Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Jin Bang, Chief Aloha Officer of Mochiko, the new eatery from longtime Albemarle Baking Company pastry chef Riki Tanabe. Mochiko will open a brick-and-mortar location soon, but meanwhile you can book them for catering and enjoy their “Good Hawaiian Eats” Saturday mornings at City Market. Bang’s picks:
1) Vegan Chili at The Juice Laundry. “This is one hearty soup! Great for lunch or dinner. I’ve even warmed up leftovers from the night before as breakfast. I love that this chili has a balanced texture and mouth feel. It may be vegan, but it’s not lacking in flavor. Vegan food still gets a bad rap, but when it’s done well like this chili, there isn’t a lot of room for criticism. It comes topped with your choice of plain or jalapeno-accented cashew sour cream. Simply delicious.”
2) Beet Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette and Chevre at Bang!. “If you like roasted beets, this dish is sure to delight. It features beets of different varieties and the resulting colors are unexpected. The beets come in a lightly ginger flavored broth topped with a little bit of crunch and goat cheese. I admire the finesse of this dish. I love when chefs find ways to elevate and highlight the simple beauty of high quality ingredients. This may not be the dish that jumps out at you amidst all of the other edibles on the Bang! menu, but it’s definitely one of my favorites.”
3) Panna Cotta Gelato at Splendora’s. “I don’t think this needs any explanation. Splendora’s kills with this one! Not too sweet, not too mild, just right. For anyone who enjoys light, rich, and creamy, the panna cotta gelato satisfies cravings for all of the above.”
4) Tom Kha Soup at Pad Thai. “When I get soup at a Thai place, I usually opt for the spicy version with lemongrass- Tom Yum. Everything at Pad Thai tastes magically of home. I’m not Thai, but the flavors of the broths here remind me of the soup dishes my grandmother used to make for us at home. You can taste all of the time, labor, and love that goes into the food here. What I dig about the Tom Kha is the surprising acidity that cuts through the rich sweetness of the coconut. I was skeptical the first time I ordered it, in part because I expected the coconut would be cloying. Much to my delight, this soup was something I’d never expected to taste in a soup. It’s the right amount of rich, sweet, salty, tangy – it pretty much hits all of the flavors you might want in a soup. It’s not spicy, but you can always add your own spice. To this day, it is comfort in a bowl on a rainy day or when I’m feeling under the weather- and who am I kidding. Sometimes I just crave it for no reason at all because it’s that kind of good.”
5) The Mayweather Salad at Roots Natural Kitchen. “This salad combines all of the things I like in a salad. Not only does it have roasted beets and goat cheese, it also comes with sweet potatoes. Honestly, I customize my bowls so I don’t usually get the onions or bulgar- but both of those things come with this filling bowl too. I think what I love is that I can add avocado, or swap out my proteins. Depending on my mood, I can ask for tomatoes or a different kind of dressing. Every time I order this bowl, it looks a little different, but that’s what I love about Roots. Salad becomes an expression of self in the moment. Who would have guessed ordering salad could be such a mindful practice?”
Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from J.R. Hadley, the restaurateur who owns Boylan Heights and the brand new nachos restaurant Cho’s. For St. Patrick’s Day today, Cho’s is turning back into the former occupant of its space on Preston Avenue: McGrady’s. They will hoist the old McGrady’s sign, and staff will wear McGrady’s gear in homage to what Hadley says is the best St. Patrick’s Day party in town. Drink specials, giveaways, live music on the new deck, bagpipes, and even face painting for the kids. Details here and here. Hadley’s picks:
1) Cavolo Nero at Lampo. “This may be the best $7 you can spend in town. I’ve been to Lampo more times than I can count, dating back to when Loren, Drew, Ian and Mitchfirst opened this gem. I’ve tried everything on the menu, and always look forward to Drew’s educated wine recommendations at the bar. But this often overlooked salad in Charlottesville’s hottest pizza joint is a great example of how talented these guys are. Pickled mustard seed, Tuscan kale, apple cider vin, and candied almonds? Yes please.”
2) The Southern at Roots Natural Kitchen. “I love Roots. Co-owner Jung Kim worked for me at Boylan Heights when he was an undergrad here at UVa and I am so proud of what he has done. In just over a year, Roots has become a staple on The Corner and rightfully so. Not only is it healthy, but its fresh, and flavorful. Most people don’t know they had the guys over at ZoCaLo help design their menu and recipes. Try The Southern if you haven’t already. The house made BBQ tofu is incredible, along with the signature brown/black rice, kale, chickpeas, roasted broccoli and pickled onions.”
3) Greens of the Day at Integral Yoga Natural Foods. “I’m a juice freak. Mainly because it makes it easy for me to get all the fruits and veggies my Mom tells me I’m supposed to eat every day. At Integral Yoga they use fresh, organic fruits and veggies and they are always so friendly and anxious to help you find the perfect juice or smoothie. Plus, it’s right across the street from Cho’s which makes it even more dangerous for me. My go-to is the Greens of the Day. It’s packed with kale, cucumber, cabbage, celery, and I usually add echinacea and Vitamin-C powder. And when you stayed out a little too late? Get the Liver Flush. It works ;)”
4) Tagliatelle w/ Ragu Alla Bolognese at Vivace. “I grew up in Ivy, and went to WAHS with fellow restaurateur Landon Saul. Since taking over Vivace, Landon has taken the menu from good to great. Landon’s parents owned a family grocery store and butcher shop when we were kids, and its no coincidence that Landon brings that same passion for local ingredients to the Vivace menu. After training in Calabria, Italy he brought that simple, authentic Italian style back to Vivace. We’re lucky to have Vivace in little ole Cville and the tagliatelle embodies that best in my opinion. The pancetta is seasoned and cured in house, and the house sausage and grana padano is perfect.”
5) Fried Chicken Sandwich w/fries at The Fitzroy. “There’s another menu item at The Fitzroy named the Perfect Sandwich. I disagree. This is the perfect sandwich. I think about it almost daily. Buttermilk battered chicken, cayenne lemon aioli and pickles. Boom. Owners Kelley Tripp & Richard Ridge are the best in the biz. Kelley helped me open up Boylan, created our menu, and his unique tutelage is a big reason for my success in this business. I’ve known Rich since high school and we were lucky to have him bartend at Boylan for years when he moved back home from NYC. The two of them together are a restaurant dream team. Only a perfectly battered fried chicken sandwich and shoe string fries can compete with them.”
In Charlottesville’s prolific restaurant scene, it is increasingly difficult for new entries to stand out. Take Charlottesville’s newest restaurant, Roots Natural Kitchen, which opened yesterday on The Corner. Natural ingredients . . . yeah-yeah-yeah . . . health-conscious food . . . blah-blah-blah . . . affordable and fast . . . yada-yada-yada . . . Andrew Silver and Ivan Rekosh . . . Wait, WHAT? Andrew Silver and Ivan Rekosh?!
As chef-owners of ZoCaLo, Silver and Rekosh have run one of the most consistent kitchens in town for more than a decade. Their devotion to excellence is so fervid that no one has managed to lure them from their singular purpose at ZoCaLo, our first ever entrant into The Charlottesville 29. So, what was different about Roots Natural Kitchen?
To answer that, it helps to understand the restaurant’s origins. Roots began last year as an idea of two friends, one then a student at UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce and the other a 2013 UVa graduate working at Capital One. The idea was to fill a niche that they thought The Corner lacked: “healthy food in a fast casual setting.” The two friends, Alvaro Anspach and Alberto Namnum, formed a business plan that attracted other founding investors, including UVa graduate Jung Kim; Joseph Linzon, a classmate of Anspach’s at McIntire who already has his own company; and Paul Gannon, an accomplished investor who discovered Roots while judging a McIntire entrepreneurial competition called The Galant Challenge.
The team crunched numbers, estimated market size, and did other stuff business people do. But, they soon realized that, while their team had a wealth of business acumen, they had no experience in actually running a restaurant or creating recipes. So, they did what any savvy businessmen would do: they called in the experts. And, in Charlottesville, there are few bigger experts than Silver and Rekosh.
Though it took some coaxing, Silver and Rekosh eventually signed on as chef consultants. “What struck me and Ivan,” said Silver, “was their passion and desire to empower people through food and their commitment to making their food as affordable as possible.” While Rekosh and Silver do not actually prepare Roots’ food, the recipes are theirs. “We strived to create healthy recipes that have high flavor impact, while being extremely easy to duplicate,” said Silver.
Customers can choose either a grain bowl or salad, which they can create from a long list of ingredients. Silver recommends the Sweet and Spicy Pecans and Lime-Pickled Onions. And, they can pick their dressings, too, where Silver is partial to the Pesto Vinaigrette and Lemon Tahini. Ingredient list:
Greens: Kale, Arcadian Spring Mix, Spinach Grains: Brown Rice, Roots Rice, Bulgur Legumes: Black Beans, Cannellini Beans Roasted Vegetables: Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli, Beets Fresh & Prepped Vegetables: Grape Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Carrots, Lime-Pickled Onions, White Corn, Red Onions Fruit & Cheese: Dried Cranberries, Mandarin Oranges, Feta, White Cheddar, Goat, Parmesan Premium: Sweet & Spicy Pecans, Toasted Almonds, Hard Boiled Egg, Avocado, Miso Tofu From the Grill: BBQ Tofu, Adobo Chicken, Mushrooms Dressings: Lemon Tahini, Basil Balsamic, Citrus Soy, Pesto Vinaigrette, Orange Mojo, Caesar, Feta Dressing, Cilantro Lime
Alternatively, customers can select one of the “Signatures.” Among the grain bowls, Silver’s personal favorite is the Mad Bowl ($8) – brown rice, spinach, mushrooms, roasted broccoli, red onions, grape tomatoes, shredded parmesan, basil balsamic dressing, and pesto vinaigrette. His favorite salad, meanwhile, is The Corner Cobb ($9) – kale and Arcadian mix, roots rice, chicken, sweet potatoes, white corn, red onions, cucumbers, white cheddar, hard-boiled egg, avocado, and feta dressing. We tried one – a very satisfying lunch.
The Corner Cobb
Roots is open daily from 11 am to 8 pm, at 1329 W. Main St., which has been home to many restaurants over the years, like Little India, Kabab & Curry, Semolina, Pacino’s Deli, and even a branch of Sylvia’s Pizza. Despite its failed predecessors, Roots seems well located to serve students, faculty, hospital workers, and others seeking a healthy meal on The Corner. Below is the full menu, a few images, and a thought-provoking look into makings of Roots, through the words of co-founder Anspach.
Click Menu to enlarge.
Co-Founder Alvaro Anspach, on the makings of Roots:
There is a key moment in the story of Roots Natural Kitchen where our approach to food, nutrition, and this concept as a whole critically changed. We as a team started reading a lot about food and it struck us how powerful food itself was. We’ve come to internalize and really believe that food is the most powerful substance on the planet. As a result, people should use it to their advantage. We started to understand that we could empower people, specifically through food, and help people exercise more control over their lives. By eating three natural meals a day, meaning foods that are nutrient dense, you have more energy, your mood is improved, you sleep better, and you feel amazing. This happens very quickly. The results are tangible and you notice the outcome. We were amazed at how focusing on our diets improved all of these things I’ve just listed. By improving mood, energy, sleep, and how you feel you have spillovers across your entire life, which allow you to be more social, happier, and more productive. This all ultimately leads to becoming more successful. We were overwhelmed with excitement and so we reengineered this concept so it would be available and accessible to everyone.
The way we went about doing that was borrowing from entrepreneurial titan Elon Musk who said, “I didn’t set out to build the best electric car. I set out to build the best car, that just so happens to be electric.” That was a huge insight for us. We realized that our lifestyle and our goals for Roots Natural Kitchen weren’t sustainable or realistic if people were justifying eating there because it was healthy. So we focused incredibly hard on making the food first and foremost 1) delicious 2) affordable 3) satisfying and oh, it happens to be healthy for you. Ivan and Andrew made number 1 possible, with their expertise and collaboration we have developed great tasting natural foods. To achieve number 2 we had to rigorously examine our cost models, continuously fine tune them, and extensively work with our suppliers at Cavalier Produce to make affordability a reality. We think for a one store concept, we’ve been very successful in making our concept affordable. We’ve always been a company driven by delivering as much value as possible to our customer and because vegetables are naturally nutrient dense and calorically low we had to focus hard on making sure our customers were getting great serving sizes of our foods. This would allow them to feel more satisfied and receive more nutrients per meal. Lastly, all of the food at Roots Natural Kitchen has satisfied our requirements for being a food that will deliver a lot of value to people’s lives.
Our ultimate goal with Roots Natural Kitchen is to create a place that extends beyond a restaurant. We don’t see Roots as a place where you eat and then forget about until you’re hungry again. If we succeed, we want to be able to deliver values to people’s lives in many ways. By connecting them to information about food (nutrients consumed) and showing them how to make eating and fitness decisions we can correct a lot of misinformation and start to show people how focusing on foodcan help them better achieve their goals.
Right now we are starting by pledging to donate to the Children’s Hospital . . . We’ve gone to speak at the GoGirls program as well, to shed some light on Roots Natural Kitchen and the nutritional foundation upon which we built the concept. We’d love to sit down with local nutritionists, sports experts, and other people who are active in the discussion about food because we think there is a really exciting collaboration out there on how to impact people through food.