The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Tommy Lasley

“Best Thing I Ate All Year” 2016

Looking back at 2016, what stands out as the best thing you ate all year?  Top area chefs provide their answer. (Here are last year’s picks.) A tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty:

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Agedashi Tofu at Now & Zen. “The silken tofu is made crispy by dusting it in potato starch and frying it. Then, it’s set in a spa of tentsuyu broth made smoky from the katsuobushi and a little sweet from mirin. Perfect balance of big flavors.”

tofu

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)

Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. “When restaurants around the world jumped to support the town of Amatrice in Italy after it was devastated by an earthquake, we were fortunate enough to experience a version of Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. Their version was almost exactly the same as what we experienced in Italy. It was also so delicious that we went back the next night to have it again.”

p38spag

Brian Jones (The Alley Light)

Brebirousse from Flora Artisanal Cheese in Timbercreek Market with Seeded Roll from Albemarle Baking Company.  “The seeded roll is a beautiful roll, made from baguette dough,  crusted in fennel seeds, poppy seeds and white sesame seeds. What a yummy combination of flavors. Brebirousse is a soft, smooth, creamy, buttery sheep’s milk cheese from the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Not to take anything away from these two ingredients, but food memories often have more to do with the eater’s condition at the time of the meal than the actual meal itself.  Food always tastes better when you are hungry!  I have eaten at some amazing restaurants in my life but I the best meal I ever had in my life was on a backpacking trip when our rations were low and our calorie output far exceeded our calorie intake. We savored every last morsel, scraped our cooking vessel clean, so clean that there was nothing left to wash. Possibly food is at its best  when the aromas or tastes remind you of a forgotten memory lost somewhere in the back of your mind. Think Ratatouille the movie when the food critic Anton Ego bites into Chef Remy’s ratatouille.”

cheese seeded

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Duck Liver Terrine at The Ivy Inn.  “This pâté en terrine is a slice of art. The perfect suspension of fat in meat wrapped in what appeared to be paper-thin cured duck breast slices and served with traditional pommery mustard and pickled vegetables. Angelo’s food is truly inspiring. The work of his kitchen is a delight to the taste buds. Well done.”

ivyduck

Tommy Lasley (Fry’s Spring Station, Ivy Provisions)

Live Scallop with Uni Broth at Mican (now closed). “The best thing I ate this past year was way too much amazing sashimi at Mican Japanese Restaurant, which unfortunately is no longer open! Everything I had was the best example I have tried in years, Charlottesville or otherwise. If I had to pick one bite it was the live scallop with uni broth.” [Note: Mican’s owners are now serving sushi at Lemongrass.]

Thomas Leroy (Kardinal Hall)

Pork Belly at BBQ Exchange. “I went there and ordered  the meat combo plate of course. The ribs were outstanding, but that pork belly with a fried crispy finish to balance the smoking flavor was amazing. I topped it with their bacon bbq sauce of course. Next time I go, that’s all I’m ordering.”

pickles-belly-and-ribs

Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie)

Salt Honey Pie from Greenwood Gourmet by Polina Chesnakova. “Nuff said.”

Loren Mendosa (Lampo)

Olive Oil Gelato from Splendora’s. “I don’t know if PK’s running it regularly, but it was truly fantastic. She used our Mosto olive oil from Liguria and we topped it with sea salt and a drizzle of the Galardo olive oil that Hodges and Jill Myers are importing. It was the perfect combination!”

gelato

Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Roasted Chicken and Street Corn Off the Cob at The Fitzroy. “Holy moly! Food tends to be an ‘in the moment’ experience for me, and that chicken and corn just hit the spot at the right time, and it was so comfy and cozy in there.”

chicken corn

Ian Redshaw (Lampo)

Sunchokes from Wayside Produce. “Any vegetable from Wayside Produce, especially the sunchokes. These are the best vegetables I have been able to find thus far in my career.”

chokes

Ivan Rekosh (ZoCaLo)

Flank and Brisket Pho at Thai Cuisine & Noodle House. “This time of year I’m loving the pho from Thai Cuisine. I usually opt for the flank and brisket but sometimes add the tendon. The broth is amazing. I love to stick my whole face in the bowl and breathe in the steam while I’m slurping the noodles. Really warms you up from the inside out on these cold days. Also a great family runs it.” 

pho

Wilson Richey (co-owner, The Alley Light, The Bebedero, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar)

Chicken Liver Mousse Tart at Timbercreek Market. “Just redefined what can be done with chicken liver, so smooth and elegant. I would eat the whole tart if it were not frowned upon to do things like that.”

mousse

John Shanesy (Petit Pois)

Black Bean and Corn Relleno at ZoCaLo. “It hits on every texture, and all the flavors are very well pronounced but at the same time all working in unison to be a joy to eat. They’ve been great new neighbors to get to meet and have greeted me so warmly as well.”

stuffed

Andrew Silver (ZoCaLo)

Polpettine Panuozzo at Lampo. “Meatball parm sub was my go-to late night, altered state, munchie meal.  Lampo’s is the refined, grown up version.  Plus the fact that the bread is baked ‘a la minute’ seals the deal.”

meatball

Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)

Petit Kouign-aman from MarieBette. “I found this gem at the city market. Will Darsie filled my request for a mixed bag of goodies while I picked up my veggies from Susan and Wally Parks at Broadhead Mountain Farm. It’s an over the top decadent croissant dough masterpiece with apples and a metric ton of butter and sugar. My market visit is no longer complete without one of them.”

petit

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

170 Dry Aged NY Strip at Lampo. “Ridiculously delicious. Cast iron crispy and served with a head of roasted garlic. Not even fair.”

strip

Tucker Yoder (Timbercreek Market)

I Don’t Even Own a Gun by Twenty Paces.  “I Don’t Even Own a Gun and Noah’s Arcade are some of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Could easily rival European cheeses. Great funky cheeses. All their cheeses have been a revelation this year but the soft gooey ones are a Yoder family favorite.”

paces

 

Re-Introducing Fry’s Spring Station

Fry's

Food lovers take note. Fry’s Spring Station has undergone a complete overhaul, including the injection of some serious culinary talent. First opened in 2010, the new incarnation opened Monday, and looks to be vastly improved.

Sure, there are interior renovations, like polished hardwood floors, fresh paint, and re-claimed wood community tables. The new setting is as handsome as it is welcoming. There is even an al fresco bar that sits half-outside and half-inside, offering an expansive view of the entire restaurant, which for seventy years housed an actual service station.

Bar

But, the real news is the kitchen talent in the ownership team. Founder of The Rock Barn, Ben Thompson is known in the industry as one of the area’s best chefs. A former cook at the much-missed Oxo, he went on to finish top of his class at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, with an award for “Excellence through Leadership.” That earned him coveted spots in two of the nation’s most acclaimed kitchens, Per Se and The French Laundry. When he returned to Virginia in 2009 to open The Rock Barn, it was a true gift to the Charlottesville food scene. As Fleurie’s Brian Helleberg once said: “To have Ben Thompson working his craft in Nelson County is a local foodie’s dream realized.”

Joining Thompson in overseeing the food is Tommy Lasley, once named one of Charlottesville’s rising stars. A culinary school classmate of Thompson, Lasley has cooked locally at Orzo, and also in the northeast at Sweetgrass Grill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of the nation’s groundbreaking farm-to-table restaurants. Thompson and Lasley first joined forces at Ivy Provisions, where owner PK Kamath brought them on board to revamp the place, with great results. They are now doing the same for Fry’s Spring Station, where Kamath is also a co-owner. The opportunity arose last year when former co-owner Robert Sawrey (Downtown Grille) decided it was time to retire and sell his ownership interest. As one of Sawrey’s partners, Kamath sought to replicate the success Thompson and Lasley have had at Ivy Provisions. And, as a former Fry’s Spring resident, Thompson saw it as a great chance to jump back into restaurants.

Trio

L to R: Ben Thompson, Tommy Lasley, and PK Kamath. Photo by Sanjay Suchak.

The concept behind the reboot is to bring the lessons of fine dining to a community restaurant. Thompson observes that many aspiring young chefs follow a standard path up the culinary ladder: moving from one restaurant to a better one, again and again, where “better” often means fancier. But, what happens once you’ve reached the fanciest restaurants of all, and find yourself serving food accessible only to certain palates and budgets? For Thompson, the answer was to return to what he views as a chef’s basic role: feeding people. “Our job here is to feed the community,” says Thompson.

And so, Thompson and Lasley aim to take the fundamentals of a well-trained chef at a sophisticated restaurant and apply them to food that is accessible, affordable, and nutritious. Fry’s Spring Station is “not about a chef blowing guests away with his skills,” says Thompson. Rather, it’s about being stewards of the Fry’s Spring community, offering “food that we would feel good about serving our families several times a week,” says Thompson.

But, it’s not just in the kitchen where Thompson are Lasley are applying wisdom from fine dining. It’s management, too. For that, Thompson looks to the example of a good friend, The Ivy Inn’s Angelo Vangelopoulos. At The Ivy Inn, says Thompson, Vangelopoulos is the paradigm of good restaurant leadership. He hires good people and treats them well. Over time, says Thompson, that breeds a culture of community and success. Thompson seeks to emulate the approach at Fry’s Spring Station.

The New Fry’s Spring Station

What’s the result of all of this? Well, you know those ubiquitous shopping mall Italian chain restaurants? Imagine one that doesn’t suck. If my initial visits are any indication, Fry’s Spring Station achieves the cheerful, casual, family-friendly ethos of the best of those restaurants, but upgrades the experience across the board.

The menu, after all, is not groundbreaking. It’s appetizers, pizzas, pastas, salads, sandwiches, and sides. But, the difference is the attention to detail, in cooking, sourcing, and service. Salad dressings are made in-house. Produce comes from The Local Food Hub, meats from The Rock Barn, and sandwich bread from Albemarle Baking Company. And, the kombucha is, of course, Barefoot.

The pizza has received an overhaul, too, with a new dough and a refined process, which recalled the earliest days of Thompson’s career. Before culinary school, Thompson started out making pizzas at several joints in Colorado, where he grew up. “That’s how I learned to cook,” said Thompson. And, Lasley was once Chef de Cuisine of a popular Connecticut restaurant known for its pizzas.

Pizza

Photo by Sanjay Suchak.

Drawing on his experience with pizza ovens, Thompson is excited about not just the pizzas, but also one slightly unusual menu item: manciatta, like a salad atop flatbread. They roll out pizza dough, top it with olive oil and herbs, and fire it in the pizza oven.  Then, they top it again with a little more olive oil, and your choice of three different salads. Thompson’s favorite is the steak version, where shaved lettuces are tossed in vinaigrette, with grilled steak, red onions, asiago cheese, and chilis. The dressing and salad flavors seep into the bread, which Thompson recommends tearing off one piece at a time to enjoy with the other ingredients. I tried one, and it was a delicious. A refreshing and satisfying weeknight meal.

Manciatta

Consistent with the community feel, much of the food is intended for sharing. Sides like red beet agrodolce, sautéed seasonal greens, or, Thompson’s favorite, shaved Brussels sprouts with Pancetta, come in regular and family sizes. Salads likewise are available small and large, and include crowd-pleasers like Caesar, a Wedge, and Butter Lettuce with strawberries and goat cheese. And pastas, too, offer size options, including penne with tomato and basil which my children declared among the best in town.

There is even a a wide selection of large format bottles of beer, also intended for sharing, which Thompson says were chosen to pair well with the food.  Other libations also appear well-curated, included a nice slate of local beers on tap, and approachable wines like a Vina Galana Verdejo for which the menu predicts: “Try a glass, you’ll soon order a porron for the table!”

Pizza, pasta, paninis, and porrons. We can work with that.

Tommy Lasley’s IVP Banh Mi at Ivy Provisions

IVP

During his first stint in Charlottesville in 2012-13, Tommy Lasley made quite an impression.  As chef of Orzo, he quickly drew a following and was even named a Rising Star by James Beard semifinalist Angelo Vangelopoulos.  Lasley moved away in 2013, but has now returned and spent the last several months helping Ivy Provisions up its game.

And, again, buzz has quickly followed.  Case in point: one food-lover who used to be a chef in the area recently told us that Lasley was doing great things at Ivy Provisions and that the IVP Banh Mi is now the best sandwich in town.  So, we had to see for ourself.   Although the IVP version of the banh mi may bear little resemblance to the authentic 2-dollar Vietnamese sandwiches we’ve enjoyed in Asian neighborhoods of large cities, it does have at least one thing in common with them: it’s delicious.  Stuffed inside a warm baguette is a trio of meats: roasted pork, ham, and a rich, livery pate.  Then comes shredded cabbage, pickled carrots, mayo, chile oil, and a few sprigs of cilantro.  Delicious indeed.