This week the Charlottesville food community lost a friend, far too soon. Nick Leichtentritt, owner of Milli Coffee Roasters and Sicily Rose, would have turned 35 yesterday. In memory of Nick and his love of Charlottesville food, today’s Five Finds on Friday are some of his favorites, as remembered by friends. In addition to his wife Niki, Nick leaves behind four-year-old son Jesse, who suddenly finds himself without a father. The Charlottesville food community has rallied to Jesse’s support, with a fund for his immediate and long term needs. Please visit here to help Jesse.
1) Lamb Carpaccio at Fleurie. “A couple of years ago when I worked at Fleurie, I’d be sitting near the window in the afternoon, preparing for service. Every day around 3:30, I’d see Nick walk by with Jesse on his shoulders. Once in a while, they’d come back for a snack when we opened for dinner. Even as a 2 year old, Jesse was a foodie. His favorite thing on the Fleurie menu? Lamb Carpaccio with Haricot Vert and Cumin Oil! (My child pretty much only eats mac n cheese). It was precious watching Nick and Jesse enjoy that dish. Another time, Nick had arranged for us to prepare Lobster Bisque at three different temperatures— too hot, too cold, and just right, to really drive home the Goldilocks story Jesse has just learned.”
2) Beef Cheeks at The Alley Light. “In the last year or so, most of my meals and discussions with Nick were when we were cooking together. He was one of my group of ‘wine guy’ friends and we met quite often on the weekends to cook, eat and drink great wine. But I remember first getting to know Nick, too. He was one of the first regulars at The Alley Light when it opened. He came all the time, often alone. I loved to watch him eat because when he really loved a dish it was like a religious moment for him. He would take a bite and lean back a little and sort of close his eyes in awe and nod and then simply hover over the dish for a while before slowly going back to it. If you stopped him to ask if everything was alright he would pause before saying, ‘This is incredible, I can’t believe it.’ Once, in our first three months, Jose’s entire kitchen staff called out sick so I was going to cook with Jose and it was going to be barely doable with just the two of us. I had only just gotten to know Nick, but when he came in early for a drink and I told him what was happening, he asked if I would like for him to cook with us and I said yes. The three of us put out a flawless service, and I actively pursued him as a friend ever since. I remember the beef cheeks dish as one that was particularly amazing to Nick. Jose made it quite often. It had a rich and wonderful sauce that he would spend days on. One couldn’t help but be carried away by the dish, and Nick understood every nuance. He was one of the few people who really took the time to appreciate what went into the food. We will miss him dearly.”
3) Grilled Octopus at Parallel 38. “‘Let’s try to cook octopus,’ he said as he mopped up the last bit of sauce with hot bread freshly made from the oven of Parallel 38. Exotic, challenging, and high-risk high-reward all fit Nick. He introduced me to the grilled octopus at Parallel 38. We talked about it as a metaphor for how we like to function. We shared it carefully. Thoughtfully. Perhaps selfishly. That plate is a simple but balanced dish that makes a difficult thing look easy. We cooked a few octopuses together at my house with great joy and a grand sense of mischief reminiscent of boys trying to catch fish with their hands. But we came back to Justin Ross to understand octopus, And with each bite, try to understand ourselves a little more.”
4) Amari at Brasserie Saison. “We ate decadent, over-the-top meals together that themselves are worthy of an entry, but I keep coming back to the quiet, the end of the meal, the end of the night, the contemplative moments we shared over a glass of something bitter. Late nights on the patio, talking about life, talking about family, complaining about the industry, complaining about how much we loved the industry, those are the moments that I carry with me. Nick loved all sorts of amari, loved how the various flavors came together to become more than the sum of their parts and that’s how I’ll remember him: father, husband, community pillar, friend. Much more than the sum of his parts.”
5) Squid Ink Risotto with Chorizo at Fleurie. “Nick and I met about ten years ago in Tidewater Virginia where we shared a similar job and a love for food and wine. Over the years we’ve shared wonderful meals and fellowship. Whether it was a home made paella, fresh Chesapeake oysters from probably every raw bar between Va Beach and Charlottesville, or four courses at a fine restaurant, I knew we would be enjoying a great meal and lots of laughs whenever we got together. A few weeks ago, I took my family skiing at Wintergreen. We decided to stay the night in Charlottesville rather than up on the mountain. I’m so glad we did. I called Nick to see if he wanted to meet up. It was Saturday night of restaurant week. Everywhere was packed. Nick seemed to know everyone in the Charlottesville food scene. He managed to get us a 10 pm seating at the bar at Fleurie. Nick recommended the first course, a squid ink risotto with chorizo, paired perfectly with a wine by the fine staff at Fleurie. Our last supper together was a memorable one. Eat, drink and be merry my friend.”