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Edible Garden's new chef refines the restaurant's fresh-from-the-fields mission.

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A little cottage way out on River Road, Edible Garden, with its charming handmade trellises, mossy shingles, low stone walls, and fragrant herbs and flowers, looks like something out of a fairy tale. Dining outside is a transporting experience, but even inside, in the small, window-lined dining room, the feel of the garden pervades.

Let me admit to a personal bias: I think the idea of using locally available, organically grown ingredients is both ethically and morally laudable, as well an idea at the forefront of a food movement that's taken over most of the country. Chefs will go to great lengths to get the ingredients they need, but increasingly over the past few years, that's meant an intense scrutiny of their own back yards instead of looking to Asia and Europe. As everyone who's ever grown a tomato in his own back yard knows, really fresh ingredients make anyone's food better.

At Edible Garden, ultrafresh food passes through the hands of a skilled chef before it reaches your table. Chef Ed Blase, a Brooklyn native and 9/11 survivor, reorganized and revamped the restaurant's menu last November. This meant throwing out the old menus until he was ready to begin with an entirely new lineup based on what's available from Virginia farms. The dinner menu rotates weekly, and although the lunch menu remains more or less constant, changes are made as availability fluctuates. The result is food that, though it can't be characterized as surprising, is simple, strong and flavorful.

It is surprising that a native New Yorker can so expertly bring a genuine Southern twang to his dishes. The fried green tomatoes are thickly sliced, greaseless and defiantly crunchy, even after a dunking in their accompanying roasted jalapeĀ¤o aioli. A romaine wedge with blue cheese dressing and bacon reinterprets the old iceberg classic, while a feather-light dusting of Old Bay spices sparks a new marriage between the perfectly cooked rockfish and its pepper, onion and tomato relish.

The grass-fed beef from Gryffon's Aerie farm gave my jaw a good workout, but unfortunately that seems to be the way with cattle that eschews grain. The waitress did, however, fully disclose its unusual texture when I ordered, so I tried to focus instead on its concentrated, meaty flavor. Interesting, yes, but ultimately I haven't quite acquired a taste for the lean, omega-rich beef that's so good for us all.

Things like crunchy onion rings that shattered upon impact and a definitive purple potato hash reflect a subtle sense of humor in Blase's cooking, and when I ordered the peanut butter surprise for my children (an item from the lunch menu graciously served at dinnertime by request), the sticky, banana-stuffed French bread won over my children and me with its unheard-of sprinkling of chocolate chips. At lunchtime, the balsamic-glazed chicken breast failed to impress, but the Double "A" Farm Italian sausage with its roasted peppers and onions jazzed up with fontina is worth a return. (I hope some garlic finds its way into the accompanying white beans, though.)

But the real reason to drive out is for dessert. A miraculously light, almost mousselike cheesecake makes you doubt every other piece of cheesecake you've eaten, and the warm apple cake served with homemade Yoder Dairies ice cream is practically as good as a piece of apple pie. A dark, imposing wedge of chocolate cake instantly reminds you of the famous Death By Chocolate, but instead of overwhelming you with its density, the weightless cake slices are held down by a chocolate ganache that impresses with its sugary restraint.

With its well-balanced wine list and attentive service, Edible Garden has finally found a way to showcase the culinary treasures of our collective backyard. S

Edible Garden
12506 River Road, Goochland
Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Thursday-Saturday, starting at 5 p.m.
Carryout dinners until 3 p.m. Monday-Friday.


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