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Friday, November 6, 2015

UPDATE: Savoring the Future

Sweet Frog founder Derek Cha opens the second location of his new venture in Carytown.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 2:42 PM

UPDATE: At long last, Zzaam! Korean Barbecue, the latest endeavor from Sweet Frog founder Derek Cha, opened at 3300 W. Cary St. at 11:30 a.m. today.Here's a link to its menu.

3/19/2015: “If you like dragon-breathing, fire-breathing, really spicy stuff, we’re going to bring it to you,” says Derek Cha, co-owner of Zzaam! Fresh Korean Grill, a restaurant based on the build-a-bowl model pioneered by Chipotle.

These aren’t the words you’d think to hear from a man who built a self-serve frozen yogurt empire consisting of more than 300 stores that extends across the United States and as far away as London and the Dominican Republic. How about, “we just ran out of gummy worms” or “have as many sprinkles as you want,” instead?

Cha started Sweet Frog in 2009 with only one store in Short Pump. The company steadily opened hundreds of other yogurt shops during the next six years and plans more for here, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

But while he was growing his business, Cha had an idea. If you lived in a smaller town, the Korean food he grew up with wasn’t readily available. It was easy to come by in big cities, and the Los Angeles food truck that sparked the food truck revolution, Kogi BBQ, had put Korean cuisine on the national food scene’s radar. What if he could come up with a business model to bring the food he loved, at a reasonable price, to the places that didn’t have it?

Cha took a look at the hugely successful Chipotle chain and realized that its way of serving Mexican food could easily translate into another cuisine. One problem: Sweet Frog was booming, and he didn’t have time to make the concept a reality. Cha had to make a choice, and last month he sold the majority share of the company to a private equity firm, Boxwood Capital Partners.

“It was the right time to get out of Sweet Frog,” he says.

He started looking for the perfect location in Richmond -- and wanted that location to be in Carytown, he says: “I really wanted to get into the old Yapple space.”

Yapple Frozen Yogurt threw down the fro-yo gauntlet in 2012 when it opened a shop two doors down from Sweet Frog’s Carytown spot. Richmonders were unimpressed, and it closed two years later. Spiral Noodle, an Asian fusion noodle bar with a similar build-a-bowl model plans to open in the space in April.

Instead, Cha and his co-owner and wife, Annah Cha, began with a food truck last spring and opened their first restaurant in Charlottesville in September. When the old Carytown Cleaners space became available, Cha jumped on it. “I think it’s an even better place,” he says.

Plans are now moving ahead to renovate the space. “I want it to have that vintage industrial feel,” Cha says, “and we’ll also have a huge patio.” Besides rice and noodle bowls, Zzaam will serve Korean street food -- grilled vegetables, pork belly, kalbi (beef short ribs) and more, all grilled out on the patio. Beer, wine and soju, a Korean liquor, also will be available.

Cha is excited -- all of the sauces, from the dragon-breathing kind to a sweet teriyaki, will be made in-house along with kimchi and the other offerings from recipes devised by his chef and minority partner, Sam Gang. “He can cook up some really mean Korean dishes,” Cha says.

Construction will take about 90 days, he says, and Richmonders can expect to sip a glass of soju with a skewer in hand sometime in June. Franchising is planned after the Carytown location opens.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Weekly Food Notes

Swine & Brine Fest at Ardent Craft Ales

Posted on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 3:15 PM

Eat for a cause: Cancer survivor Josh Rubinstein, a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society man of the year candidate, has organized a whole mess o’ restaurants to help the society this spring. Wild Ginger, the Wine Loft, Hondo’s and others are offering food and drink specials. For details, visit mwoy.org and click on “find a candidate.”

Dine with cocktails: Pasture and Sperryville’s Cooper Fox Distillery will team April 6 for a five-course dinner prepared by chef Jason Alley. Beth Dixon will pair specially created drinks with each course. The festivities start at 6 p.m. and tickets are $70. pasturerva.com.

Swine and brine: At the Swine & Brine Festival at Ardent Craft Ales, you can fill up on pork delicacies from Metzger Bar & Butchery, the Roosevelt, Saison and ZZQ, plus oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Co. Twelve varieties of beer will be tapped. The event is Friday, April 10, starting at 4 p.m. Admission is $18 and includes two dishes. Visit ardentcraftales.com/swinebrine for tickets and details.

The Original Micro Distiller

Legal moonshine and Discovery channel star Tim Smith comes to Richmond.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 1:00 AM

Moonshine, once the confined to illegal copper-pot stills and surreptitious distribution, is a surprising new trend.

Technically, moonshine is the colloquial term for unaged white whiskey. That’s the stuff that comes out of the still before it’s put into barrels to become bourbon, scotch or rye. Those last three spirits are made from a variety of grains, but moonshine is traditionally made from a corn mash.

However, when someone hands you a mason jar of white lightning in Floyd County, all bets are off. The only way to make sure you know what you’re getting is to buy a bottle legal moonshine, with the knowledge that guidelines have been followed and taxes paid. It’s a good way to avoid spirits contaminated with methanol and going blind. Or dying.

One Virginia man, for better or worse, has helped bring legal moonshine to the fore of pop culture. Tim Smith, owner of Climax Moonshine in Climax, Virginia, started his career distilling spirits illegally — he’s the third generation in the business — and stars in Discovery Channel’s popular reality show, “Moonshiners.” How popular is it? While airing, it often hits either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in cable ratings for its time slot.

I think most people can imagine what the show is like. Take a moment.

There, we’re all on the same page.

Smith went legit in 2013 and now sells a 90-proof moonshine made from corn, barley and rye in a bottle adorned with a picture of his dog, Camo. His website states, “She has been Tim’s sidekick and ever present companion since his days in the backwoods of Virginia where she stood watch while he perfected his recipe for his world famous moonshine. As a reward for her loyalty you will see her face on every bottle.”

And Smith (Camo’s at home) is coming to a store near you on April 2 to sign bottles and perhaps share an anecdote or two from his exceptionally colorful past. Look for him at the ABC store at the Village at Swift Creek shopping center in Midlothian from 3-6 p.m.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bring on More Virginia Wine

Grape production in the state is up by 17 percent.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 1:00 PM

That governor of ours — always breaking the good news about Virginia wine first. Hard on the heels of the announcement of the 2015 Virginia Governor's Cup winner (Muse Vineyards’ 2009 Clio) comes this week's announcement that grape production was up 17 percent in the commonwealth last year.

We have good weather to thank for it, plus a lot of vintners putting in the hard work to squeeze out the juice to produce world-class wines. It’s a tough business, wine-making, and the margins are thin. Grape varietals can be fickle and global warming isn’t helping anything.

“Although Virginia wines are garnering global acclaim and sales continue to grow, the industry’s greatest challenge is to plant more vines to meet the increased product demand,” says Todd Haymore, secretary of agriculture and forestry, in the governor’s office’s news release. “The growth in wine sales is outpacing wine grape production figures and that is a trend that must be addressed.”

That’s why the 17 percent figure is so heartening. More juice equals more wine. Right now Virginia has more than 255 vineyards. Given that it takes about three years for vines to grow harvestable grapes, that means not only are established vineyards expanding, but newer ones will start to see a return this year on all of the back-breaking labor involved and potential heartbreak of the business.

Haven’t tried a bottle of Virginia wine? Here are a few of my favorites:

Barboursville Vineyard’s Octagon: This special occasion wine is a bordeaux blend that brings the complex flavors of the grapes to the fore and seems consistently unaffected by vintage — and that’s a good thing. (Governor’s Cup winner) $50.

Williamsburg Winery’s Adagio: A close second for me to the Octagon, this is also a bordeaux blend that you’ll want to bring out for guests you want to impress. (Governor’s Cup winner) $78.

And here a few that are a little easier on the wallet. Remember, Virginia vineyards are small, and you’re going to have to pay a little more than you would for two-buck Chuck or a bottle of chardonnay from Mommy’s Time Out:

Cardinal Point Winery’s Green: One of my favorite all summer long — this crisp wine is a nod to Spain’s famous white varietal, Albariño. $18.

King Family Vineyard’s Crosé: I don’t let the season stop me from drinking rosé. This dry variety still retains delicate fruit flavors and frankly, is too easy to drink. Buy two bottles just in case. $19.

Veritas’ Viognier: The climate in Virginia is perfectly suited for this varietal that’s becoming the state’s most well-known. You’ll find a perfumed white with lots of peach and honey flavor. $23.

Linden Vineyards’ Petit Verdot: This is another varietal that’s usually a blending grape and has been coaxing the spotlight over to our wine industry. It’s a different take on the standard red and a powerhouse of tannins and berries. $30.

Thibaut-Janssen's Blanc de Chardonnay: This sparkling wine makes me wish I lived a champagne lifestyle with a refrigerator full of it. Tiny bubbles, gracious fruit and a crisp finish — what more do you need? $26.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bringing It Home

Bryan Voltaggio's Family Meal opens in Willow Lawn.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 4:00 AM

Bryan Voltaggio -- James Beard finalist, cookbook author and “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” alumnus -- and his business partner, restaurateur Hilda Staples, have opened three restaurants in 120 days. That’s in addition to six other restaurants they own together. The last in their string of projects opens quietly this week in Willow Lawn.

“That’s a lot,” Voltaggio says. “That wasn’t in the plans.”

Voltaggio is straightforward and to the point. His television-ready blue eyes may be looking at you directly, but he seems aware of everything going on around him in his restaurant. As the last pieces are drilled into the garage doors that make up the facade of Family Meal and the wait-staff training gears up, he somehow knows when each dish -- pot pie fritters, fried chicken and a classic chopped salad -- are ready to go, even though the kitchen pass-through is directly behind him.

The cool, extra-large subway tile, black concrete floor and rough-hewn, weathered boards bring the current obsession for rustic-industrial design to a spot that you wouldn’t expect for a chef-driven restaurant. Surrounded by Willow Lawn’s chains, Family Meal’s long pergola strung with globe lights is striking. “What we found is that people are excited to have something that’s a little bit more,” he says.

Voltaggio sees his menu as American diner food -- rethought -- and this translates to more locally derived ingredients, as well as approachable meals for families without sacrificing the kind of creativity that fuels a chef who received a serious nod from the James Beard Foundation.

After the restaurant is up and running smoothly, Voltaggio will leave Ryan Cauffman in charge. The 30-year-old chef is a seasoned veteran of the growing Voltaggio-Staples organization, but looks deceptively younger. Core items will remain on the menu, Voltaggio says. But as he and his staff relax into the new space, other, regionally influenced dishes will start to appear.

“Ryan understands what I’m looking for,” Voltaggio says.

It’s a collaborative environment, and that’s another way Family Meal is different from the chain restaurants around it. “It’s about mentoring and trusting other people,” he says.

The first Family Meal in Frederick, Maryland, came about for a simple reason. Although Voltaggio co-owned a successful fine-dining restaurant, Volt, it wasn’t a place where he could take his children. His partner Staples had the same problem: Their town had too few choices. Hence, the birth of Family Meal -- a spot created to feed two families and everyone else in Frederick who had the same problem. He thinks Richmonders are looking for something similar to fill the gap here.

“When we opened in Ashburn, we were crushed -- in a good way,” Voltaggio says. “People were waiting for it to open.”

He hopes his new West End neighbors feel the same way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Celebrate and Support

Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe honors one of its own tomorrow night.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 5:53 PM

Keith Richards is coming to town!

That’s what Sean Ryan, president of the board of the Down Syndrome Association told me. Actually a different Keith Richards, the Keith Richards that founded Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, located here in Short Pump, will be at the restaurant tomorrow, March 26, to honor employee Annie Callahan for her involvement with Down Syndrome programs. A portion of the evening’s sales and a matching donation will be given to the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond.

Richards began his company, now numbering 41 locations, in 1998 and came up with a program to help special needs students, Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment (HOPE). In it, participants are hired and taught how to grow fresh herbs that are then used in Taziki’s restaurants. They also have the opportunity to transition to jobs within the restaurant chain.

Richards is traveling to Richmond to congratulate Callahan in person and to encourage diners to get involved with the city’s local chapter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Weekly Food Notes

Another Late-Night Cookie Option, Shoyruken Ramen's New Digs + More

Posted on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 5:30 PM

Late night: The cookie wars are heating up in Richmond with the opening of Insomnia Cookies. It joins Red Eye Cookies and Campus Cookies jockeying for the late-night jones for cookies and milk delivered to your door. Insomnia Cookies also can bring you ice cream, and its delivery service runs till 3 a.m. insomniacookies.com.

Ramen News: After its pop-up run at Lunch ends in April, Shoryuken Ramen plans to put down roots in the former Dash Kitchen + Carry spot on West Franklin Street. No opening date has been set yet. shoryukenramen.com.

Wine time: Acacia Mid-Town is planning a mini wine dinner March 25. It will offer a three-course Spanish wine pairing for $38. acaciarestaurant.com. … Camden’s Dogtown Market will salute the Pacific Northwest. Five courses will only set you back $50. cdmrva.com. … The Green Fairy will alight at Can Can Brasserie April 2 at 7 p.m. Four courses are offered, plus an amuse bouche, paired with cocktails made with Trinity absinthe. There are only 45 seats available, so channel your inner Degas and reserve your spot for $59.98. cancanbrasserie.com.

Closed: The downtown location of Coppola’s Deli closed last week after 18 years in business, according to Richmond BizSense. The Carytown location is owned separately by Tom Roukous and isn’t affected. Owner Rob Cherry plans to relocate the sandwich shop to South Side or the far West End. North Carolina’s Rudino’s Pizza and Grinders will take over the vacated spot at Main and 12th streets.

Have a tip about the Richmond restaurant scene? Send it to shortorder@styleweekly.com.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hired Gun

Chef Jason Alley heads to Atlanta to show them how we do it in Richmond.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Pasture and Comfort’s Jason Alley is hitting the road next week. He’ll head down to Atlanta to take a few of his Richmond specialties with him for the Hired Guns series at Top Chef finalist, cookbook author and chef Kevin Gillespie’s restaurant Gunshow.

Its website says Gillespie was inspired by dim sum restaurants and Brazilian churrascarias. How does that translate to a restaurant in Georgia? Chefs push carts or carry trays with different menu items that they’ve created, offering details and telling the story behind their dish, and diners can choose what’s in front of them or wait until something else even more intriguing comes by. Choices might include a risotto of smoked chicken thighs or roasted asparagus with crunchy chicken skin and duck. You never know. Even cocktails are made from a table-side cart.

Last year Gillespie asked several Southern chefs to spend a couple of nights in his kitchen cooking what they knew best. Some of the chefs that came included John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, and Jeremiah Bacon of Macintosh and Oak Steakhouse in Charleston, South Carolina. Gillespie has widened his focus this year, inviting chefs from across the country.

He and Alley met at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, and no doubt Gillespie was drawn just as much to Alley’s ability to spin a tale as he was to Alley’s ability to cook, an invaluable skill when trying to persuade diners to choose your dish over someone else’s.

The Richmond chef will kick off the 2015 series March 24 and 25.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring Greening

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden takes on hops.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 1:56 PM

In beer news: 32 hop plants — the Cascade variety — will be planted on Monday, March 23 at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, starting at 9 a.m.

Center of the Universe Brewery, Piedmont Hops and the garden will start the digging in community kitchen garden behind the conservatory. Those of us, which probably includes almost all of us, will finally be able to see what this integral ingredient to the brewing process actually looks like.

Piedmont Hops has two farms, one in Chesterfield County, run by co-owner David Goode, and another in North Carolina, run by co-owner Steve Brown. Piedmont grows around 700 plants between the two properties and 2015 will mark its fourth season providing hops for craft breweries.

Cascade hops were chosen for their heartiness and versatility. Most hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and the industry is in its infancy on the East Coast. It’s a trickier process here — plants are more subject to disease and the yields are lower.

This first hop garden at Lewis Ginter should be flowering in the fall. Once the flowers are harvested (that’s the only part of the plant brewers use), they’ll be allowed to dry and then the Ashland brewery plans to use them in a garden-themed variety of beer.

PLEASE NOTE: Because rain is expected Friday, March 20, the planting date was been moved from Friday, March 20 to Monday, March 23 at 9 a.m. The article was updated to reflect that change.

Friday, March 13, 2015

All Grown Up

Blanchard's Coffee and Roasting Co. will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a rare variety.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 11:41 AM

Beer is so pushy. It always wants to hog the spotlight.

But I’m not talking about beer, even though Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.’s 10th anniversary party will be held at Ardent Craft Ales on Wednesday, March 17, from 7-9 p.m.

I want to talk about coffee -- a very special coffee in particular. Blanchard’s will brew a rare Costa Rican white honey process variety and sell a limited number of bags (300) for $19 at the free event. It's also available for presale.

What is the mysterious white honey process? I asked Stephen Robertson, Blanchard’s marketing director and expert on all things coffee.

“In Costa Rica they developed this process [that] allows a partial fermentation of the coffee bean. It sits in its own juices and becomes viscous and sticky -- that’s where they get the name,” Robertson says. “What it generates in the cup is a really delicate, sweet, sort of fruity coffee that’s just really pleasant to drink.”

You’ll find three levels of the honey process: white, red and black. Each refers to how long the beans are left to ferment. White is the shortest (about 8 days or so) and creates a subtler flavor.

You have to roast these beans very carefully. They’re expensive, first of all, and delicate. Roasting breaks down the complex amino acids in the bean into simple sugars and caramelizes them. That necessitates a watchful eye.

The Blanchard’s team cupped four different variations of the roast before it came up with one that it thought did justice to the coffee’s light, sweet flavor. You won’t find any smokiness -- just a good cup of coffee you might not have encountered before.

“It’s kind of special, it’s kind of rare,” Robertson says, “and we thought it was a good way to highlight our anniversary.”

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