Friday, July 1, 2016

The Remaking of Rancho T

The Fan restaurant will get a makeover this summer.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 11:13 AM

Rancho T is closed for a revamp, says co-owner Tuffy Stone. The spot took a hit when chef Aaron Cross left and the city rerouted traffic after a circle was installed where Floyd Avenue, Morris Street and Brunswick Avenue meet.

Nonetheless, business has been tough since the beginning. “As much as I love Rancho T,” Stone says, “it just didn’t satisfy enough people.” The decision was a recent one, coming on the heels of three slow weeks of business, he says. New chef Danielle Goodreau devised a menu that differed from the Latin American-inspired one of Cross, in the hopes of attracting new customers.

“When Ed [Vasaio] and I came up with the name, it was really inspired by a piece of artwork here on the wall,” Stonesays. “We didn’t think it called for a specific menu. We just wanted a good, neighborhood place.”

So Stone and Vasaio are taking a break in order to retool the menu, revamp the interior and change the name. Most important to Stone, though, is the assurance that Goodreau will remain in the kitchen.

“Danielle has the skills so that whatever she touches — be it a solid entree or a good sandwich — will be delicious,” he says. “I really believe in her.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

5 Places to Take Your Dog for a Drink, Plus One More

And bring your own water bowl — dogs don't share.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 3:19 PM

When our web editor, Colby Rogers, stopped by Citizen Burger Bar to check out its RVA Burger Week special, he was told there would be a 10-minute dog wait for the patio, but seating inside sans fur could happen right away.

As the owner of dogs who jump away from an open car instead of into it, I wondered where the more social dogs in town were hanging with their human pals. Although this list is by no means comprehensive, I'm betting that your dog doesn't care.

Citizen Burger Bar, 2907 W Cary St. The obvious first choice, given that humans aren’t even mentioned on the wait list for the patio. Its rustic deck is a prime viewing spot to see who decided to go see, say, “Batman vs. Superman,” at the Byrd Theatre, plus all the other consistently interesting denizens of Carytown. Burgers are made from local, grass-fed beef, and you can feel good about the other ingredients, too — both local and organic are watchwords at this Charlottesville-based spot. Bonus dog points for the trace of smokiness still embedded in the timber from the old Double T’s Real Smoked Barbecue that used to occupy the space. citizenburgerbar.com.

Foo Dog, 1537 W. Main St. Dogs love other dogs, and if they hate them, the Chinese dogs they might glimpse here aren’t even real. Got that Lassie? Not real. While you’re talking to your dog about this, you can order one of four different Asian beers or go local with a rotating selection. Noodles such as the Malaysian-style ramen with coconut curry broth and lemongrass, galangal root, fresh ginger, tamarind and bean sprouts are hot but can paradoxically cool you down because they make you sweat. How much do you love your dog? The heat-index sacrifice is worth it. foodogrva.com.

Fresca on Addison, 22 S. Addison St. Just because that hound of yours is a bloodthirsty carnivore doesn’t mean you can’t take the high road and stop by this charming vegan cafe. It’s a meet-and-greet spot for Fan folks who want to wear flip-flops when they crave a side of green with their meal. The pizza is wood-fired, the hummus is ignited with garlic and tacos with avocado-white bean spread, jalapeño slaw, chunked avocados, pickled red onions and chipotle mayo will remind you that although carnitas may sing a siren song, you can’t hear it at Fresca. frescaonaddison.com.

Mosaic Restaurant, 6229-A River Road. These folks love some dogs here, as evidenced by the enthusiasm the staff evinced when asked if canines were welcome. At this West End go-to, you can feel the breeze caressing both you and the tip of your dog’s wet nose while sipping the River Road, a cocktail made with cucumber vodka, St. Germaine, pineapple juice and lime simple syrup. Maybe a rosé is more your style — it would go well with Mosaic’s warm, smoked gouda dip to share or the parmesan cavatappi with sundried tomatoes, spinach, roasted peppers and ricotta. And lapdogs need to chill — humans will think twice before sharing. mosaicedibles.com.

Siné Irish Pub and Restaurant, 1327 E. Cary St. Hey, did you forget that this place had a patio? It’s right out back and bumps up against East Canal Street that’s lined with entertaining cobblestones that seem to confound drivers so. This place is a pub, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Grab a brew and snack on Siné’s Irish nachos — fried potatoes topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapeños, tomatoes, ranch and scallions. Then take your dog for a long, long walk. You can say it’s for them, but you, my friend, are the one who will really need it. sineirishpub.com.

Pomegranate, 3321 W. Cary St. I saved the best for last and I just want to prepare you for what you’re about to read: Pomegranate not only has a patio that welcomes dogs, they have a dog menu. Your soon-to-be crazed dog can choose from things such as ground chicken liver, salmon or beef with risotto ($6). Or you can have a mix of all three ($10), and you can add a fried egg to the dish for an additional $2. To end the meal on a sultry summer evening, your satiated pup probably could rouse himself to lazily lick a frozen watermelon cube garnished with frozen cantelope chunks ($3). My mind is a little blown right now and I’m having trouble focusing on the people options at Pomegranate, but you can’t go wrong with the house-made edamame pasta, oyster mushrooms, tomato, ricotta whey and corn shoots — you can get a single serving or order it family-style. pomegranaterva.com.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dinner at Sub Rosa with the Birdhouse Farmers Market

Eat well for a good cause.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 2:50 PM

When Oregon Hill’s William Byrd Community House was forced to close, its Tuesday farmers market ended, too. But its vendors didn’t want see it disappear, so they joined together and moved it up the street, renaming it the Birdhouse Farmers Market. It’s now open every Tuesday from 3-6:30 p.m. behind the Randolph Community Center swimming pool at 1507 Grayland Ave.

There’s a little more involved in running it now. “The Birdhouse Farmers Market operates solely on funds derived from vendor fees,” says Amy Hicks of Amy’s Garden, “which are kept reasonable to enable incubator businesses and beginning/small farmers to attend.”

On Sunday, July 10, at 6 p.m., the market and Sub Rosa Bakery will throw a fundraising dinner to help keep those fees down. It’s a chance to experience the farmers' wares transformed into a multi-course meal and served family-style. Tickets are $100, including drinks and gratuity. For more details and to buy tickets, visit subrosabakery.com/subrosasupper.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Shagbark Opens June 29

Acclaimed chef Walter Bundy's new restaurant is ready to go in the West End.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 10:35 AM

When Walter Bundy left Lemaire at the Jefferson after 15 years to go out on his own, he said that it was time for the next step in his career.

It’s the right time for a change, he told Style. “I don’t want to be the old guy sitting in the wheelchair asking, ‘Why didn’t you go for it?’" Bundy says. “I need new challenges and new things to learn.”

His new restaurant, Shagbark, opens Wednesday, June 29, at 4901 Libbie Mill East Blvd., Suite 175, at the shopping center and development originally anchored by Southern Season. Entrees will range from $8 to $30, and will include things such as Manakintowne Farms squash blossoms stuffed with herbed goat cheese, chicken-fried Chesapeake Bay oysters and an Autumn Olive Farms Berkshire pork chop with Anson Mills black sticky rice. Bundy wants to focus on his passion for the outdoors and love of his home state.

“I don’t want to forget my heritage and my past,” he said last fall. “Hunting and fishing are so close to my heart.”

Shagbark is a big place: It can accommodate 60 in the dining room, the bar can seat 30, there are two private dining areas, and a 25-seat outdoor patio. Both the bar and the patio will have a special menu that will include barbecued clams, rabbit-filled hand pies and flights of fresh oysters.

Bundy wanted a comfortable rustic space and Helen Reed of Helen Reed Design made that happen. She’s designed interiors for the Daily Kitchen & Bar, the former deLux and more. There are whitetail deer antler chandeliers, hand-painted wall coverings, hand-blown glass light fixtures and a Wellborn & Wright community table fashioned from a Civil War-era shagbark hickory tree.

Shagbark will be open 5-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar opens at 4 p.m. daily. shagbarkrva.com

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sen Organic Brings Vietnamese Cuisine to Carytown

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 at 11:23 AM

Across the street from the old Dixie Donut space at 2901 W. Cary St., Perception Organic Spa owner Hang Pham decided to branch out into a new business.

“My clients were very frustrated,” says Pham. “They wanted someplace they could go that was quiet, to get a cup of coffee and something organic to eat.”

Sen Organic, opening in late August or early September, is the result. It will feature small plates of French-influenced Vietnamese cuisine. A native of Vietnam, Pham, as she is at her spa, is focused on organic, local, non-GMO products. Her carbon footprint is another concern.

“The business plan had to be for a small space,” she says. “The big places are so wasteful.” This made her decide to offer smaller dishes, to be shared among friends. She also will use no plastic, eco-friendly goods and recycle aggressively.

The menu will also be gluten-free. As a mother of three, Pham is acutely aware of food allergies and wants to create a place that alleviates those fears.

“I’m lucky,” she says. “I had my mother and grandmother to teach me traditional Vietnamese food. There was a lot of meaning in their food.” And Pham wants to create that meaningfulness and intentionality in her new place in Carytown.

“I want to bring something interesting to everybody,” says Pham. “I want them to see how Vietnam is — how special and unique.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

5 Dishes to Eat When It’s Hot in Richmond

It's not an argument: Anything over 80 degrees is hot.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 2:40 PM

1. Castanea’s gelato ($3 for one scoop). Technically this isn’t a dish, although it comes in a dish and that counts, right? You probably think this recommendation seems too easy — pffft, you say, ice cream is a no-brainer. Tell me something I don’t know. But the heat makes all of us cranky. Have you tried Philip Denny’s particular gelato, per chance? Have you experienced the deeply creamy swirl of the always-a-classic-for-a-reason pistachio version? Get back to me when you do.

2. Dinamo’s seafood salad ($17). A cold salad that only needs another salad made out of salad ingredients to make it a complete meal. A wide plate comes piled high with squid, mussels, clams, shrimp and bits of red onion paddling in olive oil while the garlic blows you a lemon-juice kiss. I think I’m going to have to go get some now.

3. Mekong’s do nuong dac biet ($14.95). The noodles are cold, baby, and so are the rice paper wrappers. This platter comes with the full panoply of grilled shrimp, pork, chicken and beef for your indecisive pleasure. Put a wrapper on your plate without allowing it to stick to itself and become a useless lump of mangled rice paper, toss on some meat, slices of cucumber, shredded carrots and basil leaves. Roll it up, give it twirl of lettuce to help you hold it and dip it in a little nuoc cham. (I usually ignore the lettuce, because who needs a big bunch of greens getting in the way? And for maximum saturation, I pour the nuac cham directly onto the pile of filling before I roll it all up.)

4. Peter Chang’s dry-fried eggplant ($10). There's an idea much bandied about that eating hot things when it’s hot will cool you off. This, my friends, is actually true. And I will spend the rest of my life writing about the crispy, creamy, numbingly hot fried eggplant Peter Chang turns out in each of his restaurants until every single one of you tries it. So get on that, OK? It’s getting repetitive.

5. Rappahannock’s oysters and pearls ($18). Put anything on top of a pile of ice and I’ll think about eating it when I'm sticky and suffering. Put raw oysters on there and I’ll swallow them all. Top them with briny trout roe that pops gently against my teeth along with a tiny slush of citrus granita and I’ll shovel my way out of the shells when I’m done.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Passion and Regret in the Kitchen

The eternal sadness of small appliances.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 4:07 PM

I accidentally spent $350 on a small kitchen appliance, and man, all I want to do is turn back time.

Two years ago — yes, TWO years ago — I read an article about Mellow, a counter-top sous-vide machine that could be preprogrammed to slow-cook food. I also watched the video. (Don’t watch the video.)

Here’s how sous-vide works: Food — vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs — is vacuum sealed in plastic bags and then dropped into water. The water is kept at a low, steady temperature for an extended period of time. After an hour or two or three, whatever it is you have floating in there is removed, sometimes pan-seared and served. Why is this a big deal? Because the food that comes out of it is exceptionally tender and dishes are more powerfully packed with flavor. This machine was extra-awesome because it also can bring the water to refrigerator-like temperatures so that you can program it ahead of time like a Crock Pot and not die of food poisoning.

Of course, I preordered one immediately.

It’s hard for me to look back and hazard the optimism that inspired this impulse. Maybe it was the knowledge that the machine wouldn’t be produced anytime soon, and I could figure out how to explain this exotic, extravagant piece of miscellany to my family later. Maybe I thought my financial circumstances would have dramatically changed by now — a moment of supreme optimism. And obviously, even two years ago, I must have known that I couldn’t hide something that large and cook secretly in a closet. (There aren’t even any outlets in my closets.) Who knows?

Of course, I forgot all about it immediately.

It’s now winging its way to my doorstep as a reward for my early, early support for the company. I shouldn’t keep it when it arrives, and I don’t want to keep it — but maybe I might keep it. We’ll see.

At any rate, it’s reminded me of all the other things I’ve either purchased or demanded to be given to me for my kitchen. Here’s the short list. Please add yours to the comment section below.

  • A Fry Daddy. I was convinced that if I had my own deep-fryer, my life would completely change. My cholesterol would, too, but I was younger then and that wasn’t my focus. I made beignets in it — they were excellent — left it full of oil in the cupboard and never made another thing in it. Ever.
  • A vintage glass citrus squeezer. I got the original glass squeezer from my mother or maybe my husband’s mother — or perhaps at a yard sale. We used it constantly. Then I dropped it, shattering it forever. When I spotted its exact duplicate at a flea market, I bought it immediately. It’s never been used. I purchased one of those bright-yellow hand squeezers and never looked back.
  • A garlic press. I pressed the heck out of a lot of garlic over the years. Then I bought a decent knife. The rest is history.
  • A vintage ice crusher. This thing is extremely cool. I bought it on eBay for a photo shoot and instead of reselling it, I kept it. It’s supposed to clamp onto your counter and look interesting while it grinds authentic 1960s-style ice into your highball glass. My husband noted that our refrigerator already crushes ice with electricity and it looks exactly the same. We also don’t have the space to attach an anachronism to the counter.
  • A mango pitter. It doesn’t work even though the guy could do it at the store at will. His mango slices came out perfectly. My mangos were consistently mangled.
  • A dough scraper. I saw a chef on television obsessively scrape up all of his scraps — everything, not just dough — while he was cooking and thought, “My life will also change completely if all of my scraps, too, can be squeegeed away and thrown in the trash every couple of minutes.” The drawer in which it lives is constantly getting stuck because of it.
  • A panini maker. This was a gift that I thought was pretty stupid. How often do you eat a flattened sandwich, really? Then we redid our kitchen and I learned how remarkably versatile this thing could be when you don’t have a stove. Then I got a new stove. Shelved indefinitely.
  • An extremely sharp mandoline. I bought Cook’s Illustrated’s best-rated one. I couldn’t even figure out how to put it together.

  • A hobo knife. This is a contraption that neatly packs and folds a knife, fork and spoon all together so that you can carry it around in your purse and a) have the capability, finally, of eating fine cheese in your hotel room instead of trying to gouge it with the end of your tooth brush or b) watch it immediately confiscated at airport security. I desperately wanted one of these after admiring the suavity with which my colleague, Ed Harrington, used his. I still can’t pull the three pieces apart, and I’m embarrassed to ask Ed to do it for me every single day.
  • A yogurt maker. C’mon. Seriously? You can buy it by the tub at the store. I tried to sell it at a yard sale but finally had to give it away.
  • An ice cream maker. This appliance makes the list by a mere technicality. True, I rarely use it, but I still buy cookbooks about ice cream. (Three and counting!) I do still drag it out about once a year and actually make said ice cream, but mostly the frozen insert takes up a lot of much-needed space in my freezer. However, when the husband who despises small kitchen appliances gave it to me for my birthday, I knew, finally, that I was truly loved. I will cherish it forever.
  • Monday, June 6, 2016

    The Governor Goes Greek

    My afternoon splitting spanikopita with Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the Greek Festival.

    Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 4:00 PM

    “Where’s the beer, Jack?” 

    This is one of the first things Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe says to me as he gets out of his SUV at the back entrance of the Richmond Greek Festival, surrounded by aides and men with ear pieces, men who I presume would snap one of my arms off if I even looked at the governor wrong.

    How did we get here?

    On Friday, the governor called 103.7 Play to chat with my morning radio show partner Melissa Chase and me, and I jokingly asked him if he’d like to accompany me on a “bro date” to the Greek Festival the following day. Shortly after the call, his aide hit me up and said that the governor would love to hang out — meet them there at 1 p.m. Like him or not, when the governor accepts your joke bro-date offer, you put on a nice shirt and you get your butt to the festival by 12:30 p.m. (I do actually like him.)

    True to form, McAuliffe likes to have a few cold ones, and I immediately buy three Greek beers — one for him, his aide and me. The multimillionaire governor never returns the favor, but I figure now I can hit him up for tickets to a fancy ball or a grant of clemency somewhere down the road.

    The Richmond Greek Festival, also true to form, is packed to the gills. The line for gyros has at least 200 people in it. But, as in years past, the food is spectacular and no one seems too put out by the wait. When you see restaurateur Johnny Giavos sweating it out with the other cooks, you can usually be assured of a great meal.

    Luckily for me, now that I’m part of the governor’s entourage, I don’t have to wait in line. Trays and trays of everything the festival offers are brought to a waiting table. Getting to that table is another story.

    From his arrival at the back entrance of the festival to the front entrance where our table is located — a journey of maybe 200 yards — takes about 45 minutes to traverse. Say what you want about his politics and friends, but don’t say that McAuliffe isn’t a genuinely charming individual. He shakes so many hands, poses for so many pictures and has so many in-depth conversations with people in those 45 minutes. And remember, this guy isn’t even running for anything. I think he just likes to hear from Virginians.

    He wasn’t the only politician there either. We happen to run into his former Secretary of the Commonwealth and current Richmond mayoral candidate Levar Stoney shaking hands and kissing babies. Former city councilman and proud Greek Bill Pantele is also there volunteering and brings heaps of food for the governor and his cronies, a crew of which I am now part.

    The real star of the show is the food — sorry, Terry. The dolmades, souvlaki and spanakopita are highlights. McAuliffe also requests some of the new-to-the-festival lamb sausage — also excellent.

    It’s surreal sitting next to the governor, drinking beer and eating food. A cool experience to be sure. And the Richmond Greek Festival was on point as always, although I do recommend going with a famous politician. The first round of beer was $15 out of my pocket, but skipping the food line was priceless.

    Brux'l Cafe to Close

    Say goodbye to seven kinds of mussel dishes.

    Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 12:40 PM

    Brux’l Café in the Fan announced on its Facebook page that it would close Sunday, June 12, as first reported by the Times-Dispatch. Two years ago, it set up shop in a tough spot — Main Street and Allen Avenue. Restaurants there have come and gone over the years: Dogwood Grille & Spirits, Cirrus, Plaza Mexico, Mainstream and Peacock's Pantry. It’s hard to pin down why this particular spot seems more difficult for a restaurant than say, the building down the street that houses Heritage, or two blocks in the other direction, the one Bacchus has occupied for the last 17 years.

    Owned by Xavier Meers and Stephanie Danis-Meers, who closed their Midlothian restaurant, Belle Vie, to open Brux’l Cafe, it serves traditional Belgian fare. In 2014, reviewer Karen Newton wrote, “Bring your appetite for the mitraillettes, translated as submachine guns, but here meaning baguettes stuffed with meat or vegetables, cheese and fries. Yes, fries in the sandwich. Don't knock it till you've met the killer rib-eye version.”  

    With seven days and counting, it’s time to pull up a chair and get a taste of Belgium. “We hope you will continue to patronize our restaurant so that you can enjoy all your favorites one last time,” its Facebook page says.

    Friday, June 3, 2016

    Peter Chang Opens on West Broad Street

    The food is an intriguing mix of styles.

    Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 12:08 PM

    Richmond has been waiting. And waiting. But last night, Peter Chang’s new restaurant in the Hofheimer building at 2816 W. Broad St. previewed its new menu with small bites and opened today at 11 a.m. (You can read more about the James Beard Award finalist here.)

    The Richmond food media was out in full force, sitting underneath the long, bright red panel dancing with golden dragons, along with building owners Annie and Carter Snipes.

    As promised, it’s a different kind of restaurant than the others Chang owns. The design is modern, the seating is sleek and comfortable, and the staff darted around in matching Chinese jackets, delivering the chef’s food in a steady stream, while Chang paused at the kitchen door, flanked by wife Lisa Zhang and daughter Lydia, to gaze at the crowd in his high white chef’s hat each time he brought out new platters to be passed.

    What was on offer? Ah, let me recollect through my ma la haze. There were sweet and spicy lotus roots deep-fried and with sticky rice filling, a version of shu mei on a mushroom cap, pan-fried dumplings, smoked salmon with salmon roe in a cucumber boat, buns filled with duck and bites of Chang’s famous bamboo fish. My favorite? Lisa Zhang’s excellent sesame balls with sweet bean filling, fresh from the fryer, were airy, sticky, nutty and I ate three of them. I thought it might be rude if I surfed around the room trying to snag some more.

    Bar manager Derek Salerno had a full selection of wine and whipped up an intriguing cocktail menu that included my first choice, the Wuhan Mule made of Hua Jiao vodka, ginger, tamarind and lime that came in a classic copper cup and a sesame-washed gin with cucumber tonic I had a sip of later.

    It’s a different sort of experience than what you might be used to if you’ve visited the Short Pump location. The new dishes are an intriguing and complex mix of styles — but plenty of old favorites such as the cilantro and scallion-laden dry-fried eggplant and the New Zealand lamb chops, laced with cumin and numbing Sichuan peppercorns that made guests last year at the James Beard House scream — from both the heat and happiness —are still on the menu.

    My suggestion? Go now, go immediately, do not waste time finding a seat while the man himself is still behind the stove.

    The restaurant’s hours are 11 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Saturdays, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Sundays. For details, search Peter Chang on Facebook.

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