Thursday, November 24, 2011

A day to give thanks

What’s this Foodie thankful for this year?

As another year starts to wind down, I find myself reflecting on 2011 and capturing some of the moments, big and small, that I have been fortunate to have been a part of:

Slow Food RVA:  As a still maturing organization, Slow Food RVA took real strides this year in promoting the ideals of Good, Clean, Fair Food.
  • We shared raw milk and cheeses at our Annual Meeting, hosted the TEDX viewing party at St Stephens Episcopal Church;
  • organized a Slow Food Happy Hour with the Anderson Gallery and brought in producers such as Manakintowne Growers, Avery’s Farm, Pizza Tonight, and Olli Salumeria, as well as the Indigenous Gourd Trio ;
  • held our first film festival Reel Food RVA at the  Byrd Theater;
  • Partnered with Hardywood Craft Brewing for a beer tasting and tour of the new brewery

Many many thanks to Stacy Luks for her tireless leadership and for Tracy, Jamie, Ashley and Jo-de ‘s support throughout the year.

Know Your Veggies and the Holton Garden
Know Your Veggies, a pilot program promoting healthy eating for elementary school kids, finished the school year strong last May with over 80 classroom visits, thanks to the efforts of Chef’s Ellie Basch and Sally Schmidt as well as many volunteers.  Thanks also to Bon Secours for providing nutrition education. We’ve had a slow start this Fall, but have added some Parent/Child cooking classes as well.  Under the leadership of Susanna Raffenot and Ellen Shepard, the Holton Garden is growing and providing great experiences for students and volunteers. And the outdoor classroom was a winner of a 2011 Golden Hammer Award!

Thanks to the national Foodie thoughtleaders Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan and Josh Viertel. And my favorite locals, The Richmond Food Collective; Eating Richmond,  and The Frontier Project .

Dominic Barrett and Steve Miles at Shalom Farms are carrying the torch for Food Security in the Richmond area. Providing great volunteer and education opportunities at their farm in Goochland and much needed fresh produce in Richmond’s food deserts, they are one of Richmond’s jewels.   Had a chance to attend a fundraising dinner created by Mezzanine’s Todd Johnson last month and was moved by the community of supporters.

The Richmond market scene
I am truly thankful for the Richmond market community that nourishes our city. Thanks to SOTJ, St Stephens and the Byrd House markets for providing sustenance and community. Thanks to Amy’s Garden and Victory Farms and Pizza Tonight and Nate’s Tacos and Manakintowne and Faith Farms and Tuckahoe Plantation and Agriberry and Drumhellers and all the rest who make Saturday mornings my favorite time of the week.

Richmond Restaurants
To the newcomers who have added some great dining options to Richmond’s food landscape: 

Secco  - Kudos to Julia, Tim and Peter for providing a European experience without the airfare.

Pescados China Street  Todd and company bringing Richmond some of  the best fish around.

The Rooselvelt   -  Kendra Feather  and Lee Gregory hit a homerun with their new Church Hill spot.

And thanks to the regulars that have kept me nourished and caffeinated:
Mamma Zu, Kuba Kuba, Mekong, Pho So I, 8 1/2 , The Empress, Enoteca Sogno, Lamplighter……….

Last but not least, I am thankful for my family and friends without whom the table would be empty. Thanks for breaking bread together.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pizza Tonight= Meatballs too !

Pizza Tonight has done it again.... the same nice folks who show up all over town with their wood fired oven on wheels, and sell their wonderfully supple dough and pizza kits, have added meatballs to their repertoire.

A collaboration with Sausage Craft, Victoria shares her old family recipe with RVA.  Spaghetti and meatballs can be on the dinner table in just a few minutes.  I made my first batch for dinner tonight, and was happy with the texture and flavor.

Look for them in the places you find Pizza Tonight's dough and kits, like Fall Line Farms, Relay Foods, River City Cellars, Ellwood Thompson's or the South of the James Market.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Growing Community - A Farm to Fork Dinner

The good folks from Shalom Farms are hosting a benefit dinner tomorrow night at Gallery 5. You may ask, what is Shalom Farms all about:

Begun in the fall of 2008, Shalom Farms is a nonprofit community farm project with the overarching goal of increasing food security in the Richmond region, particularly in low-income urban neighborhoods. A collaboration with many diverse and expert partners, the project is attaining its goal by: 1) providing fresh and healthy produce to underserved communities; 2) providing educational training to children and adults on growing food, nutrition, and food-based entrepreneurship; and 3) linking community groups to a wide range of food security resources and partners.

They are doing important work in Richmond, and I encourage you to come to the dinner 
and get involved in their cause.

Shalom Farms, Mezzanine Restaurant and Gallery5 Present:
Growing Community: A Farm to Fork Dinner

Come celebrate the Richmond farming community and Shalom Farms’ work to increase access to healthy 
produce in underserved communities in urban Richmond. 

Dinner will feature four courses prepared by Todd Johnson, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Mezzanine Restaurant with produce from 5 of the area’s best farms.

Gallery5 will feature a pairing of 4 Virginia Wines and Micro Brews. 

This dinner will take place in the main gallery upstairs at Gallery5. 
Additional beverages will be available. 

Space is limited, so reserve your ticket now. Click here to buy tickets.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Starry Night

When you are just not sure what to do with that extra few pounds of bacon in the house......

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Get Fresh: With Slow Food RVA

A few months ago the Anderson Gallery asked me to help put together one of their summer Happy Hour events around the theme of Slow Food. Last Wednesday evening a great crowd gathered to celebrate the taste of summer, connect with area growers, and learn about sustainability, biodiversity, and Richmond’s food community— all while sampling locally-produced, seasonal foods. The line-up included:

• a performance by Richmond’s Gourd Trio
 • PizzaTonight on-site selling from their mobile wood-fired pizza oven 
• biodynamic and organic wine tasting with Williams Corner 
• tutored salumi tastings by Olli Salumeria  
• a tasting of Sagitarrio olive oil from Tuscany
•  raw goat and Cow milk tasting
•  Manakintowne Growers with Padrone peppers and radicchio slaw

Ashley Kistler and Traci Horne Garland

Pete Markham cooking up some Padron peppers
Me(Sporting the Slow Food Snail) and Kathryn Henry Choisser

The Gourd Trio

Pizza Tonight
Ross from Olli Salumeria

Jo Pendergraph from Manikantowne

I'll bring you your dinner

A few months ago, my friend Charlie Knight and I donated a dinner to St Thomas' Auction and last weekend we made good on our donation. Some lovely folks bought the dinner and as the day grew closer we planned our menu and wine pairings and consulted with our hosts.  I wanted to do as much cooking in advance so the evening wouldn't be as stressful.

Our hosts were fellow Northsiders and we started the evening on their Wilmington Ave patio with a little bubbly, a clean Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 07

Appetizers included a Zucchini Carpaccio with homemade ricotta cheese and light lemon olive oil dressing.  

as well as Prosciutto rolls- a simple dish that combines arugula, gorgonzola cheese and pine nuts wrapped in prosciutto.

The two apps presented a bit of a challenge for wine pairings. The carpaccio is more delicate in flavor while the prosciutto rolls combine tangy cheese and spicy greens with the cured meat.  Charlie chose a white and red to complement the apps: 

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 09,  Stellenbosch, South Africa

Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc is  made of 100% Chenin Blanc from 30-year-old vines, the wine was harvested by hand, fermented cool in stainless steel tanks and bottled early to show the freshest fruit flavors of the varietal.

Fratelli Allessandria Pelaverga di Verduno 10
This is a fairly obscure wine from the Piedmont area of Italy; its  color looks  a bit like a Beaujolais, but its much more solid and sturdy wine, a great pairing for the prosciutto and other strong flavors.

The next course was a cold cucumber soup, I call it a White Gazpacho. It's mainly cucumbers (from my garden) and sour cream, with some garlic and onions.  I served it over a mixture of chopped tomatoes, parsley, and scallions. It screams summer.  Charlie paired it with a Dr Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 09.  A Riesling from this northern Germany Mosel region, this wine is lighter and less sweet than many Reislings, and has smoky caramel undertones.

The main course was a stuffed pork loin from a tried and true Paul Prudhomme recipe that I have made several times. It's stuffed with a spicy mixture of sauteed green peppers, celery, and onions, and cooked for several hours at 275 before a final blast at the end in  425 degree oven.  As side dishes I prepared simple sauteed green beans with garlic and a potato gratin layered with a sage Vidalia onion puree.

Charlie picked two reds that held up well to the spicy pork loin.  An 09 Bramare Malbec Lujan de Cuyo  hails from the Mendoza region in Argentina. It has a dark violet color and fruit-filled nose with lots of tannin in the finish.   An 07 Rudi Schultz Syrah from South Africa was a treat. As I can't remember the wine specifically and can't put my hand on my notes, I will leave you with the winemaker's hyperbolic notes, This stunning Syrah boasts beautiful aromas of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, and pepper that follow through on the lengthy palate. Well-integrated tannins and seductive hints of mocha, earth and spice add to the complexity of this eponymous bottling from Thelema winemaker Rudi Schultz."

Dessert was late, and well received. A chocolate tart incorporated  tea biscuits and was well paired with homemade coffee ice cream.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Market Days

Hallelujah, the markets are open.  I know, I know, there are markets open year round. But Spring is here and veggies are sprouting everywhere, and the market tables are overflowing. But it's not just  fresh produce that's available.  Read my take on my favorite prepared foods in this week's Style Weekly


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Burgers with a Conscience

My review of Boom Boom Burgers, Cow Consciousness,  is in this week's Style Weekly.  You pay a little bit of a premium for grass fed meat, but you get a karmic kickback as well as a great burger.  While they need to work on their side dishes, their burgers are delicious, and served on great rolls from locally owned Flour Garden Bakery. I'd much rather fork over a few more dollars for meat that is humanely raised and a meal that doesn't leave a greasy coating in my mouth and belly. I  admire their mission and their support of the local community.  I sincerely hope that the local community will return the favor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Style Weekly Wins VPA Awards

Among many awards garnered by Style Weekly in last week's Virginia Press Association event,  the food team won a First Place in Food Writing for the 2010 State of the Plate issue. Thanks to Style Weekly for a great few years ! And Congrats to my editor Deveron and my colleagues Don, Tess, and Joe !

Monday, April 04, 2011

Spring Catch Up

With Spring upon us, I have been remiss for the past several weeks in posting much so excuse the following recap of my culinary adventures.

I have had several articles in Style Weekly recently, including the 2011 State of the Plate where we gave a nod to Amuse as Restaurant of the Year, but also recognized several other favorites, including Pescado's China Street, The Black Sheep, Acacia, Lamplighter, and more.  It's a challenging issue for many reasons, not least of which is a burgeoning restaurant scene in Richmond.

In this week's Style Weekly, I write about Cafe Ole's venture into Carytown, where Betsy Harrell Thomas offers a healthy alternative to our fast-food nation. With fish tacos that are some of the best in town, and a host of other fresh and simple Cal-Mex treats, they are well on their way to becoming a Carytown fixture.

I also have an article in the current issue of Flavor Magazine profiling Julep's bartender extraordinaire, Bobby Kruger. You can find a copy at most Martins supermarkets as well as Barnes and Noble. Speaking of Flavor, I was their guest at a recent wine dinner at Acacia Midtown.  The evening celebrated the wonderful wines of Cameron Winery in Dundee, Oregon.

Hosted by Rob Crittenden of  Roanoke Valley Wine Company,  Cameron's winemaker John Paul, with an Einstein like presence, entertained the group with fascinating stories of his journey from Marine Biologist to winemaker, adventures with vine clones, Burgundy producers and the down and dirty of the business. One of the funniest stories was around how they named their vineyard Clos Electrique. The word clos is French for "enclosure." As one can imagine. a drive through the French winecountry takes you past vineyards enclosed by rustic stone walls. When they lamented their lack of stone walls and the presence of "electric fences,"  the name Clos Electrique seemed a good fit.

Stories aside, Aline and Dale Reitzer were gracious hosts; Aline runs one of the best "front of the houses" in Richmond, and Dale's culinary prowess needs no introduction and little embellishment.

First Course
Hot and Cold Crab
Hot Crab soup with sea urchin custard and cold crab salad on red pepper puree
2007 Dundee Hills Chardonnay

The soup was sublime- chunks of crab meat floated in a simple dashi broth- the real surprise was the sea urchin custard lining the bottom of the bowl- creamy essence of the sea in every bite.

Second Course

Sauteed Local Rockfish, Butter Braised Kohlrabi, Kohlrabi puree, Almond Grape Sauce
2007 Clos Electrique Blanc

Tender rockfish- poor man's lobester- accented with a subtle sauce and earthy kohlrabi- the wine was a real treat- it got better as it warmed up- fairly complex for a white, the combination of mostly old Chardonnay clones with a touch of Pinot Blanc

Third Course

Veal ravioli, tomato fondue, veal parmesan broth
2008 Clos Electrique Pinot Noir

Tender ravioli with braised veal inside- much better and heartier than the usual puree found in ravioli- tomato fondue channeled summer flavors.  Nice pairing

Fourth Course

Pan roasted duck breast on marscarpone,sweetbread, fennel and sunchoke risotto, red wine apple onion sauce
2007 Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir
Rare and tender duck- risotto was indulgent, studded with rich sweetbread, clean fennel flavors, and earthy sunchoke

Desserts included an assortment of petit-fours, including a particluary interesting rose water meringue.

Monday, March 07, 2011

An Italian and a Wok

Although the myth of Marco Polo bringing pasta to Italy from his travels in China in the late 13th century has long been proven a fallacy, one of Richmond’s newest Italian restaurants, Osteria La Giara, forges a link between Italy and China. Nuccio Giambanco, an immigrant from Sicily in the mid 1980’s and long time proprietor of Nuccio’s Trattoria & Pizza on Richmond’s Southside, cooks his pasta in a wok.
You can read my review in this week's Style Weekly.

 You can check out his video on You Tube for a demonstration.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Poignant Moments

Think about how many important moments you've shared with someone over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a pint of beer or a meal.  There's a certain intimacy that comes with sharing food or drink- i stumbled upon a moment last weekend that took my breath away. While I don't know the people or the context, this was a moment imbued with spirit and gravitas.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Buen Gusto

One of my ongoing dreams for the Richmond restaurant landscape has been the desire for a more upscale Mexican restaurant. There are certainly a few places in town that make a decent mole or tamale, but none treat the genre with the refinement and interest that other cities do. A recent trip to Austin's  Fonda San Miguel  over Thanksgiving, and memories of   Rick Bayless 's Frontera Grill  in Chicago make me yearn for a higher quality experience in Richmond.  With the new Plaza Azteca in Richmond, we've taken a few baby steps, but we still have a long way to go.

Read my take on  Plaza Azteca  in this week's Style Weekly.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Un weekend Québécoise- Day 3

Woke up to a cold Sunday morning, with the snow tapering off to flurries. Sampled a Montreal style bagel with smoked salmon for breakfast. Canadian bagels are smaller, denser, and sweeter than their New York cousins and are boiled in a honey sweetened water before being baked in wood fired ovens.

Spent the morning exploring the grounds of the Botanical Gardens, shrouded in layers of snow...  footsteps in the crunchy snow

Wandered around Montreal in bitter cold, exploring the city. Late afternoon lunch of mussels steamed in heavy cream with leeks. Experienced Montreal's Bring Your Own Bottle culture firsthand when we realized that the restaurant didn't serve wine but encouraged a run across the street to pick up a bottle instead.

Montreal's Olympic Stadium 

Icicles at McGill University 

Art Happens 

Who's Colder?  Susannah..... 

Or Our Canadian Friend 

Look who's pulling Santa's Sled ?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Un weekend Québécoise- Day 2

We awoke Saturday morning to heavier snow. After a late breakfast of omlettes with crsispy toasted baguette and bowls of cafe au lait, we headed out for a day of walking in the snow, darting in an out of shops, cafes, and bars.  We started our day at the Marche Jean Talon, a large covered market surrounded by small shops- a boulangerie, fromagerie etc.  A food lovers paradise. Spent a lot of time in a particularly cool spice shop, Olive et Epices, and at the Seafood market where Christopher shared oysters from Prince Edward Island and Cape Cod.

We had a late afternoon snack of Poutine at the famous 24 hour La Banquise. Poutine is a traditional dish of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. It's probably best after a night of drinking.

We stopped at a cool folk club Quai des Brumes to listen to Anique Granger perform with some other great singer-songwriter types. A nice way to wind up a lazy day. Back to the hotel for a nap before our big dinner at the famous Pied Au Cochon.

Many folks had told me that Pied au Cochon was the "must visit" restaurant in Montreal, and I was well aware of Chef Martin Picard's reputation.  We got a late reservation at 10 pm and walked through a snowy evening in preparation for the circus that awaited.  I had been to Pied au Cochon in Paris years ago, and was interested in tasting the Québécoise spin.  

The restaurant pulses with energy and has a great vibe. The open kitchen and mirrored walls make for great people watching and everyone is buzzing with smiles and laughter. One can't eat at Pied au Cochon without sampling one of Picard's Foie Gras creations. The  "Plogue a Champlain" ranks up with the top 10 dishes I have eaten.  With a buckwheat pancake base, Picard stacks slices of thick cut bacon, potatoes, and cheese and is topped with grilled foie gras, all topped with a maple syrup sauce.  It's a brilliant dish combining sweet and salty, rich and lean, soft and crispy.  A near perfect dish.

Wanting to seize the moment, I also chose the PDC Melting Pot as my main dish, a combination of all things pig. Boudin, Blood Sausage, Roast Pork Belly and Pork Chop, served in a crock over mashed potatoes, onion and cheese.  It was a bit much after the Foie Gras starter, but a good sampling of porky goodness.

Dessert was not to be missed. Susannah and I shared "Pudding de Chomeur" a traditional French Canadian dish that translates to "Poor Man's Pudding."  If I could only be this poor every day. It's a simple white cake baked in a dish of maple caramel sauce. Maybe maple syrup was cheaper back in the day when this dish got its name. It's a decadent dish and feeds the soul.

After such a long and gluttonous meal we were  happy for the 1/2 hour walk back to our hotel through the snowy night.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Un weekend Québécoise- Day 1

Last weekend my wife Susannah and I escaped for a long weekend in Montreal to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary and spend a few days sans kids. When I read that the forecast was calling for temperatures to stay below 10 degrees all weekend, I questioned our decision to go North rather than South.  I guess the allure of  a French experience in a city known for its food scene tipped the scales for me.  Just days before we left, I hit the jackpot when a friend emailed me a 15 page guide to Montreal's food scene written by a foodie in the know. 

We arrived in time for a late lunch on Friday, the first of many meals we would enjoy in Paris of the north. We had  suite in a small hotel Le Relais Lyonnais  on the bustling Rue St Denis in the Latin Quarter, well situated just minutes from the old port, the Plateau, and many other cool neighborhoods.  

Just a block away was a local microbrewery, Les 3 Brasseurs, actually a Canadian outpost of a French chain. We were looking for a quick lunch as it was late, and when I saw Flammekueche on the menu, I was hooked.  They make a selection of beer in house, and I enjoyed a 6.2 amber that quickly took the edge off a morning of traveling. The last time I had eaten Flammekueche, besides the Trader Joe variety, was in Alsace where I believe they call them Tarte Flambée. I had the Québécoise, topped with onions, lardons and raclette cheese. Thin crispy crust topped with salty chunks of bacon and  melted cheese. Real comfort food.

After a walk around the cobblestoned streets of the Old City, where it started to snow, we walked back to the Latin Quarter through the small Chinatown neighborhood, looking for roast ducks in the windows. It was so cold that the streets seemed quiet for a Friday night.  We had cocktails back at the hotel before heading out for dinner.  I had a line on a great place in the Mont Royal neighborhood, Au Cinquieme Peche,  and we were lucky to find a table at 9 pm on a Friday night.   One of the things that stood out was the elegant service. It was friendly ( in both French and English) yet inconspicuous at the same time.

The menu was chalkboard only, and I struggled a little with some of the French. My eyes immediately locked onto a special appetizer, Brain & Chips.  I am an adventurous eater, and it had been some time since I had seen brain on a menu. My wife promised that I wouldn't be getting a goodnight kiss, but I took my chances. It was fantastic. Slices of brain were battered and lightly fried. The texture was crispy on the outside, with a creamy custardy filling. The flavor was rich, in the same way that marrow is but I still have a hard time comparing it to anything. The homemade spicy chips were a nice accompaniement.  For a main course I stayed local with tournados of wapiti, the Cree name for elk. It was a lot more tender than most game I have eaten, and the pairing with a rich and fatty roast pork belly was brilliant. As was the 1/2 hollandaise 1/2 veal demiglace on the side.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Interesting Food Stats

In last Saturday's New York Times, Sam Roberts took a look at some interesting tidbits from the 130th edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States:

We are eating less meat:  108.3 pounds per person in 2008, down 5.4 pounds since 2000.  But that's still almost 1/3 lb of meat per day.

We're eating fewer veggies too: 392.7 pounds per person, down more than 30 pounds.

We're drinking more wine: 2.5 gallons per person, up from 2 gallons in 2000.  That's less than I thought, only about  12 bottles of wine in a year.

1/4 of our calories come from Junk food....