You know what I’ve noticed? Charlottesville restaurants have *really* stepped up their game! Particularly when it comes to getting the word out about their scrumptious offerings. Websites, Facebook, Twitter. I see more and more restaurants jumping in with both feet. Bravo! Little hint guys, create a FAN PAGE, not a profile. And for gosh sakes check your posts and ads for typos. There’s one sad little ad I see EVERY week in one of our local papers with the word “dinning” in it. Sigh……
Posts from the ‘Zinc Bistro’ Category
…just for a little while. Since I racked up my neck and back hauling luggage on a trip to Vegas (yeah, I know, I gotta come up with a better story), I’ve been laying pretty low and not posting because:
- I can’t stay on a computer more than 20 minutes, which barely gives me enough time to do the important stuff like answer email and check my Restaurant City game ;P
- I’ve lost my appetite due to the meds. Sadly, even the porniest of food porn does nothing to make me need, want, desire, much less write about, food. Not quite the agony of say, Grant Achatz getting a tongue tumor, but with the same twist of irony.
- I’m housebound. Cabin fever has set in. Not “Donner Party” stir crazy just yet, but getting there. Hubby arrives home from work and me *and* my dog go running to the door. Most journeys outside involve driving = A.G.O.N.Y. And after 20 minutes in a restaurant booth or 10 minutes standing my neck begins to whisper things like, “This hurts bitch. What’s the matter with you?” If you’ve ever seen Richard Grant talking to his boil in “How to Get Ahead in Advertising,” you’ll know what I’m talking about.
First of all, thank you from the bottom of this Southern broad’s pork-lovin’, bourbon-swillin’ heart for all of the C-Ville Weekly “Best Local Food Blogger 2010” accolades. And congratulations to runner-up Mas to Miller’s! They do such a great job of reviewing restaurants-with a heckuvalot more detail and style. The very fact we have this category gives me hope for the future of food writing in our little ‘ville.
I shall wear my tiara with pride and do my best to live up to the title, which I imagine involves eating a lot of food and pissing off a lot of restaurant-goers, chefs, food purveyors, and the like. We aims to please and I shall do my very best. *Curtsying*
After much deliberation, discussion, and general pigging out, here are my selections for Cville’s Best Restaurants 2010. By all means disagree – I carved out this space on the Interwebs to get food lovers talking. Disagreement and healthy discussion keeps the environment from becoming more stagnant than flat beer. Apologies to C-Ville weekly for borrowing so heavily from their categories, but as Jean-Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” I’ve added a few categories of my own, just for grins.*
EDIBLE CVILLE’S BEST OF 2010:
BEST RESTAURANT – ZYNODOA
Hands down, the best meal experience of my entire year. Hubby and I looked across the table at one point thinking, “WHY don’t we have anything like this in Charlottesville?” Delicious American slash Southern bistro style food – ALL sourced locally. Without the snobby, stuffy, frou-frou attitude you sometimes find in Cville. A poster above the kitchen listed the suppliers, the drinks were outstanding, and the waitstaff was seriously excited about the food. All of them had worked there a while, and possessed real interest and knowledge in the food they were presenting. Yeah, I’m cheating a little by listing a Staunton-based restaurant, but there’s some exciting stuff happening at Zynodoa. Stuff that needs to happen in Charlottesville. We left the restaurant and encountered a street festival – a band was playing a Velvet Underground song at top volume and people young and old were dancing their asses off. Couldn’t happen here. The decibel limit would be too high the minute the roadie said, “Sibilance” into the microphone.
BEST RESTAURANT YOU DON’T HAVE TO CROSS A MOUNTAIN FOR – ZINC BISTRO
I cannot rave enough about this place. Their motto is “Seasonally Inspired – Locally Acquired” and it shows. Local milk-fed pan-roasted chicken that tastes like grandma raised and killed the bird herself. Chilled heirloom tomato soup so pure it tastes like Thomas Keller made it. These guys get it, and they’ve got the pigs to prove it. By buying and raising two Duroc pigs, butchering them, then serving them in their restaurant, they are “Farm to Fork” personified. Doobie and Mr. Wiggles, we hardly knew ye. But ye sure were tasty. I love a restaurant that blogs, and I love a restaurant consistently serving tasty food and drink while trying to drive home the fact that we are SURROUNDED by farms and wineries providing all this delicious bounty. Go Zinc!
BEST NEW RESTAURANT – TAVOLA
I think both Zinc and Zynodoa have challenger nipping at their heels because from start to finish our dinner at Tavola was authentic, tasty, and just plain amazing. Claire (our server) charmed me from start to finish, first when she offered reading glasses because I forgot mine (DOH!) and then when she walked us through the wine menu for help with pairings because we’re wine neophytes. The house-made fettuccine was light as air in a garlicky sauce of Littleneck clams just begging to be soaked up by bread. The Caponata was a sweet, roasty delicious morsel and Hubby’s veal chop was cooked perfectly. The bathroom was adorable (yes, that counts), and even though we were seated in the middle of “traffic” I didn’t mind. We lingered, the vibe was chill, and we meandered back to our car fat and happy. Tavola is officially my favorite new restaurant. Mille grazie!
BEST NEW RESTAURANT, RUNNER-UP – BROOKVILLE
Just under the wire (they opened August 10th) Brookville gets my vote because I’ve never seen anything like it. Food sourced locally? Check. Sources listed somewhere in the restaurant? Check. Regularly updated blog? Check. But Brookville has a little something extra too. The front room contains a huge communal dining table of old wood that looks like it was lifted from a farmhouse. The remainder of the room is filled with bookshelves of cookbooks (Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, and Michael Symon’s Live to Cook, Yay!), as well as a deep couch. Hints to linger and linger, a very good thing. I *love* the menu. The chef keeps it limited, only making what he has on hand – THAT DAY. It reminded me of the restaurant Jacques Pepin’s parents ran when he was a child (profiled in his awesome autobiography, My Life in the Kitchen). Jacques’s mother would create 3 courses each day, offering all for one fixed price. You don’t like it? Go somewhere else. This is our best offering TODAY. Tomorrow? Something different. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea (I saw a few folks glance at the menu and leave), but I love it. Seasonal cuisine to the extreme!
BEST BREAKFAST – THE NOOK
So, you want eggs and bacon on the Downtown Mall on a Saturday and you want to sit outside? Or maybe you need the pastrami on rye hangover cure? Head to The Nook. Bluegrass is good, but there’s a wait, and they tend to push you out the door. Blue Moon’s “too cool for school” attitude bugs the shit outta me, and Cafe Cubano’s menu, while good, doesn’t have mega-omelets. Or milkshakes. At The Nook you can sit outside (in the shade no less), there’s barely a wait, the food is good (best fries in the city), bloody mary’s are fabulous, and you can linger as long as you like. What more do you want?
BEST LUNCH UNDER $10 – EPPIE’S
Bodo’s? For real? Come on C-Ville readers! There you can get turkey – on a bagel. Egg salad – on a bagel. Whatever you want – on a bagel. At Eppie’s there is SO much more. They win for their specials alone! Monday it’s a yummy Fiesta Bowl, Tuesday it’s Caesar Salad. My favorite? Thursday’s turkey meatloaf, or heck *anything* with a side of collards and sweet potato. And their peach cobbler is to die for. My cousin ate their ham “biscuits” on pumpkin bread and cried, “It’s slap yo mamma good!” All for under $10.
BEST LUNCH UNDER $8 – BLUE RIDGE COUNTRY STORE
Dan and Patty are WAY overdue for some recognition. BRCS is a Cville-locals secret for yummy lunch. To me, they are the “Crunchy-Granola 7-Eleven” because you can find just about anything you’d ever think you’d want to eat that’s healthy: Kashi bars, healthy drinks, sweet potato chips with flaxseed, Kefir, whatever! Or maybe you want something hearty? Their soups, meatloaf, and jerk chicken over rice will fill you up nicely. And don’t get me started on their salad bar! OVER 100 ITEMS! Including local organic produce, diced ham, turkey breast, artichoke hearts, edamame, wasabi peas, you name it. If they don’t have it on the bar, you can ask for it and someone will run in the back and get it. Did I mention the 25 different house-made salad dressings? Fifty-cent cookies for dessert? Yes please! I heart Dan and Patty. Every summer when they go on vacation I go through withdrawals for their fat-free peach muffins and apple cinnamon scones.
BEST MEXICAN – TACO TRUCK AT THE FARMER’S MARKET
Homemade corn tortillas, slow-cooked pork, tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco. For $2.50. You can’t beat that with a stick.
BEST ITALIAN – TAVOLA (SEE DESCRIPTION ABOVE)
No other restaurant in Charlottesville comes close to rustic, authentic Italian cuisine. Bellissimo!
BEST CHINESE – TASTE OF CHINA
We all know his name. Peter Chang swooped into town and stayed to cook just long enough to win this award, hands down. All the medals on the wall can’t be wrong. His double-cooked pork made my list of “Best Dishes” (below), and I find myself craving his fish and cilantro rolls on an almost-daily basis. He didn’t skimp on the heat, stood by his principles, and when the kitchen got too hot, he beat feet outta town. And you know what? He taught his kitchen staff well, because Taste of China is still the best Chinese food in Cville. I bet it wins next year without him.
BEST JAPANESE – TEN
We went here for the first time during Cville Restaurant Week, and frankly, I didn’t think it would live up to the hype. But it did, and then some. The ambiance is such you feel just a tad bit cooler the minute you walk in. The cocktails are inventive and refreshing, and the sushi is ANYTHING but utility. This is first-class stuff. I ordered the seared tuna steak and it was sublime. Now, this is really saying something about me. I *never* order tuna steak. Usually it’s overcooked and dry, or loaded with saucy crap. But this made me look at tuna steak in a whole different way. It was just this side of pink on the inside, like a finely-cooked pork loin. And the citrus ponzu salsa gave it just enough acid. It was the tuna steak I will measure all others against.
BEST INDIAN – ROYAL INDIAN
I’m still in mourning over Royal Indian’s closing on June 30th. The owner promises to open in a new location. Until then, I may have to go without. Their dishes were so *LIGHT* compared to other places in town, and so flavorful. They had preparations I’d never even heard of. The tables were huge, and the portions just generous enough you could finish without feeling gross. When I had bad weeks, I knew takeout from Royal Indian would make it all better. I think I’ll go pout now.
BEST MEDITERRANEAN – AROMA’S CAFE
For the owner alone, this place gets my vote. A+ in service every time. Would hate to work for Hassan (he seems TOUGH), but it translates into a pampered dining experience. Their wraps, salads, dips, are all very yummy. Only downside is sitting outside you have a nice view of the Barracks Road strip mall, meh. But the food? Always very good. A little birdy told me Hassan is soon going to bottle his spicy Habiba sauce. Awesome!
BEST FRENCH – CASSIS
In this category, I’m thinking *authentic* French. Zinc is great, but they’re moving away from strictly French. Yeah, I know, Cassis closed, but when I think of their steak tartare platter with the little cornichons and the raw-egg-placed-ever-so-delicately-in-the-shell on top, I swoon. And don’t get me started on their beef bourguignon and cassoulet (see the “Best Dish” category).
BEST SEAFOOD – SEAFOOD AT WEST MAIN
Not counting the sushi at Ten, Seafood at West Main *definitely* has the best seafood in town. Consistently, what we buy there and take home to cook ourselves tastes a gazillion times better than what we order in any restaurant. Period. Kudo’s to Chris for keeping it fresh and for their staff being so helpful and friendly. Hubby and I have cooked so many new kinds of fish, even whole Spanish mackerel, under their fine tutelage. And you can’t beat their “Sushi Week” specials! If you sign up on their mailing list, every other week you can send in an order for sushi-grade fish for pickup. We’ve done this more than once and it’s always top notch.
BEST PIZZA – NONE! NO AWARD! NADA!
I’m keeping this category open until I have a chance to try Fry’s Spring Station, and Semolina, but until then I still say the best pizza in Charlottesville is in……Brooklyn, NY at Nino’s! :P
BEST BURGER – RHETT’S RIVER GRILL & RAW BAR
I’m as surprised by this as you are! But when I ordered my Angus burger medium-rare, it was brought to me that way. Topped with bacon, cheddar, and so juicy I had burger drippings running down my arm the whole time I was eating. To me, that’s one damn fine burger. So memorable, that now when I crave a burger, we go to Rhett’s.
BEST BARBECUE – THE BARBECUE EXCHANGE
OMG, there’s such a thing as pork belly barbecue? Yes, Virginia, there is. And it’s mouthwateringly wonderful. Their brisket is terrific, and although I think Buzz and Ned’s still has the best ribs, Craig Hartman is definitely onto something. I’m *SO* glad he left Fossett’s, because seriously, I haven’t had cornbread this good since my Nana passed away. And green tomato pickles? I crave them constantly. Get thee to Gordonsville!
BEST FROZEN TREAT – SPLENDORA’S
You can rave all you want about top-it-yourself-frozen-yogurt Pinkberry-esque places, but I’ll head back to Patricia Ross’s joint every time. Miss Ross (she’d slap you if you called her that) consistently has the most creative, tasty, and belly-craving gelato concoctions. I’ve had dreams about her espresso chip. And the blood orange sorbet? To die for! This ain’t no Baskin-Robbins people, and Patricia doesn’t have a magic packet of flavoring she can just dump in and instantly create chai tea gelato. She develops the flavors over weeks and weeks, until they have such depth you actually think you’re drinking chai. Don’t like gelato? Try some lavender lemonade. It’s sunshine in a glass. And you haven’t lived until you’ve tried her chocolate shortbread.
TOP FIVE BEST DISHES – These are the dishes I can still remember with fondness even months after eating them. They tasted so good whenever Hubby and I talk about food, our eyes go all wistful and we wax poetic about how good these five dishes tasted.
Flemish Carbonnade at Horse & Hound Gastropub – The best thing I ate all year. Carbonnade is a braised beef stew, and the Belgian national dish. Chef Luther told us it took him THREE DAYS to prepare this dish in its entirety. Braised in Ommegang 2009 Ale (of which we were told only 3 casks remain) with vegetables, prunes, and spices until everything is just falling apart the minute you touch it. Three days to make? You could tell. So damn good. I may have even kissed Luther full on the mouth on my way out, but it’s all kind of a blur.
Cassoulet at Cassis – More comfort food. Slow-cooked bean and duck stew with pork sausage. This chef took no shortcuts, you could tell this stuff had cooked a LOOOOONG time. When I heard Cassis had closed, my first thought was, “No more cassoulet! Merde!”
Seared Tuna Steak at Ten – I described this dish above in the “Best Japanese” category, but I’ll repeat, “It was the tuna steak I will measure all others against.” It was that good.
Double-Cooked Pork at Taste of China – Oddly enough, this was a menu special *after* Peter Chang skipped town. Pork packed to the brim with so much umami flavor, everyone at the table gasped on first taste. Now every time we go, I look for it. Imagine pork belly with a little less fat that’s been cooked so well it’s falling apart with a deep, dark umami roasty smoky flavor that is uniquely Chinese. Yeah, that’s the double-cooked pork.
Chilled Tomato Soup at Zinc Bistro – Served sprinkled with basil and just a swirl of olive oil. It tasted like tomato. Just that. Just tomato. But the ripest, juiciest tomato you’ve ever had. It’s heirloom, and kissed by the sun on a hill in Tuscany. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Something Thomas Keller might create. Or Willy Wonka. The tomato-ey-est tomato you’ve ever had.
MOST OVERRATED DISH – RED & BLUES AT CONTINENTAL DIVIDE
So many people are going to hate me, but I don’t get why everyone loves this dish so much. It’s red and blue chips with “meh” salsa and goat cheese. Why all the love? It’s not BAD, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nothing to rave about either. Now, the margaritas on the other hand…….
WEIRDEST DISH – ESCARGOT EMPANADAS
Saw this listed on a sandwich board, over *several* days. All I could think was, “Damn! I bet those are some freaking old snails chopped up and put in those empanadas. Blech! Probably like chewing on pencil erasers.” Let’s just say if an escargot is fresh, you don’t need to put it in anything, it can stand (or slither) on its own merits.
WHAT I CRAVE WHEN I LEAST EXPECT IT
Bratwurst pizza from Blue Mountain Brewery
Chicken liver pate and toast points from Petit Pois
Green tomato pickles from Barbecue Exchange
Espresso chip gelato from Splendora’s
Honey clusters from Java Java
Pho – because there is no *authentic* bowl of pho in Cville :(
BEST COCKTAIL – “DIRTY ARNIE” AT ZINC BISTRO**
When I look back on all my years of imbibing, 2010 will always be the one where I discovered sweet tea vodka. A “Dirty Arnie” is a variation on the Arnold Palmer (lemonade and iced tea), jacked up into a cocktail, and enjoyed whenever the mood strikes. Which this particular summer seems to be quite often. First tasted at Zinc Bistro, and now, forever adored, almost as much as their other delicious cocktail, the Southern Belle (peach nectar and bourbon).
BEST BEER SELECTION/BEST BARTENDERS – BEER RUN
One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is to go watch the game (doesn’t matter what kind) while sitting at the bar. Chat with the bartenders, eat some great food, then browse the aisles for stuff to take home. For some reason, walking out of there with a brown bag-o-beer always feels like Christmas.
CUTEST BATHROOM – BANG!
You can laugh, but the first time I visited their bathroom, I clapped my hands like a little girl! It’s so freaking cute. Between the bamboo plant, the Buddha, and the gorgeous sink, I was ready to hire their decorator. Of course, it might’ve been the sake, but seriously, that’s one cute bathroom right dere. And the food and cocktails ain’t bad neither. Great “girly-girl” spot.
SADDEST CLOSING OF A RESTAURANT THIS YEAR – ROYAL INDIAN
I’m still pouting.
BIGGEST CVILLE RESTAURANT SCANDALS
Peter Chang leaving town.
Jim Baldi leaving town.
THE EDIBLE CVILLE “BIGGEST LEAP FORWARD” AWARD FOR 2010 – RELAY FOODS!
They’ve only been here a year or so, and now I don’t know how I ever lived without them. When I need bok choy, they are there. When I need local goat cheese, they are there. When I have a hankering for a really good grass-fed steak, they are there. When the whole town is under a Snowpocalypse warning, they are there to answer the call. They even found a supplier for pork lard for me when I had a notion to make Edna Lewis’s biscuits! Now that’s what I call service. There’s been many a time this year when I’ve thanked the lord for Relay Foods!
BIGGEST UNANSWERED EDIBLE CVILLE QUESTIONS
- When is the new Cajun restaurant opening? Because of the new decibel restriction, does this mean we’ll never hear Zydeco in Belmont? Damn shame if that’s the case.
- When will someone finally open a dedicated vegetarian restaurant? I think they’d do very well. I’m imagining something like “Grace Place” in Richmond – anyone remember them?
- Is it okay to boycott Downtown Mall restaurants because you don’t agree with their views on the homeless? Or is food exclusive of politics?
- Why is the guy at enoteca always in a bad mood?
- Why are there so many French restaurants in Charlottesville?
- How can a Cville restaurant survive the summer slow months?
These and many more food-related philosophical dilemmas will be answered (or not) in the coming months. Thanks for reading this far, and thank you for your opinions, constructive criticisms, and support this past year. Phew, that was quite a post! What does everyone else think?
*My voting is based on what was memorable to me this past year. Unscientific, opinionated. But I eat in enough restaurants to know what’s good and what isn’t. Memorable dining experiences, to me, certainly qualify as “Best Of…”.
**Dubbed a “Dirty Arnie” by an old friend of mine. The first time I heard it called this, I HOWLED with laughter.