Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Mexican in Shockoe Bottom

Aztek Grill has joined the ranks of Mexcian restaurants in Richmond. Their menu is more pan-Latin than most and goes a step beyond most of Richmond's typical fare.

Click here for the whole burrito

Breakfast of Champions ???

My son is in kindergarden at Holton Elementary School in Richmond. It's a great school with a great principal, David Hudson ( who by the way is featured on the cover of North of the James this month.) Raine has asked me to have breakfast at school, which by the way is free to any child who chooses to partake. I finally relented and joined him last week. I have to admit that my expectations were not very high, but i was surprised that the 2 main entrees were pizza and pancake on a stick (with a sausage center its remarkably like a corndog. Cold cereal (of the sugared variety) and bananas rounded out the offerings.

And we wonder why our kids are getting fat, developing diabetes, and are in generally poor health. Where is the oatmeal when we need it?

Collegiate Epicureans

I was invited last week by Pam Anderson, artist extraordinaire and art teacher at Collegiate to speak to their Epicurean Club. A group of about 30 high schoolers at Collegiate meet a few times a month to talk food. They had just been to Edo Squid for a tasty field trip a few days before I visited, and they were a pretty interested bunch. I spoke to them about the job of a food critic, my background, and The Slow Food Movement. It was great to see so much energy in a such a young group.

Padron Peppers- a tasty treat

I was at the South of the James Farmers Market a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised to find Padron peppers being sold by the nice folks at
Manakin Specialty Growers. My friend and neighbor Brandon Fox was the first to introduce me to these little treats- perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail hour.

In the frying pan

Ready to eat

The aftermath

Here is some additional history from Wikipedia:

The most famous produce of Padrón are its peppers (Spanish pimientos de Padrón), which are small green peppers from the Capsicum Annuum family. They are served fried with olive oil and coarse salt. Most taste sweet and mild, though some are particularly hot and spicy, which gives its character to the dish and is perfectly captured in the popular "Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non" (Galician for "Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not"). The level of heat varies according to the capsaicin of each pepper. Although it's not always the case, the peppers grown towards August/September tend to contain more capsaicin than the ones of June/July.

About 15,000 kg of peppers are grown in Padrón each year (mostly in the valley of the parish of Herbón) between June and September. In 1979 the first Festa do Pemento de Padrón was organized in Herbón, a popular gastronomic event that has been held every year since, the first Sunday in August. The festa takes place in the carballeira of Herbón's Franciscan convent, since it was the Franciscan monks who brought the first pepper seeds from Mexico in the 16th century, which then were adapted to the soil, the Oceanic climate of the Valley and grown with special techniques.

A Dinner to Remember

On one of Richmond’s most dreary and dank evenings last week, a little restaurant on Broad Street became one of the warmest and intimate rooms I have ever experienced. Gary York, proprietor of Enoteca Sogno, presented Giuseppe Vaira and his Piedmonte wines.

Wise beyond his 24 years, Giuseppe told the story of how his father Aldo left the big city of Torino to return to the land of his ancestors near Barolo to start producing wine. And now he is following in the footsteps of his “padre”, newly graduated from university with a degree in winemaking. But he tells us that not everything can be learned in the classroom. Recently his father asked him how the vintification process was going. He reported back that all the levels and temperatures were on track. He went on to ask him, how does it sound? Did you listen to the grapes fermenting? There are not many who still believe in the alchemy of it all, the mix of science and soul.

The first wine we sampled was a Langhe Bianco, a surprising wine for this region. Giuseppe called it Barolo’s wife! It is a Riesling planted on the vineyard of Fossati, located at the borderline of the village of la Morra. Fossati is quite a steep vineyard, and growing the grapes at a higher altitude does a few things- it produces a wine with a wider mid-palate and it utilizes land that would be unsuitable for other grapes because of the cooler temperatures. And it’s unlike most Rieslings you have ever tasted, much drier and cleaner with subtle peach and apricot fruitiness but a long mineral finish. A nice start to the evening.

We were served an appetizer platter with our next wine- a nice selection of Fra Mani salami, a bra duro cheese from Piedmonte- it tasted more like sheep than cow to me; a rapini tart, and an onion sformato- a savory flan.

The next wine was a 2007 Langhe Rosso – a combination of 80% Dolcetto, 15% Barbera, and 5% Fresia, and Nebbiolo.
It’s a great drinking wine- hints of currant, a canopy of flavors, a bit spicy, nice body and smooth finish.

Our next wine was a Dolcetto d’Alba 2007- I learned that the Dolcetto grape is one that can be used as an eating grape and also to make wine- it has a deep purple color with low acidity and lots of tannin. The next wine was also a Dolcetto Coste & Fossati, 2007 –made with a blend of Dolcetto grapes from 2 vineyards- Coste has a SW orientation on a step slope and its afternoon line gives the grape more structure. The Fossati vineyard, with a SE orientation, gets morning light and is more delicate in its body and flavor. Combined together, they are a great pair. It was a nice complement to the Butternut Squash soup with fried sage on top. Earthy and delicious.

The next wine was a 2007 Nebbiolo delle Langhe- Giuseppe spoke of the wine in comparison to the famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni- it makes whatever it is served with a “princess.” It certainly was a great pairing with the mushroom risotto, cooked perfectly al dente with just enough cheese to enhance all of the flavors. Giuseppe joked that this was his “college wine” that he kept his roommates happy with throughout the year. It’s a great food wine.

Our final course was a beef shank cooked in Barolo and served with its juices over creamy polenta. The 2003 Barolo was a real treat – even though it was a hot year, the relative lateness of the Nebbiolo harvest gives them the advantage of cooling down. It’s a great wine with food, fruity with surprising level of tannin given the weather.

The final wine of the evening was another surprise, Vajra Kye, made with Fresia grapes, a lesser known Piedmonte grape style, and the name is a play on the Italian Chi e’? what is it ?

Thanks to Gary York for bringing Giuseppe to town and for a great evening.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

March of Dimes Chef Auction

On Sunday night I had the chance to judge the March of Dimes Chef's Auction at the Westin. Along with Tess Bosher, fellow Style Food critic, Ellie Basch, owner of Savor Cafe in Manchester, and Henry Reidy of Strawberry Street Vineyard, we were wrangled by Judge Coordinator Tanya Cauthen of Belmont Butchery. After some deliberation over 8 entries, we scored each submission on Presentation, Taste, and Creativity.

The winning dish, from Chef Michael Hall at the Bull and the Bear Club, was a clever entry. What at first glance looked like baby lambchops were in reality portobella mushrooms wrapped in bacon with chop bones. what I thought were mushrooms were actually chunks of lamb. Polenta was carved to look like bone marrow- and the whole thing was served on a spun candy plate. Beautiful and clever and tasty too.

Second place went to Phil Denny from Six Burner for a Trotter & Foie Gras croquette- ground pigs feet and foie gras bound together in a crispy panko encrusted ball of heaven, accented with a spicy harissa-like sauce.

Photographs by Lorenzo


Charcuterie has its roots in the ancient world as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration. Today we honor this tradition partly as a way to uphold our culinary legacy, but mostly for reasons of taste. Charcuterie in its many forms — prosciutto, bacon, pâté, terrines, confit and sausage, to name a few — is a real treat and increasingly, one that can be found on Richmond menus.

Read more in Style Weekly.

Click Here To Take the Cure