For the first time since winning national acclaim, Prime 109 Executive Chef Ian Redshaw has a new menu. In February, Redshaw became the first Charlottesville chef to be named a James Beard semifinalist for best Rising Star chef in the country, an award previously won by the likes of Bobby Flay and Grant Achatz. Calls flooded in — from media, restaurants seeking collaborations, and even television shows.
“It meant the world,” said Redshaw. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would happen.” Now that it has, Redshaw calls it a “relief.” Hidden in a kitchen, chefs rarely receive feedback, which can lead to self-doubt. National recognition has alleviated much of that for Redshaw. “I put more pressure on myself before because I wasn’t as confident that I was doing the right things,” he said. “This was a boost that has allowed me to trust myself more as a chef.”
Even before the James Beard nod, Redshaw was already doing great things, like the 2015 and the 2016 Dishes of the Year, and being named 2018 Best Chef in C-VILLE Weekly Now with the confidence boost of national acclaim, he has released a new spring menu at Prime 109. I recently sampled the whole thing with a group of friends, and below are the highlights, with photos courtesy of Tom McGovern. Beverage Director Andrew Cole was excellent with wine pairings, as noted.
Prime 109 has two menus: an a la carte steak menu and a regular menu. Perhaps because of the notoriety of the local, dry-aged steaks, some may overlook the regular menu. Don’t. With main dishes ranging from $14-$28, not only is it more affordable than many of the steaks, it is also outstanding. Even if Prime 109 served no steaks at all, its menu would rival almost any restaurant’s in town. Under Redshaw’s leadership, there is some serious cooking going on.
For the appetizers, Cole chose the 2017 Chateau Pradeaux Vesprée Rose, a barrel aged rose from Provence made from Mouvedre. While Cole says it could pair with almost any appetizer, he particularly likes it with the Vitello Tonato below. Spot on.
Crudo ($14) draws on Redshaw’s sushi apprenticeship many years ago at Roanoke’s Metro restaurant, now closed. Raw hamachi crowns a tiara of ginger, ikura, mustard seed, tatsoi, and hibiscus. “The hisbiscus is a sweet balancing factor, and a striking color,” said Redshaw.
Beet Salad ($9) is hay-smoked beets, with horseradish rose water cream, kefir, petit greens, puffed grain gremolata, pumpkin seeds and a citrus emulsion. Hay-smoking called to mind one of the most memorable dishes of my life: hay-smoked turbot, decades ago at Maestro, where Fabio Trabocchi first gained fame. Here, Redshaw first par-roasts beets and then smokes them, skin-on, in hay. “I have always wanted to do Daniel Patterson’s beet rose,” said Redshaw. “But it’s so tedious.” Instead, he and sous chef Scott Schuett took some of the flavors and made them their own. “The kefir and horseradish round out the smokey sweetness of the beets,” said Redshaw, “while a spritz of absinthe to finish adds the aromatic effect of anisette to the rose water and smoke, a favorite combination of mine.”
Vitello Tonato ($15) is Redshaw’s riff on the classic Italian combination of veal and tuna. Redshaw coats veal thymus glands in chickpea flour and then fries them to crisp. In the bowl, they join braised baby artichoke, beet mustard, parsley, lemon, and aioli spiked with sherry vinegar and cured tuna.
For the entrées, Cole chose two different wines, a 2017 Vietti Arneis and a 2012 Paolo Bea San Valentino, depending on the entrées.
For Quail Saltimbocca ($24), Redshaw wraps quail pieces in prosciutto and lightly sautées them in butter and sage, before serving the quail with beluga lentils and spring vegetables en papillote. “Combining two of my favorites, this dish is a combination of my Italian and French roots,” said Redshaw. “En papillote is a classic French preparation that allows the simple nuances of items packed inside paper to be lightly steamed and poached to give subtle aromatics.” With this, Cole paired the Paolo Bea San Valentino, made by a cult producer from Umbria famous for for its Sagrantinos. A traditional
Montefalco Rosso blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Sagrantino, Cole says it is versatile enough to pair with most entrées, but he especially likes it with the quail or dry-aged steak.
Crab Gnudi ($22), perhaps our favorite dish of the night, was inspired by one Redshaw created years ago while working at Mercato in Redhook. After his boss Fracesco Buitoni received a James Beard semifinalist nod, Buitoni was so impressed with Redshaw’s gnudi that he allowed him to serve it at a Mercado dinner at the James Beard House. The gnudi are pasta dumplings made of ricotta impastada, pecorino, house made fresh ricotta, parmesan and a touch of flower and egg. The dish’s other ingredients, Redshaw says, will change with the season. For Spring, they are crab, asparagus, beurre blanc, and nasturtium. With the gnudi, Cole likes the Vietti Arneis, a varietal native to Piemonte made by a preeminent Barolo producer.
Redshaw may have the most accomplished kitchen staff in town, with several cooks who have been head chef at other top restaurants. And, they’ve got some dishes on the new menu, too.
Beef Carpaccio ($16) is a creation of David Morgan, the original chef of Tavern & Grocery, who says the dish was a way to use up all of the short ribs left over after butchering steaks. “While braising some short ribs one day, I decided to just try a slice raw because it had such beautiful marbling,” Morgan said. Voila. Short rib carpaccio. For the dish, Morgan slices short ribs paper thin, and adds just olive oil, Maldon salt, and pepper. Atop the beef is a salad of arugula, pea shoots, mint, chervil, and parsley, tossed in a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon, and black truffle pieces. Garnishes are crisp frico of Cabot Clothbound cheddar and thin curls of toasted bread.
Utilizing several different preparations in one dish, Scallops ($28) are a creation of Chef de Cuisine Bill Scatena, former head chef of Pippin Hill. First is a yellow curry broth that starts with a paste made of fresh turmeric from Wayside Produce, galangal, Thai chilies, garlic, roasted shallot, a Malaysian shrimp paste called “Belacan,” whole coriander, cumin seeds, star anise, coconut sugar and salt. Scatena combines the paste with coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice to create a balanced broth that holds up well to the shellfish in the dish, without being overpowering. To order, the kitchen sears New England U10 scallops a la plancha while steaming PEI blue mussels in the curry broth. Atop the scallops and mussels in the bowl is a garnish of a crudo of New England razor clams, shucked while live, cleaned and dressed with kumquat kosho, olive oil, chili oil and Meyer lemon juice. Finishing garnishes are shaved scallions, shaved hakurei turnips and local redbuds.
Scatena also is the source of one of the show-stopping ingredients of the night: XO sauce. Experiencing a bit of a moment right now, XO sauce is an umami-laden condiment said to have originated in Hong Kong in the early 1980s. The sauce takes days to make as Scatena gradually incorporates cured uni into it. Scatena first cures Hokkaido Uni for two days in kombu, sometimes called the “king of seaweeds.” Scatena then gently washes it and steeps it in black garlic shoyu for a day. For the sauce, Scatena gently fries an assortment of ingredients over very low heat for a long period of time: Chinese sausage, shallot, garlic, peanuts, dried shredded shrimp, ground chilis, coriander, scallion and salted anchovy. He then folds back in the steeped garlic shoyu from the uni, and once the sauce cools to room temperature, adds the uni itself, finely chopped. At the restaurant, the XO sauce garnishes hearth grilled asparagus which is set over sauce Beanaise with charred cipppolini onions. It also garnishes asparagus with the crab cake. But, our crew was so fond of it, we sampled a small ramekin of it, and found it so well balanced that it was delicious even by itself.
XO XO, Prime 109.