The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Will Richey

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.”

Introducing Brasserie Saison

saison

Will Richey is at it again. And, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more excited about a restaurant.

Since jumping into restaurant ownership in 2005 with Revolutionary Soup, Richey’s passion has evolved to the point of being a full-fledged addiction. He even now has a parent company — Ten Course Hospitality — to oversee his many projects, which also include The Whiskey Jar, The Pie Chest, The Bebedero, and The Alley Light, a 2015 James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurant in the country.

Richey admits that the creation phase is what appeals to him most. Just as those of us with a passion for food are planning our next meal during our current one, Richey is thinking about his next restaurant before his latest is finished. The creation is the fix.

To make that work, the chronic creator knows he needs a stellar team. And, he always has one, thanks in large part to longtime business partner Josh Zanoff, a trained chef who spent years in management at Whole Foods, and has been instrumental to every Richey project. To explain their management approach, Richey likes to cite a Steve Jobs quote: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

The Concept

Richey’s reliance on collaboration begins at the earliest stage of a restaurant. As with his other projects, the idea for his latest venture — Brasserie Saison –, though his initially, was molded significantly by input from others. In this case, the “others” include an impressive pair: Hunter Smith of Champion Brewing Company and Tyler Teass, former Sous Chef of Rose’s Luxury.

Richey’s concept was simple: good beer food. A hard-core oenophile who co-founded The Wine Guild, Richey has a soft spot for beer. “I always think of wine in terms of the food it would go best with,” says Richey. Beer is the same way, he says, but as much great beer as we have in the area, there’s a shortage of classic beer food to pair with it. “So I began to imagine a beer concept that would serve European style beers and common beer foods from places like Belgium and Holland but also Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Poland, Alsace and more.” He even drafted a menu.

One problem. While Charlottesville brews lots of great beer, little of it is in the classic styles that would pair well with Richey’s menu. So, the restaurant would need to brew its own. For that, he knew just who to call. “I had always admired Hunter’s beers at Champion,” says Richey. As luck would have it, when Richey called to pitch his project, Smith, who has no restaurant at his brewery, was already considering the very same thing. “We both got very excited to brew and cook in collaboration on this old world inspiration,” says Richey. In perfect synergy, they thought, the beer would drive the food, and the food would drive the beer.

The Beer

To enhance the harmony between beer and food, brewing will be done at the restaurant, located on the downtown mall at 111 E. Main St., in the former Jean Theory location. “Brewing onsite means we can work in tandem with the kitchen – brew seasonally and with flavors in mind,” says Smith. Richey agrees. “We are brewing beer specifically to match the cuisine we are working with,” he says. “With the brewery in the restaurant, the brewer can be working the same hours as the chef, tasting the food, and smelling the smells.”

So, what types of beer?  Smith’s favorites are the namesake Brasserie Saison and Brasserie Dubbel. “They were written by our Lead Brewer Josh Skinner, and they are just as we want them,” says Smith. “Fruity and complex, but also super dry and begging for food pairing.” The Saison has lively carbonation with aromas and flavors of bubblegum, pear skin, spice, and the classic herbal funk of Belgian yeast. The Dubbel, meanwhile, boasts a huge nose of spice and dried dark fruits, flavors of plums and fig from Special B malts, and a spicy, clove finish.

View the full opening beer menu here.

The Food

In the kitchen is Tyler Teass, who worked at l’Etoile and Clifton Inn before becoming Sous Chef at Rose’s Luxury, Bon Appetit’s 2014 Best New Restaurant in the country. This marks one of the only times a sous chef of such a nationally acclaimed restaurant has come to Charlottesville to help start a restaurant. (Restaurant Daniel’s Francis Reynard coming to Fuel more than a decade ago was perhaps another.)

When Teass joined the team last year, Richey sent him the menu he had created nearly five years earlier. “A week later,” says Richey, “he sent me back a menu that blew my mind.” While it still followed Richey’s initial focus on Benelux, Teass gave it a modern American touch “that made the entire idea come to life,” says Richey.

Yet, despite all of his success as a chef, Teass never takes food too seriously. When I sent him background questions about the restaurant, his responses used the word “fun” six times, which reflects his positive temperament and unpretentious approach. Asked about his philosophy for cooking, he said: “I like really bright, seasoned food, lots of vegetables and meat that’s cooked nicely. And nicely cut chives. Is that a philosophy?”

And so, while the cuisine is inspired by Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, Teass is no stickler for culinary tradition. “Their food culture is really interesting and using that as a basis for the food we make is important,” he says, “but at the same time focusing on delicious, fun, well-executed food.”

The vegetable-focused opening menu includes dishes like fried and raw Brussels sprouts with tomatoes, shallots and parsley; roasted sunchokes with creme fraiche, horseradish and trout roe; and, crispy scallops a la meuniere, with celery root and benne.

With all the focus on pairings, I asked Richey which excite him most, and he named the Moules Frites with Brasserie Saison, which, he says, “will be an essential experience for anyone coming through the door.” Another favorite is the Brasserie Dubbel with either smoked beef bitterballen or roast beef “carbonnade.” Finally, Richey likes the Tripel with housemade duck sausage. “That is magical,” he says.

Teass is particularly fond of a dessert he has made for his wife for years: buttered popcorn pudding, with lime and creme fraiche. “It’s essentially a curd with popcorn puree, topped with a creme fraiche mousse, lime zest, candied lime segments, and popped sorghum, which look like little pieces of popcorn,” says Teass.

Joining him in the kitchen are two seasoned sous chefs. Morad Sbaitri, who recently moved from Morocco, has “skill way beyond what we could have hoped for,” says Richey. And, Nick Moon spent time at The Whiskey Jar before honing his skills at MAS Tapas. “There are few better kitchens in this town to learn and grow than the one at MAS,” says Richey.

shrimp

Citrus-poached shrimp with lemongrass sauce

The Bar

“Beer is a main focus,” acknowledges Leah Peeks, a veteran of The Whiskey Jar and The Alley Light who now is the Beverage Program Director for Ten Course Hospitality. But, there is lots of other goof stuff, too. “Leah’s artistic talent fuels her inspiration behind the bar,” says Richey, “and keeps it interesting and dynamic.”

The restaurant’s focus on Benelux means that gin abounds, including Peeks’ all-time favorite liquid: a 50/50 martini of Plymouth gin and Dolin Blanc vermouth with orange oil and orange bitters. “I can’t wait to drink one with oysters. And mussels. And beer. All of the things, really,” says Peeks. The rest of the cocktail menu is “classic, clean, crisp, and bright,”she says. As with the beer, “I let the food be my guide on cocktail choices.”

THE KITCHEN COCKTAIL – market price – rotating chef’s choice of seasonal flavors

THE BRASSERIE SAISON COCKTAIL  – 9 – Bombay, lemon, pink peppercorn, Saison – up // balanced // refreshing

THE 50/50 – 10 – Plymouth, Dolin Blanc, orange oil, orange bitters – up // smooth // clean

THE MARTINEZ – 11 – Tanqueray Old Tom, Carpano Antica, Luxardo, mulberry bitters – up // smooth // fruited

THE VESPER ROYALE – 11 – Aviation, Ketel One, Cocchi Americano, Dolin Blanc, Carpano Antica – up // balanced // refined

THE ROUGETTE – 11  – Navy Strength Gin, Lillet Rouge, grapefruit, hopped grapefruit bitters  – rocks // citrus // bright

THE 23 SKIDOO – 12 – Bulleit Rye, Aperol, amaro, lemon, charred lemon bitters – up // balanced // bright

THE ALPINE – 14 – Tanqueray, Chartreuse, honey, ginger, lemon, champagne – long // citrus // complex

THE BIG KID COCKTAIL – 9 – Flor De Cana, Licor 43, Lone Light Chocolate, milk, soda – long // chocolate // foamy

THE LITTLE HEAD BUTT – 10 – Champion Shower Beer Pilsner and Gin – Beer and a shot

The wine list, she says, is “smart and concise” with several offerings by the glass joining bottle options “that will make wine nerds delight.” They are even pouring a glass of Champagne for what Peeks says is half of what it should cost “because Wilson just loves it and wants to serve it.”  In charge of the wine is Will Curley, former manager of Chicago’s Balena, who recently moved to town and quickly became Wine Steward for Richey’s restaurant group. “His palate is so correct,” says Peeks.

The Details

Brasserie Saison opens Thursday, February 1, and will seat 45 inside and 30 outside. Open seven days a week, it will serve lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, and dinner from 5-10 pm. A midday menu will be offered in between.

Introducing The Bebedero

Bebedero

Will Richey is at it again.  The owner of The Alley Light, Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar, and The Pie Chest is set to open yet another restaurant.  This time it’s a family-friendly Mexican restaurant in the former location of Glass Haus Kitchen, called The Bebedero.

Richey sounds almost giddy when describing what he calls the “magic team” behind the project’s food and drinks. In the kitchen will be Cesar Perez, longtime sous chef of The Whiskey Jar, and his girlfriend Yuliana Perez Vasquez, most recently of Keswick Hall. They will be assisted by Yuliana’s mother Francisca Vasquez, whose family recipes from their native Veracruz form part of the menu, which will also draw on Perez’s home state of Puebla, known for its moles and chiles rellenos.

“We hope to bring a Mexican cuisine to Charlottesville that has not yet been experienced here,” says Richey. Indeed, it has long been a dream of Cesar and Vasquez to open a restaurant that they say is difficult to find – one that, as Vasquez puts it, “actually has the flavors that remind us of home.” By this, she means their grandmothers’ and mothers’ cooking, whether in Puebla or Veracruz.

As an example, Vasquez cites Chuletas de Puerco en pipian verde – pork chops in a sauce of spicy green chili peppers and pumpkin seeds, ground together with spices and seared green tomatillos.  Another is Del Mar Stew – a stew of mussels, white fish, scallops, and shrimp in a tomato base with a touch of fresh epazote, an aromatic Mexican herb.

There will also be more familiar fare like guacamole made-to-order (mild, medium, or hot), tamales, and fresh ceviche, with shrimp, baby scallops, white fish, and pico de gallo.  Vera Cruz is on the coast and known for its seafood, which will be a focus at The Bebedero, like whole grilled snapper with fresh ground Mexican spices. Richey’s aim, he says, is for a lighter take on Mexican food, so people can come several times a week.

Behind the bar will be another Whiskey Jar veteran, River Hawkins, who is half-Mexican and brings eighteen years of barkeep experience. Hawkins plans a cocktail lounge focused on mezcal and tequila, which he views as under-appreciated.  “I’ll be offering tasting classes to inform the public of the rich history, fascinating processes and unique beauty in a liquor most associate with questionable decisions made late night at some poorly lit dance club,” says Hawkins.

Hawkins recently returned from a year in Yelapa, Mexico, managing the bar of Verana, a boutique resort. While there, he toured mezcalarias, tequila distilleries, and agave fields, and says he can’t wait to share with Charlottesville what he learned, as well as unusual ingredients discovered in his travels.  One is Sal de Gusano (Salt of the Worm), which Hawkins uses to rim the glass for his “Pico De Gallo” cocktail – Mezcal with muddled pineapple, serrano peppers, cilantro, and lime juice.  Hawkins will also offer flights of tequila with traditional accompaniments like salted orange wedges and Sangrita – a mixture of tomato juice, orange juice, and real pomegranate grenadine, which cleanses the palate between sips of tequila.

Helping to oversee it all will be Josh Zanoff, Richey’s “life long friend and culinary mentor,” who also helps with Richey’s other venues, in particular The Whiskey Jar.

The Bebedero should open mid-March.

paint