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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ready to Fly

Mike Ledesma’s Perch opens this weekend.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 12:34 PM

The text messages started going out on Thursday. Mike Ledesma finally was ready to debut Perch with a preview dinner service to a small group of contributors. It takes a village to open a restaurant, and Ledesma invited his villagers to say thanks: The designer, architect, food supplier, audio-visual installer, furniture upholsterer, publicist, photographer, carpenter and others turned out.

Saturday night, about 90 guests filled the dining room, sharing drinks, food and congratulations. Some toted wine, not knowing that Perch had received its ABC license the night before. The light and airy space seats 148, grouped into a handful of dining spaces, or locations to perch.

In the main dining room, Perch has a six-seat counter facing the open kitchen, which diners can pre-book for a Japanese omakase-style customized dinner. The open dining room is flanked on one side by a brick-walled patio with sliding glass doors, and the other by the 15-seat white-topped bar. Out front, an eight-seat sidewalk counter along the wall faces the restaurant. When the front window is open, guests can enjoy sidewalk dining.

A private and soundproofed dining area in the back is wired for audio-visual presentations. It has a view into the kitchen, behind glass panels that can be made transparent or opaque, depending on the party’s preference. The charming, four-table outdoor patio is enclosed by the building’s original brick walls with open windows. Fans are suspended by metal beams across the open ceiling.

The decor is punctuated with clever nods to chef Ledesma’s Hawaiian culinary history, including a large eight-person table designed to look like a vintage surfboard. The teal upholstery and white tile behind the bar create an upscale beachy vibe. A large Japanese landscape mural pays homage to the original wallpaper from the well-known previous tenant, Joy Garden. That signature graphic is also on the business cards, menus, and matchboxes.

On Saturday, Ledesma opened the front window and patio doors, sending a refreshing breeze through the restaurant as guests took seats and servers took orders.

General manager and beverage director Kristel Poole helmed the bar, cocktail shakers dancing in both hands. Ledesma’s proud father cruised the dining room and kitchen, panning with his phone camera. Sous chef Marlin Remick kept the wood- and gas-fired oven busy with small flatbreads dotted with goat cheese, caramelized onion, prosciutto, concord grape reduction and arugula.

The menu listed a limited four-course meal, starting with a mixed salad garnished with peeled cherry tomatoes and small chunks of crispy peanut brittle. The pork belly appetizer was a standout for its crispy skin crust, a crunchy counterpoint to the fork-tender meat and zingy pickled red onions.

The vegan cakes with roasted vegetables were clever crabcake lookalikes that fooled both the eye and palate. The hearts of palm flaked like lump crabmeat, with a tang that boosted the vegetable flavors. Served with a sauce of veganaise, capers and aquafaba, it was the highlight of the dinner course.

For dessert, Jess Widener’s ginger ube cheesecake was a showstopper. The cheesecake was tinged lavender from the purple sweet potato, known as ube. Its softness was offset by a crisp ginger and pecan base, infused with maple syrup.

The menu greeted guests with mahalo, a Hawaiian word for gratitude and thanks. Ledesma will extend the mahalo to the rest of Richmond this weekend, when Perch opens to the public Saturday.

Perch

2918 W. Broad St.

perchrva.com

Thursday, September 13, 2018

An Empire Grows

Gelati Celesti acquires Boyer's Ice Cream and Coffee.

Posted on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 5:10 PM

Last week, Gelati Celesti announced its acquisition of Boyer’s Ice Cream and Coffee at 5808 Grove Ave. The family-owned shop has been selling Gelati’s ice cream since its 2008 opening, and will be remodeled and rebranded with the Gelati Celesti name within the next couple months.

In a recent press release, owner Steve Rosser describes the location as an “ideal complement to our other locations across the city.” Boyer’s will operate as usual for the next six to eight weeks.

Gelati Celesti has been churning up some of Richmond’s favorite ice cream in small batches since 1984. Classic flavors include butter pecan, birthday cake and mint chip, and specialties range from Just Ask (peanut butter and Oreo chunks in a white chocolate ice cream) to Blanchard’s Dark as Dark, featuring the local coffee purveyor’s darkest beans.

Oh, and if you haven’t stopped by for the pumpkin gingersnap yet, ignore any inclination that it’s too early for pumpkin and go get yourself a scoop (or two).

Friday, September 7, 2018

Taste of Time

This weekend marks the Armenian Food Festival’s 60th anniversary.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 1:41 PM

It started with a bake sale to raise money for a new church, and has turned into a festival that attracts thousands of people over three days.

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the annual Armenian Food Festival, the longest-running event of its kind in Richmond. Held at the St. James Armenian Church at 834 Pepper Ave., the festival has expanded and evolved over the years to include music, entertainment, a gift shop and Armenian wines. The food, however, hasn’t changed much.

“They’re old family recipes that go back years and years,” says 91-year-old John Baronian, who’s been involved since the festival’s inception six decades ago. “One person’s mother may have done it differently from another, so they combined and came up with the recipes we use today.”

Items on the menu include pilaf (which Baronian recommends pairing with lupia, Armenian-style string beans), ground sirloin and lamb burgers, stuffed grape leaves and chicken and pork kebabs. Baronian’s favorite is the lahmajoon, an Armenian meat pie, and fellow organizer Leiza Bouroujian says she loves the boreg, which is phyllo dough stuffed with cheese and spinach. For dessert you’ve got paklava, a sweet layering of philo and walnuts that bears a striking resemblance to the Greek baklava, but with a lighter syrup. Other classic Armenian sweets like sugar cookies, tea cookies and holiday bread are on the menu. And to wash it all down? Beer from Kotayk Brewery and several Armenian wines, including Shushi, a dry pomegranate wine.

“We never stop cooking,” Bouroujian says. “We operate like a restaurant, so the meat, veggies pilaf, it’s all being prepared while you’re walking in.”

Bouroujian says Richmonders “seem to crave” food-centric events like this, and last year’s festival saw record numbers: about 10,000 people over the course of three days.

“We take a lot of pride in it, not only to bring Armenian cuisine but also to expose people to Armenian culture, history and music,” Bouroujian says.

The festival runs 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon - 7 p.m. Sunday.

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