The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Angelo Vangelopoulos

“Best Thing I Ate All Year” 2016

Looking back at 2016, what stands out as the best thing you ate all year?  Top area chefs provide their answer. (Here are last year’s picks.) A tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty:

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Agedashi Tofu at Now & Zen. “The silken tofu is made crispy by dusting it in potato starch and frying it. Then, it’s set in a spa of tentsuyu broth made smoky from the katsuobushi and a little sweet from mirin. Perfect balance of big flavors.”

tofu

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)

Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. “When restaurants around the world jumped to support the town of Amatrice in Italy after it was devastated by an earthquake, we were fortunate enough to experience a version of Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. Their version was almost exactly the same as what we experienced in Italy. It was also so delicious that we went back the next night to have it again.”

p38spag

Brian Jones (The Alley Light)

Brebirousse from Flora Artisanal Cheese in Timbercreek Market with Seeded Roll from Albemarle Baking Company.  “The seeded roll is a beautiful roll, made from baguette dough,  crusted in fennel seeds, poppy seeds and white sesame seeds. What a yummy combination of flavors. Brebirousse is a soft, smooth, creamy, buttery sheep’s milk cheese from the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Not to take anything away from these two ingredients, but food memories often have more to do with the eater’s condition at the time of the meal than the actual meal itself.  Food always tastes better when you are hungry!  I have eaten at some amazing restaurants in my life but I the best meal I ever had in my life was on a backpacking trip when our rations were low and our calorie output far exceeded our calorie intake. We savored every last morsel, scraped our cooking vessel clean, so clean that there was nothing left to wash. Possibly food is at its best  when the aromas or tastes remind you of a forgotten memory lost somewhere in the back of your mind. Think Ratatouille the movie when the food critic Anton Ego bites into Chef Remy’s ratatouille.”

cheese seeded

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Duck Liver Terrine at The Ivy Inn.  “This pâté en terrine is a slice of art. The perfect suspension of fat in meat wrapped in what appeared to be paper-thin cured duck breast slices and served with traditional pommery mustard and pickled vegetables. Angelo’s food is truly inspiring. The work of his kitchen is a delight to the taste buds. Well done.”

ivyduck

Tommy Lasley (Fry’s Spring Station, Ivy Provisions)

Live Scallop with Uni Broth at Mican (now closed). “The best thing I ate this past year was way too much amazing sashimi at Mican Japanese Restaurant, which unfortunately is no longer open! Everything I had was the best example I have tried in years, Charlottesville or otherwise. If I had to pick one bite it was the live scallop with uni broth.” [Note: Mican’s owners are now serving sushi at Lemongrass.]

Thomas Leroy (Kardinal Hall)

Pork Belly at BBQ Exchange. “I went there and ordered  the meat combo plate of course. The ribs were outstanding, but that pork belly with a fried crispy finish to balance the smoking flavor was amazing. I topped it with their bacon bbq sauce of course. Next time I go, that’s all I’m ordering.”

pickles-belly-and-ribs

Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie)

Salt Honey Pie from Greenwood Gourmet by Polina Chesnakova. “Nuff said.”

Loren Mendosa (Lampo)

Olive Oil Gelato from Splendora’s. “I don’t know if PK’s running it regularly, but it was truly fantastic. She used our Mosto olive oil from Liguria and we topped it with sea salt and a drizzle of the Galardo olive oil that Hodges and Jill Myers are importing. It was the perfect combination!”

gelato

Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Roasted Chicken and Street Corn Off the Cob at The Fitzroy. “Holy moly! Food tends to be an ‘in the moment’ experience for me, and that chicken and corn just hit the spot at the right time, and it was so comfy and cozy in there.”

chicken corn

Ian Redshaw (Lampo)

Sunchokes from Wayside Produce. “Any vegetable from Wayside Produce, especially the sunchokes. These are the best vegetables I have been able to find thus far in my career.”

chokes

Ivan Rekosh (ZoCaLo)

Flank and Brisket Pho at Thai Cuisine & Noodle House. “This time of year I’m loving the pho from Thai Cuisine. I usually opt for the flank and brisket but sometimes add the tendon. The broth is amazing. I love to stick my whole face in the bowl and breathe in the steam while I’m slurping the noodles. Really warms you up from the inside out on these cold days. Also a great family runs it.” 

pho

Wilson Richey (co-owner, The Alley Light, The Bebedero, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar)

Chicken Liver Mousse Tart at Timbercreek Market. “Just redefined what can be done with chicken liver, so smooth and elegant. I would eat the whole tart if it were not frowned upon to do things like that.”

mousse

John Shanesy (Petit Pois)

Black Bean and Corn Relleno at ZoCaLo. “It hits on every texture, and all the flavors are very well pronounced but at the same time all working in unison to be a joy to eat. They’ve been great new neighbors to get to meet and have greeted me so warmly as well.”

stuffed

Andrew Silver (ZoCaLo)

Polpettine Panuozzo at Lampo. “Meatball parm sub was my go-to late night, altered state, munchie meal.  Lampo’s is the refined, grown up version.  Plus the fact that the bread is baked ‘a la minute’ seals the deal.”

meatball

Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)

Petit Kouign-aman from MarieBette. “I found this gem at the city market. Will Darsie filled my request for a mixed bag of goodies while I picked up my veggies from Susan and Wally Parks at Broadhead Mountain Farm. It’s an over the top decadent croissant dough masterpiece with apples and a metric ton of butter and sugar. My market visit is no longer complete without one of them.”

petit

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

170 Dry Aged NY Strip at Lampo. “Ridiculously delicious. Cast iron crispy and served with a head of roasted garlic. Not even fair.”

strip

Tucker Yoder (Timbercreek Market)

I Don’t Even Own a Gun by Twenty Paces.  “I Don’t Even Own a Gun and Noah’s Arcade are some of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Could easily rival European cheeses. Great funky cheeses. All their cheeses have been a revelation this year but the soft gooey ones are a Yoder family favorite.”

paces

 

Auctions End with Maximum Vangelopoulosity

Angelo

While the The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions have had many heroes, none has been bigger than Ivy Inn owners Angelo and Farrell Vangelopoulos. There is generosity. And, then there is Vangelopoulosity. As anyone who knows them knows, the latter is another thing altogether. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for helping to make these auctions such a success.

Earlier this year, when I first wondered if restaurants would participate in a series of auctions of special dining experiences, I decided to proceed in two steps. First, I thought, I would ask each restaurant if they would commit generally to the idea of the auctions, without requiring details of their experiences. Then, I would circle back, to learn what each restaurant wished to offer.

For the first step, I knew just where to start. Many regard Angelo as not just the best chef in the area, but also the kindest. And so, I was hopfeul that Angelo would say yes. Just as Tyrion drinks and knows things, Angelo says yes. That’s what he does. When I emailed him to pitch the idea, he responded immediately. “Yep, I’m in. I love the idea. – ang!”

Then, once all of the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29 were on board, Angelo was one of the first to submit his experience to me. And, though I am accustomed to Angelo’s generosity, it still astonished me. Angelo offered A Greek Taverna Experience for 20, in which he would turn the inn’s patio into a pop-up taverna for the auction winner and nineteen guests. Angelo’s parents are Greek, and he grew up working in their restaurants. For the auction winner, Angelo said, he and his father would prepare an enormous feast of traditional and modern Greek dishes, wines, and ouzo, with a wide variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables. Wow. “What a wonderful idea and how extremely generous,” I replied to Angelo. “Thank you so much.”

His response, in toto: “it’ll be a blast :).”

Next, I sent The Ivy Inn’s auction item as one of several examples to other restaurants still working on their auction experiences. While I have no doubt that restaurants would have created spectacular experiences regardless, Angelo’s generosity set the bar early on, and likely inspired others. In fact, when I circulated the list of auction examples, including The Ivy Inn’s, one restaurateur wrote back simply: “Damn it Angelo!”

Indeed, Angelo’s early example may have been responsible for thousands of meals for the area’s hungry. And, this morning, he and Farrell became responsible for thousands more. The Ivy Inn auction, the final one in The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, was won by a bid of $8,150, which will provide more than 32,000 meals to the area’s hungry. Thank you to the Vangelopoulos’ and the bidder for their tremendous generosity.

Dr. Lamborn’s Peas by Harvest Thyme Herbs

Peas

Mindful that readers of The Charlottesville 29 may not be quite as crazy about food as I am, I often resist the urge to indulge in full-on food geekery on this site.  Resistance is not always easy, and one recent discovery made it impossible.  It involves peas.  Yes, peas.

When I started to describe these peas to a close friend, his eyes began to glaze over from lack of interest.  Indeed, not everyone finds this stuff interesting. But, I do. So, here it goes.

Over the past several years, Charlottesville’s restaurant reputation has grown and grown and grown.  Accolades seem to pile up faster than Jack’s beanstalk. Thought it’s not often said, the folks who make this possible are those who produce the extraordinary bounty we enjoy in the Charlottesville area.  Many times, I’ve heard chefs from Washington D.C., Richmond, and other areas express envy at the proximity that Charlottesville chefs enjoy to so many outstanding farms and sources of first class ingredients.  These producers are the unsung heroes of Charlottesville dining.

Consider Phil and Deirdre Armstrong of Harvest Thyme Herbs, a small Staunton farm whose produce is beloved by top chefs in the area. You can find their products at Charlottesville 29 inductees like The Ivy Inn, Maya, Pippin Hill, and more. What makes the Armstrongs special is not just their commitment to perfecting the produce they already have but also their enthusiasm in seeking out new products to bring to area chefs and diners.

Last year, an article in Food Arts by Carolyn Jung gushed about extraordinary new breeds of peas that were making top New York City chefs “swoon.”  Their creator was Dr. Calvin Lamborn, the scientist who developed the first commercial snap pea in 1979.  Now 80, Lamborn continues to create unique breeds of peas, and his latest creations are making waves at top NYC restaurants like Union Square Cafe, wd-50, and Per Se.

When the Armstrongs caught wind of these new breeds of peas earlier this year, they were determined to bring them to Charlottesville.  “New York City chefs can’t have all the fun!” they explained on their blog.  “Snow peas in shades of deep purple, soft yellow, chile pepper red. Oversized edible- podded peas sweet enough for dessert. And poufy, frilly pea tendrils for garnish.”

So, after some effort, by March they had obtained a supply of seeds directly from Dr. Lamborn’s son Rod, a cinematographer who has been helping to market his father’s peas at eatmorepeas.com.  Fast forward a few months, and the Armstrongs are now enjoying the fruits of their labor: peas that have been described as not just special but “even legendary.”

One lucky recipient is Christian Kelly, the chef who once helped Clifton Inn become one of just sixty restaurants in the country attain Relais & Chateaux status, before opening Charlottesville’s best Jeffersonian restaurant.  At Maya, he uses the peas and tendrils to top house-cured pork jowl from The Rock Barn, local red slicer tomatoes from Pleasant Pastures, and house buttermilk cheese.

Maya

Another chef to score some of the peas is two-time James Beard award semi-finalist Angelo Vangelopoulos.  At Ivy Inn, Vangelopoulos serves the peas with grilled certified angus beef tenderloin, baby carrots, whipped Yukon gold potatoes, pea and onion “soubise,” and Cabernet sauce. “I can never seem to outgrow something as simple and delicious as peas and carrots with mashed potatoes,” said Vangelopoulos, “and Dr. Lamborn’s peas achieve a whole new level of awesome.”

Ivy Inn

“It is a responsibility and an honor to showcase Dr. Lamborn’s work, and we feel very fortunate to bring these unique treasures to our chefs,” said Deirdre Armstrong, who very kindly gave me some peas to try for myself.

Unsure what to do with such treasures (besides enjoying them raw), I decided a simple preparation would be the best way to appreciate them. And so, I blanched shelled peas and snap peas before tossing them with pea tendrils and local greens in a light vinaigrette. Oh my. Bursting with the delicious essence of pea, the salad was one of those rare dishes I know I will always remember. The sweet “52s”, in particular, seem destined for fame.

pea salad

Incidentally, a few Michelin-starred restaurants in California, like The French Laundry, have also caught wind of these new breeds of peas, and managed to snag some seeds as well.  So, where does that mean you find these magical peas?

Well, for now, three places: top restaurants in New York City, California, and, thanks to the Armstrongs, Central Virginia.

 

 

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