The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Will Richey

Introducing The Milkman’s Bar: Ten Course Hospitality Cocktail Bar Coming to The Dairy Market

The Dairy Market continues to announce additions to its market hall opening this fall in the historic Monticello Dairy Building. The latest is The Milkman’s Bar, a cocktail bar from Will Richey and Ten Course Hospitality that pays homage to Americana drugstore soda fountains. The physical centerpiece of the market hall, The Milkman’s Bar will be flanked by the hall’s food artisans, allowing guests to sidle up to the bar with food from market vendors, or just drop by for drinks and people-watching.

Running the bar are two veterans of Ten Course Hospitality projects. River Hawkins has led the bar of The Bebedero since it opened. And, Mike Stewart launched the bar at Kama. At The Milkman’s Bar, the duo plan recreations of lost American classic cocktails, using modern techniques and presentations. Also featured will be adult non-alcoholic drinks, a cocktail program addition growing in demand.

For both Stewart and Hawkins, the foundation of the bar experience is engagement with guests. As the center of a community-gathering place, The Milkman’s Bar will allow them to take that engagement to a new level. “Something that is really important to me is fostering a sense of community and doing my part to be inclusive,” said Stewart. The new bar will also allow the duo to get “really creative,” said Hawkins, without taking themselves too seriously. Riffing on the soda fountain theme, for example, The Big Tickle is Hawkins’ grown-up version of an egg cream, using a base of bourbon and amaro.

The Milkman’s Bar will open upon The Dairy Market’s opening this fall.

Introducing Kama

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“I’ve never been more excited about opening a restaurant.”

That’s a big claim from someone with a resume like Will Richey, who has launched some of Charlottesville’s most beloved eateries. But to be fair, he says this every time.

This is not to accuse Richey of insincerity. Richey genuinely loves creating new restaurants, and is never more excited than about the next one. Plus, Richey’s projects are worthy of excitement. From conception to execution, no one has delivered as many stellar, novel food concepts to Charlottesville.

His latest is his most unusual yet: an “improvised Japanese” restaurant in a movie theater. Kama celebrates its grand opening this weekend at Violet Crown. Unusual as it may be, Kama has the bones of a place that could rival Richey’s past hits like Brasserie Saison and The Alley Light, a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the country.

The Origin

Props belong to Bill Banowsky, the Austin-based owner of theater mini-chain Violet Crown, with locations in Austin, Santa Fe, and Charlottesville. Eschewing the cookie-cutter food offerings of many theaters, Banowsky wanted to do something different at Violet Crown. And, he had the good sense to contact Richey, whom he offered full creative license to overhaul the theater’s restaurant.

As luck would have it, Richey had recently been in discussions about working with chef Peter Robertson of Côte-Rôtie – three-time winner of Charlottesville’s Best Food Truck. “I liked Peter immediately,” Richey said. “Within minutes of meeting him, you know that he is a no nonsense, straight shooting guy who knows his craft.” But, after trial runs at two of Richey’s restaurants, Robertson told Richey that his heart was really set on a dream of opening a Japanese restaurant, rather than any of Richey’s existing places.

This conversation sprung to mind months later as Richey toured the Violet Crown space with Banowsky. “As we stood in the dining room, I couldn’t help but notice the clean and simple lines, and a large fabric print with a duck pattern on it on the back wall,” Richey said. “This made me think of an Asian influenced restaurant, which made me think of my conversation with Peter.” Richey contacted Roberston, who leaped at the opportunity – and they were off and running.

The Space   

Richey’s role was to design, build, and staff the restaurant, and Richey beams about the team who helped execute his vision. “The chefs and restaurant people often get all the glory,” Richey said, “but the very talented artisans in our area who build these restaurants deserve every bit as much credit.” 

For design, Richey called on architect Stephanie Williams, who helped design Prime 109. “Our goal was to design a cohesive aesthetic that was respectful to the existing theater architecture,” said Williams. “We employed mainly darker neutral colors with shou sugi ban (Japanese burnt wood) accents and added pops of bold color.” KB contractors did the build-out, and Lost Mountain Woodcraft handled wood finishes, bar and table tops. 

The result? “The restaurant came out far better then I had imagined it could,” Richey said. “It is beautiful – an elegant place to repose in.”

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Photo by Kristen Finn

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Photo by Kristen Finn

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Photo by Kristen Finn

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Photo by Kristen Finn

The Chef

Côte-Rôtie fans will be thrilled that Richey has given a brick-and-mortar home to Robertson. Even from a tiny food truck kitchen, the Culinary Institute of America graduate and former owner of an acclaimed Hamptons restaurant was already one of the most creative chefs in Charlottesville. Now that he has a full kitchen, all kinds of new equipment, and a expanded budget for exotic ingredients, look out.

“Bigger kitchen, new toys, and top tier ingredients, like Japanese uni, are what make this job fun,” says Robertson.

Aside from brief stints helping to launch two Charlottesville restaurants, Robertson has  worked for no one but himself and his wife since 2006. So, while reporting to a boss may be an adjustment, Robertson actually cites the chance to work with Richey as one of the reasons he took the job. “His ability to problem solve creatively is something I really admire and enjoy being a part of,” said Robertson. “Building restaurants is extremely stressful but also incredibly gratifying, so the opportunity to learn from Wilson [Richey] was a big part of me taking this job.”

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The Food

Improvised Japanese is how Robertson describes the menu of primarily small plates, with a few larger options as well. Why “improvised”? Well, as much as Robertson has eaten, cooked, and studied Japanese cuisine, he has never actually been to Japan or trained under a Japanese chef. “We are basically trying to cook the food we love with as much respect and honor to the cuisine that has inspired us,” says Robertson, who regularly included riffs on Japanese food in his truck’s ever-changing menu.

And yet, despite the bigger kitchen and new toys to play with, Robertson says that the beauty of Japanese cuisine is keeping it simple: “taking great ingredients and manipulating them as little as possible.” King Salmon Teriyaki, for example, is simply grilled over wood and served with steamed rice and bok choy. 

That said, there are manipulations, too. Ever heard of tsukudani? Here’s how it works. Start with kombu, a type of seaweed most commonly used to make dashi, the stock for many Japanese soups and noodle dishes. For tsukudani, Robertson takes leftover kombu from making dashi, slices it thinly, and slowly simmers it again in shoyu, mirin, and red rice wine vinegar. The result he uses as an umami-rich garnish for a trio of sashimi.

When pressed for personal menu favorites, Robertson balked. “The menu changes almost every day so typically the new dishes are what I’m excited about,” said Robertson. “We get fish and different produce almost every day, and it’s those products that excite me.” During the soft opening period, Robertson says, guests really seemed to enjoy Kama’s handmade udon, noodles made from a dough with organic flour, which is kneaded for a long time to give it its chewy texture.  The noodles are served in broths of locally sourced beef and pork, and topped with a local egg. 

Sous chef David Morgan, who was Executive Chef of Tavern & Grocery before cooking at Prime 109, sounds like a kid in a candy store in his new environment.”I’m just excited to be learning a new cuisine and techniques,” said Morgan. “And I love that we are working with the best ingredients available,” like Bluefin otoro from Spain, kanpachi from Hawaii, uni from Japan, and wild king salmon from Washington.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

The Bar

Manning the bar is Mike Stewart, a Nick Crutchfield protege who got is break at age 25 when, as an electrician looking for a career change, responded to a Craiglist ad for a new Charlottesville restaurant called Commonwealth. Looking back, he can hardly believe his luck in stumbling upon a mentor like Crutchfield. “25 is a late start to make a career shift from tradesman to barman and really could have only been facilitated by a talented-beyond-belief mentor and friend like Nick,” said Stewart. “I soaked up every bit of knowledge I could from him, and got hooked on the quest for knowledge, history, tradition and all of the wonderful things that make being behind the bar a great privilege.”

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Photo by Alicia Walsh-Noel.

At Kama, Stewart says, his focus is hospitality. “Passion without pretentiousness is contagious,” said Stewart, whose main aim is that everyone feel welcome, not intimidated. A novice in Japanese food and culture, Stewart has enjoyed being a student again, learning a new cuisine, and how to build a bar program around it. “I’ve taken everything I have learned and adapted it,” said Stewart. “Like notes in music, the tradition of crafting a cocktail is the same. With those notes you can play blues, jazz, country or whatever. That’s how I’ve approached this new palate of flavors.”

Take the “Tokyo” – a blend of a Boulevardier and Manhattan, with Japanese inspiration – combining the “familiar with the unfamiliar.” Stewart blends Suntory Toki Whisky, Aperol, Cocchi Rosa, grapefruit bitters, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram. His favorite way to serve it is two versions side-by-side – one made fresh and the other aged for 28 days in a charred oak barrel, where, he says, flavors become a well-rounded sum of their parts.

On the left, a barrel-aged Tokyo. On the right, an un-aged Tokyo:

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Kama’s Grand Opening is this Saturday, August 31. The restaurant is located at 200 West Main St, in Violet Crown. Hours are 5 – 10 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations here.

Five Finds on Friday: Wilson Richey (2)

Richey2No good idea goes unpunished – as when the person who suggests a good plan is required to execute it. “Great idea! Now, do it.” A while back, Wilson Richey proposed that prior participants of Five Finds on Friday be permitted to do it again. The six year span of Five Finds on Friday has included hundreds of picks from area chefs and personalities, but never a repeat appearance. With such a long history, Richey contended, some picks may now be stale, while early participants have likely made new discoveries worth celebrating.

And so, today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Wilson Richey, the serial restaurateur who launched Ten Course Hospitality, founded The Alley Light, and currently owns or co-owns Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar, The Bebedero, The Pie Chest, and Brasserie Saison. Five years and several restaurants after his first picks, Richey’s second round of picks:

1) Meatloaf and Good Beaujolais at Bizou (b. 1996). “I wanted to say ‘Tim and Vincent at Bizou’ but I’m not sure everybody gets to see them when they go. I often do, and a friendly smile from Tim or a story from Vincent will make me feel better about my life and my day. There is perfection in simplicity and that perfection is delivered every service at Bizou. I could eat at Bizou every day. The dishes are balanced, never too heavy, always flavorful and with apparent attention to detail. Every time I eat there I remark at how crisp and well dressed every leaf of lettuce is. A quick conversation with Vincent will yield a tremendous wine selection and, more often than not, some really good advice about managing your restaurant. Like John and Lynelle from Mudhouse, Vincent has helped me grow and think about my business far more then I will ever be able to thank him for. There is always a great Bistro wine selection at Bizou that you will not find anywhere else in town. Often these are from my favorite fringe wine regions in France like Jura, Savoie or the often overlooked but not fringe region of Beaujolais. A good Cru Beaujolais and the classic Bizou Meatloaf is just good, unpretentious enjoyment, a perfect lunch for this time of year in the Fall when the patios on the mall are the best place to be in town.”

2) An Elegant Glass of Wine and Some Perspective at Tastings (b. 1990). “When I moved to town in 1997, I tried to get a job at Tastings because for me it was obviously the best business idea in town. I did not get the job but I bought a case of wine hand selected by Bill Curtis every other week for the next year to learn about wine. At the time I thought Bill was a grumpy, contrary, rough old dude. Twenty years later I still think that and I love it. Bill Curtis is one of the straightest shooters in the business. He and his business are among the most authentically Charlottesville things about Charlottesville. I always go to Tastings, and I send everyone I know to Tastings, to find a good bottle of wine with a little age or character to it. I try to stop and have a great glass of wine when I can (he is one of the few people to open exceptional bottles to pour by the glass), and listen to Bill’s perspective which can be more refreshing than the wine itself. I don’t get to do this often, but it is a personal goal for me to get over there more.”

3) Lobster Bisque and The Full Experience at Fleurie (b. 2001). “Back in those days, around the time when I was buying a case of wine at Tastings from Bill up the street, I would also take myself to dinner alone at the newly opened Fleurie, every other week or so, to learn something about food. I was waiting tables at the time and was single and in my early 20’s. I had money to burn and I burnt it on learning from the right places. I have always loved Fleurie for its classic French cuisine, but ever since Erin Scala took over the dining room and wine program she has added another layer of appreciation for this always excellent experience. And now, with Jose De Brito’s return, and an already complete experience is heightened, though seemingly impossible, to a level beyond. Think about it: Brian Helleberg’s Fleurie is a tremendous classic French restaurant, Erin Scala has brought the hospitality and wine program to an unprecedented level in this town and possibly in the state of Virginia, and now Jose de Brito is back in the kitchen . . . I mean Good Lord in Heaven . . . I really can’t put into words how good this is. Anyway, if I had to pick one dish from Fleurie it would still be the lobster bisque because it is exceptional and complex and excellent with a good White Burgundy. But really Fleurie is about the total experience and everything they do is of note.”

4) A Light Dinner Alone at TEN Sushi (b. 2007). “Going to Ten makes me feel calm and collected. I often go when I am trying to collect my thoughts or I want to feel particularly together as a person. This is also my favorite restaurant in town to go to alone. The cocktails are elegant and well made, there is always a good and reasonably priced Champagne on the wine list, and the fish is always of the finest quality. One bite of the rice and you know someone took the time to make sure it was excellent. I have many favorites here but I most often will order the Wasabi Roll and the Wasabi Wagyu Skewer together with a house recommendation of Sake. People think of Ten as expensive but it does not have to be. Like any great restaurant, you can make it a pricey splurge or you can order a few items that still fill your hunger (like the amazing tempuras). Even when you order light, like I usually do, you still feel uplifted and refined by the experience.”

5) Coupe Maison late night at C&O (b. 1976). “I used to go to C&O’s basement bar late night all the time. It is classy, warm, and comfortable. C&O for late night is another standard bearer for living in Charlottesville. This is where my wife and I would go when we were dating, for late night ice cream and champagne. Often I would order some sort of Campari based drink and sit long into the evening. This is where I first heard The Olivarez Trio and was blown away by Rick, Dave and Jeff’s rendition of some of my favorite music. I love the C&O for many reasons. The sweetbreads with greens peppercorns is another favorite dish, but the Coupe Maison, late night, at the bar, with Champagne, with a beautiful woman (like my wife) and a few late night Campari based cocktails hopefully with the Olivarez Trio playing in the back ground, is a perfect Charlottesville moment to be enjoyed. We still get out for this ritual every chance we get.”