The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Now & Zen

Five Finds on Friday: Natalie Siler

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Natalie Siler, the woman behind Charlottesville’s favorite chocolate peanut butter balls. After a decade in the Pittsburgh restaurant industry, the Charlottesville native returned home in 2012 in search of a job with a more traditional schedule, when fate and Charlottesville generosity intervened. A “friend of a friend” asked if Siler would like to carry on the peanut butter ball recipe she had been making for Feast!. Siler accepted, and when she took her first batch to Feast!, she recalls, “the woman at the counter popped one in her mouth, and said: ‘Great! We will need 300 more.” Six years later, the peanut butter balls remain a sensation, as she now makes 600 per week to meet holiday demand. Available only at Feast!. Siler’s picks:

1) Black Bean Nachos at Continental Divide. “On paper, they might not sound like anything out of the ordinary, but when you add the squeeze bottle of Wait a Minute sauce and one of Matt’s margaritas, it is unpretentious and wonderful. If I have room, one of the daily specials from Seven Hills never lets me down. I like to sit at the curve of the bar and come early.”

2) Italian Sub at Anna’s Pizza #5.  “I grew up in Charlottesville and many of my favorite dishes and spaces exist only in memory now, but 34 years later, the Italian Sub at Anna’s Pizza #5 has stayed happily identical to how I remember it tasting after a swim meet on a Wednesday night. A satisfying crunch, the tangy house dressing and one of the best beer pitcher deals in town. Don’t change, Anna.”

3) Honey Ginger Martini at Bang!. “This drink makes me think of my sister. Her name is Ginger and she lives in Austin, which is where I was first introduced to Tito’s Vodka. (My dad claims to have played cornhole with Tito himself). And, this drink is perfect for a kick in the pants to get you going for a show downtown. House pickles and sweet potato gnocchi always follow.”

4) Cheese from Caromont Farm and Our Lady of the Angels. “I’m a sucker for a cheese plate. I’m not sure I can pick a favorite one, but Pippin Hill and The Local come to mind. I’m always excited to see Caromont Farm on the menu. After my snuggle session with the goats last year, I always like to think I played some tiny part in making it taste so good. But I’m always looking for that bright red wax wheel that covers the gouda from of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. It’s made in the mountains near Crozet and if anyone is not sure what I might want as a gift, the two pound wheel will do just fine.”

5) Tuna Avocado Carpaccio at Now & Zen. “The first time I ordered this and the almost-table length salad was placed in front of me, I giggled like a small child. It hit all the marks for me. Protein. Spice. Greens. Texture. I always over order here, but I can never not get this salad.”

Five Finds on Friday: Gisela Carradero Rivera

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Today’s Five Find on Friday come from Gisela Carradero Rivera, Chef de Cuisine of Oakhurst Inn Cafe and Espresso Bar, where she has just introduced new fall menus. For breakfast, there are pumpkin waffles with whipped cream cheese, spiced rum syrup, and candied pumpkin seeds. But, don’t worry, the coconut grits are still there, too, though now they come with house smoked maple glazed pork belly and baked apples. For lunch, there’s a sandwich de pernil, with local braised pork, salsa criolla, and avocado aioli on an olive oil baguette. And, a harvest greens salad, with butternut squash, apples, fried Caromont Farm chevre, and lemon vinaigrette. See the full menus here. Rivera’s picks:

1) Aburi Salmon at Now & Zen. “A former chef of mine introduced me to Now & Zen back in my Keswick days and I can’t seem to stop going back, definitely a go to. The Aburi Salmon was on of his favorites and my husband and I always get it. Never changes and it is always delicious.”

2) Num Tok and Thai Tea at Monsoon Siam. “Can’t ever go wrong with cilantro, red onions, basil and all of the amazing ingredients in the Num Tok dish. Or any dish at the restaurant. Definitely my favorite Thai spot in town.”

3) House Sausage Pizza at Oakhart Social. “Let’s be honest, I love every dish I’ve ever had at that place. I think they do an amazing job! But the one thing I always get is the house sausage pizza. Love it.”

4) Mary Lou Mule at The Alley Light. “I love Mules, but the Mule at The Alley Light has been number one for me since the first time I drank it.”

5) Chocolate Praline Crunch Cake at Albemarle Baking Company. “It’s amazing. I find any reason to try and buy it for someone’s birthday although I try to eat it by myself.”

Five Finds on Friday: Francesca Black

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Francesca Black, chef of Continental Divide, which has been closed for two weeks after water damage related to Hurricane Michael, but is poised to re-open next week. Black’s picks:

1) Late Night Burger with a Salty Dog at C & O. “I usually get fixated on one aspect or one ingredient of a dish so, for me, an exceptional food experience happens when that fixation isn’t easy to discern — a temporary whirlwind sets in because it is that good. C&O late night does that for me. I am rarely free during regular dinner hours, so after work we sometimes head over for that divine burger. The crispy bun, the crunchy lettuce, that perfect first bite. It all becomes complete with their salty dog, the delicious classic with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a salted rim. It’s a great way to end a long work day.”

2) Masala Dosa from Desi Dosa with Turmeric Lassi from Planet Earth Diversified at the City Market. “If I can make it Saturday morning, the City Market rules. I love the Southern Indian vendor Desi Dosa. They focus on letting the intensity of their spices speak for themselves in simple dishes like the masala dosa, a thin stuffed pancake. Speaking of bold spice, the turmeric lassi from Planet Earth Diversified really wakes you up and goes great with spicy the food.”

3) Octopus Tempura and Hot Sake at Now & Zen. “Although hard to choose food favorites, octopus is absolutely up there, and when tempura fried, it’s a whole different level! I could eat Now & Zen’s octopus tempura everyday — it’s perfectly fried, salted and served with spicy mayo. Then with some hot sake — enough said.”

4) Half Chicken and Green Rice with Aji Sauce at Al Carbon. “I was definitely late to the game to visit Al Carbon on 29 but a friend got some take out one night, let me taste it, and I was instantly hooked. The flavors, especially in the homemade sauces, are unbelievable. I like to get the half chicken, break it up into the green rice and cover it in aji sauce, their medium, garlicky wonder.”

5) Fried Chicken and/or Meta’s Burger with Crushed Ice Soda at Mel’s Cafe. “Of all the delicious restaurants in Charlottesville, I think Mel’s might take the cake. Mel’s cures a bad day and makes a good day that much better. I can never choose between the chicken or Meta’s burger, both of which instantly fuel a tingling sensation even at the thought. Continental is so close, too –we are very proud and lucky to have them as our neighbors!”