to choose, but this pasta dish is beautifully simple and satisfying, with asparagus and a poached egg to finish. The rom & kola is something I wouldn’t usually order but the housemade cola syrup is so good and gives a cherry cola taste without being too sweet.”

3) Summer Squash Pizza from Oakhart Social. “Duh, gotta shout out my husband and fave restaurant in town. But this pizza for real is truly something special, and will only be on the menu for another week or so. The combination of Appalachian cheeses, thinly sliced zucchini and squash with sunflower gremolata creates this beautifully dynamic flavor combination. Chef’s kiss.”

4) Ranch from Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie. “No need to explain. If you haven’t had it just go try it. They even sell it in massive jars, for nasty people like me who want to put ranch, especially this ranch, on everything. I’ll add a nod to the blue cheese as well from Dr. Ho’s as well because #buffalobills.”

5) Tres Leche Popsicle from La Flor Michoacana. “This little shop is amazing. I can’t speak to the food because I’m always so focused on the popsicles. It is a hidden treasure and I love trying a different one every time.”

Bye For Now: Lessons from My Father’s Life

September 10, 2022
The Congregational Church of New Canaan
A Service of Celebration for the Life of Mike Davidson

My father used the same three words to end almost every conversation of his life. “Bye for now.”

He would say it to friends, family, and loved ones. To work colleagues. He would say it to house guests, like the hundreds who attended our Christmas Party each year. He would say it to flight attendants when getting off a plane. He would say it to sales marketing callers. He would even say it to wrong numbers.

And, though the words may sound trite, to me they embody the greatest gift my father ever gave me.

Our father gave us so much. He brought us to America and gave us everything we could have wanted. But the greatest gift was something he passed down to me: his optimism.

My father’s optimism defined him. As he was about most things, he was stubborn about his optimism. He was determined always to look on the bright side. He would magnify our successes and minimize our failures, or ignore them altogether. It made him prone to superlatives. The gold star on the quiz we brought home from school? He had never seen anything like it. The gold was more gold than any gold had ever been gold. He once explained to us our role in the career he was building, and quoted a favorite author who said: “You need the rock to plant the lighthouse,” and then he told us that we are the strongest of strong rocks.

This was not hyperbole. It is genuinely how my father saw the world: through his lens that filtered out the bad and illuminated the good.

His optimism came from his gratitude for the miracle of life. My father was so grateful to be alive, so grateful for the joy of living, that he refused to allow something as arbitrary as the day’s events to take away that joy. He was in control.

To him, optimism was such an obvious way of living that he would seek to spread it to others in the world. “Bye for now” was one way he did so. Each listener, whether a loved one or a wrong number, heard the same message. All is okay, his words assured. This is not the end. There will be more.

My father was so determined to find a bright side in everything that he practically made a sport of it, sometimes scrambling around like an old man looking for his keys. “It must be here somewhere!”

In the rare instance when he could not find one, and reality forced him to confront an undesired outcome, he would move past it – and help others move past it – with three other words he liked to say.

Can’t be helped.

Those words contained the greatest life lesson he taught me: no matter what happens to us in life, the only thing over which we have control is our response. No matter the circumstance, each time we have a choice. We can respond positively, make the best of it, and help spread joy in the world. Or, we can let life’s circumstances control us.

To my father, the choice was clear. He was a mathematician, and to him this was the simplest equation of all. Over the course of your life, the more often you choose to respond positively, the better your life will be.

And so, his words were like magic. His own serenity prayer packed into three little words.

Didn’t get the job you wanted? Can’t be helped.

Sports event didn’t turn out how you hoped? Can’t be helped.

Someone treat you unkindly? Can’t be helped.

Get in an accident? Can’t be helped.

When fate dealt cards that would cause some people to dwell in despair over their misfortune – or even worse, exaggerate its extent – my father would help you move on with just three words.

“Woe is me” is the mantra of many, but my father was on team “can’t be helped.” In fact, not once in the 47 years I knew him did I ever hear him complain that fate had treated him unfairly.

At a time when victims are in vogue and pessimists plenty, the world needs more people like my father, not fewer.

And so, as we gather today in tribute to my father, my own tribute is the life I live. And how I live it.

My father’s optimism was infectious. His spirit touched everyone in this room. His optimism became our optimism, and then ours became others’, and so on throughout the world. Though life left my father’s body last month at a hospital room in Florida, his spirit lives on in the optimism he spread to us, and we spread to others.

And so, death be not proud, my father’s spirit will continue to live on so long as we continue to do as he did: recognize the things that can’t be helped, so we may focus our love and attention on the things that can.

If we do this – if we do carry his spirit forward, if we do meet the world with his optimism, with his gratitude for the miracle of life, then he will remain with us. And if he will, then we may find solace in my last words to him in that hospital room in Florida.

Bye for now.

Five Finds on Friday: Mike Davidson

No fan of the limelight, my father might have declined an offer to appear in Five Finds on Friday. Everything he did he did without fanfare, like coming to America and quietly achieving his life’s dream: provide his family everything they need.

Of all the things my father gave me, one of the greatest was a love of food. When I was ten years old, he invited me to Manhattan to see his office. A commuter train from Connecticut full of men in business suits. After we visited his office building, he took me to see Beverly Hills Cop, which I thought was particularly cool since there were swear words. Even cooler was afterwards when he took me out for dim sum. I was floored. Chinese ladies who didn’t speak English pushed around carts of foods the likes of which I had never seen, let alone tasted.

My father and I first visited Charlottesville in 1991, on a college tour. Over the next three decades, he returned often, and food was always at the center of our itinerary. This week I found myself wanting to celebrate his favorites. And, he’s no longer around to stop me. How I wish, though, he could join me for them again:

1) Ham Biscuit at Stock Provisions. My father didn’t ask for things. He didn’t believe in it. So, the fact that he would gently mention the possibility of getting this ham biscuit in advance of Charlottesville visits speaks volumes to how much he loved it. So good he would swallow his pride.

2) Gyro at The Ivy Inn. There’s something about Brits and lamb. But, my father’s fondness for lamb is not the only reason the list includes this gyro sometimes served with rack of lamb at The Ivy Inn. Since his death on Sunday, my siblings and I have had many conversations about “what Dad would have wanted.” And, one thing I am sure he would have wanted is to include Angelo Vangelopoulos in this list. Though my father did not know Angelo well, he was a great admirer of kindness, which, come to think of it, may explain why I have always strived for it. In the Charlottesville food community there is no one kinder than Angelo, whom my father admired from afar. Long live Angelo and my father’s favorite gyro at The Ivy Inn.

3) The Davidson at Beer Run. While some may think I am the namesake of this Beer Run blend of double IPA and pale ale, its true originator was my father. He loved both beer and problem-solving, and this was his shrewd way of maximizing the amount of beer he could enjoy in one sitting, without overdoing it. The flavorful double IPAs he loved were too high in alcohol to have in large quantities, so he would cut them, 50-50, with a pale ale. The best of both worlds – lots of flavor, without excessive alcohol. Always served in a 20 oz glass, because anything else is not a “proper pint.” Some brewers, deeming their beers to be finished products, object to blends like The Davidson. As someone who believed in minding one’s own business, my father’s concern for their disapproval could not be understated.

4) French Green Beans at The Alley Light. A good measure of my father’s enjoyment of a food was how long he extended the second syllable of “extraordinary,” in his erudite British accent. And, this signature dish of The Alley Light he always called extraOOOOOOOOOOOOrdinary. The dish of green beans topped with grated foie gras was so beloved by him and my mother that it was served at a dinner in our home on their 50th wedding anniversary. About his favorite foods, my father liked to imagine that he had something more profound to say than that they taste good. His most common attempt was: “It’s the combination of textures and flavors,” a line this dish would evoke every time.

5) Steak Frites at Petit Pois. I was born in England. And, in some pockets of British society, “French” and “fancy” were once one and the same. When I was growing up in Connecticut, to go out to a “nice” restaurant just meant to go to a French one. As a man with no greater love than the woman he called “My Darling,” my father was always happy to oblige my mother’s wish to drop in to Petit Pois whenever in Charlottesville for her beloved chicken liver mousse. It also gave him a chance to enjoy the steak frites that reminded the well-travelled man of a French bistro. Not only was the steak delicious, the fries always arrived “piping hot,” the highest praise a Brit can pay food.

Bonus: Burger at Ciboulette. I tried to avoid including places that no longer exist in my father’s Five Finds, but the list would not be complete without this burger. My father would tell everyone about it, managing to sneak it into conversations that have seemingly nothing to do with burgers, or even food. “That reminds me, . . .”. My father must have had a good sense for talent because the owner of this gourmet shop and eatery that closed in 2006 went on to big things, like James Beard accolades, a job at Inn at Little Washington, and running Charlottesville’s best new restaurant. Who knows, maybe “Mike’s Burger” will resurface at Café Frank?

To honor him: My father was a more avid reader of The Charlottesville 29 than anyone. Donations to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank may be made in his honor here. (Check the box “Dedicate my donation in honor or in memory of someone.”)

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