The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Ciboulette

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.”)

Introducing The Alley Light


In all of our time in Charlottesville, there is no culinary experience we have enjoyed more than Ciboulette, the much-missed gourmet shop and eatery that closed in 2006.  Sure, service could be spotty, but the food was magnificent.  We were so fond of Ciboulette that its last lunch menu still hangs in a frame on our kitchen wall.

The genius behind Ciboulette’s food was Jose De Brito, who has since kept busy with stops at Hot Cakes and Fleurie.  All the while, his devotees have hoped he might return to a venue where he could again let loose.  Thanks to restaurateur Will Richey, he may have found one.  Richey has snagged De Brito as chef of his new lounge, The Alley Light, set to open next week.

With Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar, and The Wine Guild under his belt, Richey seems to have a knack for creating successful food and drink businesses.  His latest venture began as an idea for somewhere he and his wife could go out to talk.  In contrast to the many loud, bustling bars around town, Richey wanted a quiet, intimate hideaway for conversation.  The understated, elegant, dimly lit room he has created above Revolutionary Soup on the Downtown Mall is intended to fill that void.

Alley Light

Photo by Ginger Germani.

As initially conceived, Richey wasn’t even sure if his “club room,” as he calls it, would serve food.  But, when he ran into De Brito at a party last year, the two discussed De Brito coming on board as well.  De Brito had long respected Richey as one of the good people in the industry, and was impressed by Richey’s vision for his new place: “convivial plates, top ingredients, a relaxed atmosphere, fairly priced, great cocktails and wines, and a changing menu,” as De Brito recalls it.  De Brito also relished the opportunity to use produce and livestock from Richey’s own farm, where he lives.

Familiar with De Brito’s talent, Richey has given him virtual carte blanche in the kitchen.  But, he hasn’t given him a stove.  So, De Brito plans to preserve, stew, braise, pot, salt, brine, jar, pickle, confit, papillote, or even not cook his food at all.  While the offerings will change often, a tentative opening menu includes small plates like cured cod gratin with olive oil, greens, and toast points ($9), and french green beans with grated foie gras and almond-shallot vinaigrette ($12).  There are also platters of chracuterie intended for sharing, one from land and another from sea.  Among the land selections may be rabbit rillette with tomato confit and olives, or a terrine of veal, foie gras, and sweetbreads, with pear and blackberry preserves.  From the sea, there might be salmon rillette, scallop boudin, or squid and rice sausage.

If the food we sampled is any indication, De Brito’s fans will not be disappointed.  An amuse bouche of escargot was reminiscent of Ciboulette’s famous escargot sandwich, while a dish of beef tartare with capers, shallots, and pastured eggs  likewise brought back fond memories.  And, the star of the night may have been braised and roasted pork belly, with bite-sized spheres of apple, and frisee in an acidic dressing.  The parts complemented themselves so well that we imagined scooping them all up and stuffing them into a baguette for a perfect sandwich.

The wine is both well priced and well chosen, thanks to Richey, himself.  As members of The Wine Guild know, he is one of the area’s biggest oenophiles, with a passion for affordable, lesser-known wines.

Manning the bar will be Micah LeMon, one of the top mixologists in town.  A former manager of the bars of Blue Light Grill and Pasture, LeMon also writes about spirits for C-VILLE.  At The Alley Light, he plans a bitters program, along with lists of top rums, gins, brandies, and amaros, among others.  He’s even got a cocktail carbonator.  As for his cocktails, his aim is to “be attentive to detail and technique.” On our visit, we resisted classics like an Astoria, Manhattan, and Sazerac in favor of a tasty house creation, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” with Barr Hill gin, house lime cordial, and hopped citrus bitters.

The Alley Light officially opens Wednesday, February 12.  Hours will be Wed-Sat, from 5 pm to midnight, and Sunday from 5 pm – 10 pm.

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