The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Wilson Richey

“Best Thing I Ate All Year” 2017

No matter what else may be going on in the world, every year is a good food year. Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by looking back at our latest trip around the sun and asking top area chefs: what was the best thing you ate all year? Here are the picks from 2016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in chefs’ annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, check back here next week for The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2017 Dish of the Year.

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Crispy Lamb Shank at Oakhart Social. “The lamb shank at Oakhart Social was the best thing I ate all year. Crispy crust that gave way to super succulent meat. I’m pretty sure it was served with hummus and harissa. Super simple and super soulful. That’s what I love about Tristan and Ben’s spot.”

Shank

Tim Burgess (The Space, Bang!, and Bizou)

Biscuits at Floozie’s Pie Shop. “I had the garden omelette, grits and biscuit at Floozie’s Pie shop in Louisa last February.  The omelette was really good, fluffy farm egg goodness, but not the star here. The biscuit took me back to my childhood, the best I’ve ever had and I’ve made a lot of biscuits in my day.  Then the grits, stone ground, salty, cheesy, buttery boom. I was floored by the meal, but shouldn’t have been, Jade and Debbie can flat out cook. Their pies are the real deal too.”

floozie

Jose de Brito (Fleurie)

Cotoletta di Maiale Alla Milanese at Tavola. “My dining etiquette is that when I return dining in a same establishment I rarely reorder the same dish except in extraordinary circumstances, and that would be when I was presented with a good dish. Tavola’s pork a la Milanese is the one dish that breaks my code of conduct. It never miss, I tried to break from my bad habit; once or probably twice I did order another dish. Although the restaurant is tasty across the line, when the pork is executed flawlessly it is close to saintliness. The other day, a guest of Fleurie asked me after service what was my favorite dish in Charlottesville. Before answering her I asked her the same question and we both answered simultaneously, the pork milanese at Tavola! You see when the breading on the cutlet is perfectly breaded, the sear is of the right color, neither too light or too dark, the capers have been slightly sautéed to take out the rawness, the tomatoes roasted a la perfection and the baby arugula wilted with kindness, the sum of all those delicate little details added to a butter emulsion laced with a drop of Meyer lemon, when that emulsion has the right body, the perfect amount amount of butter to cling to the breading, it is definitely, without any doubt my choice for best dish in C-ville. (Although, after reflection, the porchetta sandwich at Lampo is a close one and another dish that has made me break my rules, I usually never eat sandwiches , but I guess I am off subject, sorry!) And now to finish my little pamphlet. Let ourself ponder about what the French Chef Joel Robuchon once said: ‘What makes a good cook from a great cook, it is all about the details.’ The Milanese at Tavola has all the right details. Arrivederci, good people.”

Laura Fonner (Duner’s)

Smoked Jerk Jackfruit by Prime 109. “I had the pleasure of judging food for a cook-off at Highland Orchard Farms and Lampo participated by debuting some of the items that will be on their new menu at their downtown steak house Prime 109. Their lamb and duck kielbasa and dry aged Szechuan peppercorn pastrami were out of this world. Amazing flavors. Amazing textures. But the standout dish that blew me away was actually their young smoked jerk jackfruit. I taste a lot of things all year long but this is the first thing this year that actually surprised me, which is what I look for in new dishes. The flavor is perfect, sweet and spicy. The texture was similar to meat and I am sure it will actually fool people into thinking they are eating some sort of jerk meat. Hats off to those gentlemen. I look forward to seeing what else will come from that restaurant!”

Jackfruit

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)

Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms at Ivy Inn. “Angelo Vangelopoulos created a tasting menu for our 31st anniversary. It was world class. Our first meal with Angelo was in 1993, and watching his growth as a chef has been a real joy. He really has grown in a great direction! The whole meal was stellar but the crab stuffed squash blossoms with sweet corn sauce was unforgettable, and his father’s tomato-braised pole beans were life changing! Then, not to forget the pig brain amuse bouche, which was genius.”

squash

Michael Keaveny (Tavola)

Short Rib at The Coat Room at Brasserie Saison.  “I had a short rib with carrot ‘BBQ’ sauce in The Coat Room at Brasserie Saisson that was pretty memorable. It was crispy on the outside and tender inside. Great contrast in texture, and the sauce was surprisingly delicious. Great dish! I will miss Tyler’s food, though all indications are the new chefs are killing it!”

shortrib

Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s)

Chocolate Croissant from Little Hat Creek Farm. “Spectacular if not amazeballs! I’m good for one or two every time I visit the Nelson county farmers’ market.”

choc-croissant-1911

Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Braised Beef and Macaroni at The Alley Light. “I have to say, it’s sooooo difficult to pick a ‘best.’ I think a ‘best’ is so often situation specific. Was it who I was with on a perfect evening after a very, very long work week? Then it would be the comfort of the Braised Beef with Mac at The Alley Light.”

Tomas Rahal (MAS)

Soft-poached Duck Egg with Perigord Truffles, asparagus, moliterno di tartuffo at MAS tied with Mike Ketola’s Salt-citrus Cured Albacore Loin with grapefruit and Brussels leaves salad, also at MAS. “JF Legault’s soft-scrambled farm egg with Alba truffles was a close third. I’d love to give props to other spots, but these dishes were transcendent.”

Duckegg

Ian Redshaw (Lampo)

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at Cafe 88. “Available Friday and Saturday, dine-in only, this hidden gem is worth every last drop.”

Noodlesoup

Ivan Rekosh (Zocalo)

Roast Beef Panuozzo at Lampo.  “If I had to choose one thing, it’d probably be the aged roast beef sandwich with provolone at Lampo. I remember eating it and thinking this is the best sandwich I’ve had in a long ass time.”

beef

Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Crispy Scallops at Brasserie Saison. “I know you are not supposed to pick your own restaurants, but Tyler really nailed that dish and I just can’t make something up. The textures are one of the most stand out parts of the dish: the crunchy exterior, the creamy puree beneath it, and the crisp celery root on top. It’s just perfectly balanced flavor and texture. There are a lot of things going on. I could eat those scallops every night.”

scallops

Andrew Silver (Roots Natural Kitchen)

Ma Po Tofu at Taste of China. “I have discovered that I really like soft tofu (Zzzam also has really good soft tofu). It is spicy, numbing, hot, aromatic and tender. Pairs perfectly with stir fried snow pea shoots and a cold Tsingtao.”

tofu

Angelo Vangelopoulos (Ivy Inn)

Sourdough Bread by Tucker Yoder at Timbercreek Market. “I was lucky enough to have Tucker gift me a loaf (I think he owed for some truffles or something), and my family and I ate it for days. The crust is thick, it’s full of grains (I think his wife grinds the wheatberries?), has amazing chew and long lasting flavor. My son’s eyes lit up when he tasted it for the first time and he asked ‘WHERE did you get this?! It’s AMAZING!'”

sourdough1

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Foie Gras with Passion Fruit Gelée at Fleurie. “Hot Damn. Those guys are actually cooking, and well. You don’t see real cooking all that much these days.”

foiegras

Tucker Yoder (Back 40)

Persimmons from Edible Landscaping. “These persimmons right here from my man Dan. Chased with a shot of tequila or mezcal.”

Persimmon

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.”

The New Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar

Trout

Photo by Sara Miller.

“If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.”

NBA legend Pat Riley may have meant his words for basketball but they apply just as well to restaurants, where a sure path to failure is to rest on past success. And, so while Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar has done well since opening on the downtown mall in 2011, its owners have decided it is time for change. For that, they have called on the experts: restaurateur Will Richey and chef Harrison Keevil.

The result?

The short version is “Modern Virginia Cuisine.” The long version is a fascinating story about the Charlottesville restaurant community and Virginia cuisine.

A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats

Commonwealth is owned by a team of investors, one of whom – Richard Averitt – is a close friend of Richey. Perhaps our area’s most prolific restaurateur and the founder of Ten Course Hospitality, Richey has had to his name The Alley Light, The Bebedero, Brasserie Saison, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, and The Whiskey Jar. Who better to help give Commonwealth a boost?

But, with five food businesses of his own on the downtown mall, why would Richey want to help another? The answer lies in a philosophy shared by many in the Charlottesville restaurant community: a rising tide lifts all boats. “Richard and I never saw ourselves as competition,” says Richey. “We both believe that the downtown mall can only be made stronger when all of the parts are stronger.”

Richey’s first task was to give Commonwealth a clearer food identity. Richey saw many strengths at Commonwealth, from the handsome decor to the good service. But, for all its success, Commonwealth’s hodge-podge menu never left clear what type of food it features. Richey’s idea was “Modern Virginian Cuisine,” observing a relative dearth of the style on the downtown mall, particularly with last year’s closing of Brookville, the hyper-local restaurant run by Chef Keevil and his wife.

“Modern” Virginian Cuisine

Why “modern”, as opposed to just Virginian cuisine? Well, consider one of Commonwealth’s most popular dishes: jerk chicken with rice & beans, plantains, and mango chutney. With its Caribbean flair, it may not seem like a traditional Virginian dish. But, as Commonwealth Chef Reggie Calhoun told Richey, Virginia now has a large population of people from Caribbean islands. And so, while Commonwealth’s food will draw on Virginia’s long culinary traditions, it will also reflect the melting pot that Virginia is today, including the restaurant’s beloved jerk chicken. “Virginia is a place that has been shaped and reshaped by various cultures and communities from around the world,” says Richey. Instead of focusing just on colonial or traditional foods of Virginia, Commonwealth will also reflect thee newer influences of the, well, commonwealth. “The name Commonwealth played right into the concept,” says Richey.

As the idea started to take shape, Richey decided to call on Chef Keevil. After all, Richey says, when it comes to Modern Virginian Cuisine, “he’s the guy.”  For years at Brookville, Keevil oversaw Charlottesville’s most locally-sourced restaurant, drawing almost every ingredient from within 100 miles of the restaurant. “Harrison is the greatest adherent to elegant modern regional cuisine in this area,” says Richey. At Commonwealth, Keevil’s role has been consultant, working with Richey, Calhoun and his staff to re-write the menu.

The cornerstones of the new menu, Richey says, are classics drawn from the cookbooks of Edna Lewis, the Orange County native who Richey calls “the Grand Dame of Southern cooking.” Dishes bearing Lewis’ influence include Spiced Virginia Peanuts, ham biscuits, and ham hock meatballs, with blistered field peas and ham hock jus. More recent influences appear in the carry-over jerk chicken and an “autumn empanada” of short rib, with cider habanero pineapple sauce, and fall pico. Other dishes include a smoked trout dip (pictured), vegan Hoppin John, a fried oyster sandwich, and Keevil’s favorite, pork rinds with spicy pork dip. “It’s a unique, flavor-packed snack,” says Keevil.

In addition to Calhoun, the collaboration includes Commonwealth sous chef Tres Pittard, and Keevil says it has been amazing to work with such talented chefs. “I can’t wait for people to taste all of the hard work that the Commonwealth kitchen team has put into the new menu,” Keevil says. “A collaboration like this is one of the main things I love about this town,” echoes Richey. “You have guys from three different restaurants all working on one restaurant to make it tighter and stronger.”

The new-and-improved Commonwealth, to be managed by Ten Course Hospitality, launches on Monday, September 4.