Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spoonbread Will Open in June

Chef Michael Hall is readying his new Fan restaurant.

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 10:42 AM

Chef Michael Hall has been away from most of us for too long. After M Bistro and Wine Bar closed, Hall moved to Church Hill’s 2300 Club, and if you were a member or a member’s guest, you were lucky enough to get a taste of Hall’s food.

“Customers have come up to me since M closed and told me how much they missed my food and that was the motivation for me to enter into this venture, because I do believe that we offer something special on the Richmond culinary scene,” he said in a news release.

Now Hall plans to move into the former Jorge’s Cantina spot at the corner of Floyd Avenue and Robinson Street and open the doors to his latest venture, Spoonbread.

”I knew that it would be a perfect spot to transition into the minute I laid eyes on it,” says Hall.

The renovation should take about six weeks and the plan is weave copper throughout the design — he’ll even have copper-colored flatware and stemware. Hall is shooting for a late July or early August opening.

On the menu, you’ll find Southern and French-influenced fare, including smoked and roasted chicken with a spoonbread waffle and the Cat Sea Pig: a scallop wrapped in both catfish and applewood-smoked bacon.

Spoonbread will be open Mondays-Saturdays for lunch and dinner and for brunch on Sundays.

You can get an early taste of Hall’s truffle spoonbread at Broad Appetit on Sunday, June 5.

CORRECTION: When first published, this article cited the wrong date for Broad Appetit. It also implied a June opening for Spoonbread, but that will actually happen in the late summer. Both errors have been corrected.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

New Kid in Town

Rancho T is revamping its menu with a new chef.

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 4:16 PM

Rancho T owner Tuffy Stone, the tall, rangy barbecue pitmaster who’s also a classically trained chef, doesn’t want to speak for his new chef, Richmond native Danielle Goodreau. Nonetheless, he has a lot to say about her. Lots and lots.

“There’s a bunch of layers to this,” he says. “I get resumes all the time. I like the fact that she went to [University of] Michigan. I like the fact that she went to Cordon Bleu [College of Culinary Arts] in Chicago, and I like the fact that she worked a total of three places there and that lasted about 7 1/2 years — longevity when most guys might work three months here and three months there.

“And I liked the fact that she worked at Marcus Samuelsson’s C-House — I had worked a weekend with him years ago at the Masters Food & Wine where I volunteered, and he’s a great guy and I like what he does. And I like that she went to Sonoma. I’d just come back from teaching at the Culinary Institute in Napa. Without even knowing her, I knew she’d used a lot of good product, and reading her resume, there was only good experience and no bad experience.

“I wasn’t familiar with Alembic [Goodreau was most recently sous chef there] but I love San Francisco and I pulled up that website and looked at those foods,” he says, without pausing or seeming to take a breath. “And I liked them.”

Stone invited her to Richmond. “Three good interviews and I thought, ‘But can she cook?’”

He put her to the test. Along with Stone’s wife, Leslie, friend and well-known Richmond chef J. Frank and Rancho T co-owner Ed Vasaio, Stone sat at a table at the front of his catering firm, A Sharper Palate, and waited.

“I could tell she was nervous,” Stone says. “I had come earlier to help and realized I just needed to stay out of her way.”

“Could you see my hands shaking?” Goodreau asks.

All four diners were impressed. A couple of the dishes from that day are now on Rancho T’s menu: shrimp gnocchi with a bagna cauda foam and rockfish with confit potatoes and maitake. Goodreau ended the meal with a brown butter rosemary ice cream.

“I like the way she puts food on a plate,” he says. “Her food is so pretty, unplaced and natural.” The food’s texture was great, and Stone — who isn’t particularly a fan of new technology — was blown away by the bagna cauda foam.

J. Frank, according to Stone, stated at the end of the meal that no one in Richmond was cooking like Goodreau.

She was hired.

Right now, the Rancho T menu is in transition. Everyone is trying to figure out the happy medium between what customers want and what Goodreau would like to cook. Former chef Aaron Cross, soon to assume the sous position at Walter Bundy’s Shagbark, took the name of the restaurant and put an emphatic Latin American stamp on its food.

Goodreau considers herself a Cal-American chef. “That experience in California influenced me the most,” she says. “You’re not pigeonholed in one specific flavor profile.” She’s bringing spices such as zatar and sumac to the menu, a sweet and spicy Calabrian chili jam that coats green olives and a burger fancied up with maitake, gruyere and aioli. The Latin American influences are still there in some dishes, but that might gradually fade away.

Still, Stone says: “People ask every single day where the tacos went.”

In San Francisco, at Alembic, head chef Ted Fleury encouraged his two sous chefs to collaborate with him. “It was very cohesive and everyone really worked together to put stuff on the menu,” Goodreau says. “The clientele was very adventurous and you could be as unrestrained as you wanted to.”

As she finds her footing at Rancho T, she thinks about the long list of ideas that she put in a Google Doc and shared with Frank, Vasaio and Stone. Like Cross, she has an all-star support team in place to help her discover the right food for this reboot of the restaurant.

“I think some of the flavors I’ll do may be new to Richmonders,” she says, “but I’ll think they’ll be fitting — they don’t know they like them yet.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Preview: Wegmans in Midlothian

Dang, Wegmans. You are all that.

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2016 at 2:33 PM

Let me make one thing clear. This post isn’t for all of the smug folks who trek north and make regular stops at Wegmans or the Northern Virginia transplants who can’t believe we’ve never been inside of one of its stores. This is for the newbie — the Wegmans virgin, if you will — and the rest can peruse the story and roll their eyes — quietly, please.

First of all, you, the newbie, will be overwhelmed. Expect that. The store is enormous, 115,000 square feet — which is a lot — and as everyone has told us ad nauseam, you really haven’t seen a grocery store this large before. Remove all the clothes and other nonfood items from a Wal-Mart or Target and then imagine that space filled with a bakery, sushi bar, a coffee shop, a full-service restaurant and many other things and you have an idea as to its size. Add a lighting design akin to a theater, and you will be dazzled.

When I visited this morning, a crowd of workers was making handmade signs out of bakery paper, Styrofoam packages and whatever else was on hand to mark where different products were to be placed before Sunday. There was also a training session about to begin for the produce department. Exotic purveyor Melissa’s Farm Fresh Produce was introducing the group to the more unusual items that the store will be selling — things such as gai lan, rambutans and dragon fruit. Things, in other words, that Richmond doesn’t normally see outside of an Asian market.

The business that started in 1916 remains family-owned and run by the third and fourth generations of Wegmans. Right now, the chain clocks in at 89 stores. And with 500 employees, the single store in Midlothian is on the scale of other small companies. Store manager Jerry Shelly moved to Richmond last March, and began working with groups such as FeedMore, awarding scholarships to local schools, all the while setting up a hiring office and preparing for the upcoming opening. When asked how many people he expects at 12501 Stone Village Way on Sunday, Shelly simply said, “A lot.”

The prepared food section is enormous and there are two Asian hot bars, one for barbecue, a vegetarian bar, a fresh fruit bar, a bar for summer salads that changes seasonally, a pizza station and a sub spot. I could go on and on. You’ll find things such as pork florentine, stuffed peppers, jerk ribs and brown-sugar salmon ready and waiting to take home for dinner.

Executive chef Craig Haines, whose wife Kathy is director of restaurant operations, moved to Richmond around Thanksgiving. He likens the prepared food setup to that of a hotel — and he should know, he spent 8 years working for Hyatt. "The chef’s pace and style of the production is very similar," he says. Having everything ready to go on Sunday will be Haines' biggest hurdle — after that, he and the staff can tweak and modify the production process to fit the store.

Wegmans is committed to local craft beer. Stacked cases of beer from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Strangeways Brewing are front and center when you move into the dining area, and, along with Center of the Universe and Stone Brewing, you'll find that they're the first brands you see when you go to the massive section in one corner of the store — long glass refrigerators on two walls are packed with every different kind beer of you can possibly think of.

The wine section is even larger. It’s got a sizable Virginia presence with major and minor wineries well-represented. In the wood-lined, humidity-and-temperature-controlled area that houses the store’s most expensive wines, I try to imagine the person who would buy the $1,300 bottle of 2010 Haut-Brion or even the 1969 Volnay Santenots in the $200-plus range. Hopefully they aren’t the same people who snag all the cast-iron oyster pans that are for roasting the bivalves on your grill — I’ll be back for one myself on Sunday.

And, as my guide, Jo Natale, vice-president of media relations, told me, “We do have groceries!” And Wegmans does. Large, large quantities of grocery items. But what else would you expect?

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Countdown to Wegmans Begins

Get your wallet out, folks.

Posted By on Mon, May 16, 2016 at 11:48 AM

If you can just hang on a little bit longer — it’s hard, I know — the wait will be over. Finally. Wegmans announced today that its store at 12501 Stone Village Way in Midlothian at 7 a.m. on Sunday, May 22.

“It appears that Richmond-area shoppers are anxious for the new store to open,” said spokesman Jo Natale in a news release. “According to Wegmans, nearly 24,000 customers have gone on-line already to sign up in advance for a Wegmans Shoppers Club card.”

This will be the company’s 89th store, and clocks in at an impressive 115,000 square feet. Folks who’ve seen stores in Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia wax poetic about its produce section, bakery, extensive cheese shop, deli and charcuterie, meat and seafood, wine and beer shop, plus typical grocery items. The store offers pizza, subs, sushi prepared on-site, and a several salad and hot bars, as well as a Market Café, which serves as a coffee shop. Plus, there's a full-service family restaurant, the Pub by Wegmans, located within the store.

Are you excited yet?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Budweiser to Change Its Name to America — Until the November Election

This isn't cynical marketing at all. Really.

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2016 at 11:49 AM

‘Merica. No matter what anybody says, this country is always the greatest. And to demonstrate its patriotism and appeal to those who also are filled with national fervor, Budweiser has asked the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for approval to re-brand itself as “America” this summer in anticipation of the Rio 2016 Olympics in August. Budweiser is an official sponsor.

Yes. Budweiser wants to name itself after our very own country.

“The packaging will run from May 23 through election season in November,” Ad Age reports. And that seems to clearly indicate that Anheuser-Busch, now owned by InBev, wants to take advantage of the intense interest surrounding the presidential election as well.

You might be familiar a few of the other elements on the proposed label. You’ll find "E Pluribus Unum" from the seal of the United States — which actually reminds me more of the “Wizard of Oz” than anything else. There's also "from the redwood forest to the Gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me" — which probably reminds everyone of long assemblies in elementary school. And not to be overlooked, the phrase "indivisible since 1776" — which seems a little factually askew to a Southerner.

Budweiser tweeted an image of the new label this morning.

Of course, the irony that Budwieser is owned by an enormous corporation based in Belgium is lost on no one.

Nonetheless, Anheuser-Busch InBev U.S. marketing vice-president Jorn Socquet doesn’t seem worried about irony or snark and, in a burst of honesty, is quoted by Ad Age saying: “You have this wave of patriotism that is going to go up and down throughout the summertime. And we found with Budweiser such a beautiful angle to play on that sentiment."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Preview: On the Set of "A Moveable Feast" at Merroir Restaurant

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 10:30 AM

“Mingle,” the assistant director tells us. “Pretend like you’re meeting each other for the first time!”

Apparently, we aren’t mingling aggressively enough for the crew of WGBH’s “A Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking.” They take away the tables around us, and unexpectedly, while I tip a raw oyster back that’s still ever-so-slightly attached to its shell, a camera is in my face. It can’t be pretty.

I’m at Merroir restaurant, on the Middle Peninsula in Topping, and the PBS show is filming an episode for its fourth season. “A Moveable Feast” follows Australian chef Pete Evans while he travels throughout America to taste regional specialties.

He’d been out most of the day with Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s Ryan and Travis Croxton, learning about the farm’s oyster beds quietly submerged under still water just yards away from the restaurant and lending a hand to crank their cages out of the river.

Each episode of the show culminates with an outdoor dinner party. The scene is similar throughout the season: A long, rustic table is set up — here on the wooden pier that juts out in front of Merroir — and guests line each side. A well-known chef cooks the chosen ingredient — oysters, this time, prepared by Rappahannock’s executive chef Dylan Fultineer and Merroir’s Pete Woods — and the guests have at it.

One thing is certain: The crew wants to get you tipsy. We’re encouraged to order a glass of prosecco before filming starts, and once it begins, Rappahannock’s Paul Kirk makes a stingingly strong cocktail with James River Distillery’s Øster Vit, a Scandinavian-style aquavit steeped for a few hours in oyster shells to give it a briny tang.

While we “mingle,” endless platters of raw oysters, oysters grilled with brown sugar and barbecue sauce, and Merroir’s signature dish, angels on horseback — oysters roasted and adorned with thick slivers of Edward’s country ham — do a much better job of circulating than we do.

The drinking continues when we sit down, as Barboursville Vineyards’ Jason Tesauro hands magnums of viognier, bottles of red wine and Foggy Ridge’s cider down the table. We get loud and forget about the cameras. Several times, the crew is forced to hush the table.

Plates of Merroir’s stuffin’ muffins — oyster-filled circles of holiday-style stuffing — and wide bowls of an earthy lamb-and-oyster stew topped with slices of redolent Sub Rosa Bakery bread are placed in front of us.

The bread was brought by Evin Dogu and her brother, Evrim, and his wife, Reiko, who join the party. We can see, off in the distance, our tall, weathered host interviewing Fultineer. Evans joins us at the end of the meal to raise a toast and do a promo for the show. When he’s done, he disappears.

Black clouds come rolling in as dinner winds down, and Weather.com’s radar shows a big storm is heading our way. We can see the crew packing up equipment carefully but with urgency. “You can stay as long as you want,” we’re told, “but we need to leave.”

Down the road a ways, my husband and I park while hailstones bounce off our car. We wonder how it might feel to see ourselves on television — both of us have appeared on shows, but one featured the back of my head and the other had a bike in the foreground that blocked most of my husband. That conversation dries up as the hailstones gradually stop pounding down, and naturally, we find ourselves talking about the food for the rest of the ride home. S

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