Young yet Sophisticated 

Jimmy's young chef offers clever and tasty dishes with just a few flaws.

Blame it on the Drought of 2002, which has prompted environmentally conscious restaurateurs in Albemarle County to voluntarily commit to Project H20, whose goal is to reduce water usage by 20 percent.

One way to do that in a restaurant is to have fewer dishes to wash, ergo, throwaway plates. Many participating restaurants also use a waterless antibacterial hand-sanitizer in their restrooms, and — here's the stickler — refuse to serve tap water.

That's dandy, but some restaurants, including Jimmy's, are making a profit off the crisis by forcing overpriced bottled water on their patrons.

Jimmy's, which is not really on the James, but across the street from buildings that back up to the river, occupies a 100-year-old frame building on Scottsville's up-and-coming main drag that was the site of The River Rat, a wonderful restaurant that closed two years ago because of the owner's illness.

And despite some fixable flaws, it is a worthy successor.

As for the water problem, an alternative for a wise diner is to drink wine.

We chose a 2001 South African chardonnay, Simonsvlei, crisp and slightly oaky, smartly priced at $18 a bottle.

For a Saturday-night dinner, I began with smoked trout served in a pastry as light as air with sautéed apples and horseradish ($7.50). Nancy started with a roasted portabello tart, accompanied by a clever blending of sautéed spinach, Stilton cheese and red onion ($5.50). Both appetizers showed off chef Chad Erwin's deft touch with crusts.

For the entree, I had salmon, pan seared to perfection, with braised lentils and shrimp-lemongrass sauce ($14). Nancy's entree was grilled pork tenderloin with sautéed apples, carrots and roasted fingerling potatoes. Both main dishes could have been warmer, and the pork was a bit too rare for Nancy.

Desserts also displayed Erwin's delicate stroke. I had a spiced soufflé with pumpkin ice cream, created from a roasted pumpkin puree and flavored with nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Nancy picked ginger-peach bread pudding with raisin ice cream.

At a lunch, the chef again produced a delicate crust on fish and chips — four pieces of pollack lightly fried in a beer batter with tartar sauce and french fries with vinegar for dipping ($7). Nancy had butternut squash soup ($3.50) and a Caesar salad ($4.50). The soup, while artistically decorated with swirls of balsamic vinegar, was bland and served without bread or crackers. The salad, with wilted lettuce and hard-as-rock croutons, tasted and looked like it had been left over from the night before.

Chef Erwin, 27, is at his best preparing fish; his favorite dish is pan-seared scallops with a ratatouille of potatoes, celery and broccoli, spiced with rosemary.

He learned to cook by hanging out with his mom in the kitchen of their home in Southern California. His first cooking job was in a rehabilitation center on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He graduated from institutional food to nouvelle French cuisine at the Keswick Club near Charlottesville. He then followed his mentor there, John Haywood, to Oxo in Charlottesville, where he caught the attention of local businessman Jim Norwood.

Norwood, who owns shoe stores in Charlottesville, Virginia Beach and Richmond, couldn't have picked a worst time for his first venture into the shaky restaurant business — Jimmy's opened shortly after 9/11. But the place steadily has built a clientele of local folks, plus food adventurers from Charlottesville, half an hour away, and Richmond, 65 miles east on Rt. 6.

Scottsville has been undergoing a resurgence since the completion of a flood wall, and now, along with several unique shops, it sports half a dozen eating places, on Valley Street, its main drag. These include a second high-end restaurant, Caffe Bocce, a diner and a biker bar, along with several unique shops. S

Don Baker has been reviewing restaurants since he retired as Richmond bureau chief for the Washington Post in '99. He has worked as a waiter and maitre-d' and has a dining Web site, diningpro.com. He last reviewed restaurants for Style in the late '80s.

Jimmy's on the James ($$$)

515 Valley St., Scottsville

(434) 286-7500.

Monday, Wednesday-Saturday Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11a.m.-3 p.m.


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