New Beginnings: broken heart, better food

2 months ago, my girlfriend and I made the [hard and tearful] decision to end our 4 1/2 year relationship.

Besides sorting through my emotions (journal writing, carb eating, red wine drinking), I’ve also searched high and low for a new place to live (since we lived together in a house she bought for us … sigh). After touring my 10th place, I’ve decided on a swanky and modern apartment in Shockoe Bottom. It might sound fun and sexy but dismantling the stable life my girlfriend and I built together has been anything but easy or exciting.  However, there is a bit of eagerness towards moving downtown. There will be more energy and I’ll be within walking distance to coffee shops, restaurants, and the 17th Street Market.

During part of this time, my friends were kind enough to welcome me as a house guest in their sweet place on Strawberry and Park for a few weeks.  In the Fan, I’ve experienced a world I couldn’t experience in the West End-ies.  I’ve walked to the market to grab a bottle of wine, discovered and fallen in love with 8 1/2, and played cornhole on the sidewalk.  Very Fan, isn’t it?

While forcing myself to get out (ditching a ice-cream-eating-cry-fest) and explore, I’ve discovered amazing places and foods worth a mention …

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Proper Pie. I know, I’m late on this one. However, my first trip with my fellow RVAFC (Richmond Food Coalition) group made me an instant fan.  Their tangy and sweet strawberry rhubarb pie was out of this world. My fellow food-loving friend, Marcella (at Broad Appetite) is a huge fan and praises their Banofee pie (Banana and toffee).

Edo’s Squid’s braised fennel. This standard menu items is one I would normally passed up but my friends urged me to give this a try.  After one bite, I instantly claimed this one of the best dishes in Richmond.  It’s creamy, buttery, and something you’d never expect.

Viceroy's home made mozzarella

Viceroy’s home made mozzarella

The Viceroy. This swanky Museum District restaurant has no hint of Cafe Diem and has quickly become my happy hour hot spot (from 4 -7).  The bartender, Justin is fantastic and friendly. My favorite thing here?  Their homemade mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto with a balsamic reduction drizzle.  Get three for $11. 

8 1/2.  This quaint pizza joint on Strawberry Street has been on my food “want” list for quite some time. Since my friends place where I was staying was only a stones throw away, I quickly made the 15 step walk to pick up a mushroom and broccoletti. It was amazing.  

I’m not sure what’s in store for my personal journey and navigating a new life. However, I do know it will be filled with good food, new experiences, and a handful of friends.

Discovering: Polenta

polenta, sauteed kale, and pan seared chicken.

polenta, sauteed kale, and pan seared chicken.

I don’t know why I thought polenta was complicated.

Maybe because it’s so incredibly satisfying that I deemed it “impossible” to make on my own.

When I spot polenta on the menu at restaurants, I instantly gravitate to whatever main course it’s paired with.  I adore its warm and creamy flavor and complicated-to-explain texture. Bacchus’ polenta has the thick consistency like cornbread, topping it with melted mozzarella or Gorgonzola, Toast serves nestled around a beef link in true corn dog style, while The Roosevelt’s soft Mascarpone polenta makes a perfect pair with braised short rib.

It wasn’t until my friend (and fellow blogger) posted her take on a classic with her polenta grilled cheese.  It seemed incredibly simple and just what I needed for dinner last night but unfortunately, I couldn’t find the precooked polenta she uses at my grocery store.  Instead of ignoring my craving, I grabbed cornmeal, gouda, and butter and headed home to make my own homemade creamed polenta.

After boiling 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk, I added 1 cup of stone ground cornmeal, and stirred … like it was nobody’s business.  While trying to ignore hypochondriac-like thoughts of getting tendonitis, the cornmeal started to resemble … polenta.

After stirring off and on for 30 minutes, my polenta was ready.  It was softer than I had anticipated so I stored half in the fridge – later to solidify and slice to replicate the grilled cheese recipe. The creamier half remained in the saucepan where I added sharp cheddar, gouda, and butter.

This cheesey and comforting polenta was a perfect match to my cup of hot tomato soup and 3 episodes of HBO’s Girls (best show ever).

I now have a nice-sized bag of cornmeal that has endless potential.

Funny isn’t it how sometimes we discover simplicity in the most complicated expectations.

P.S. – If you didn’t click on the recipe, don’t miss my friend’s blog, Picture Lane. It’s quite lovely.

HOVA1

Wine Time

Mulled Wine at Grayhaven

Mulled Wine at Grayhaven

There’s nothing like braving a rainy (and cold) Saturday to voyage on a wine tour, specifically the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail.

I’m no wine snob but, I enjoy learning more about the art and the interesting (and hard) work that goes in to creating one of my favorite beverages. So, when my friends mentioned a possible wine tour last weekend, I jumped on the opportunity.

snow + wine + friends

snow + wine + friends

Our journey started at 11 am at the James River Cellars in Glen Allen. This blew my mind … a winery in Glen Allen.  There, we purchased our $20 “passports” to the HOVA (Heart of Virginia Wine Trail) which would cover our tastings at 6 wineries.

James River Cellar had a impressive selection of whites and reds – with every flavor in between.  Leslie, who guided us through each tasting was kind and enthusiastic and had the patience as we tried to pronounce Gewurztraminer (a light, melon-y white) for the 5th time. My favorite was the Colonial Red, a newer non-vintage with a light flavor of cinnamon and a cooling finish of spearmint. This one would be perfect for those hearty holiday meals but also smooth enough for a summer barbeque.

Lunch.

Lunch.

Besides being a local winery, James River Cellar has Fridays on the Patio with live music, food vendors, and lots of vino. If that is not enough they have a BYOP (bring your own picnic) and acoustic music on every other Sunday (starting in May) called Sundays in the Shade.

Greyhaven's sommelier

Greyhaven’s sommelier

Only having a banana and cappuccino for breakfast, my stomach wasn’t ready to handle a day of drinking so we decided to eat lunch on the road.  The next winery was down 64 West so we wanted to skip the Short Pump chains and find a local country-fied eatery.  After pounding on our iPhones, we discovered Hickory Notch Grill and happily downed some barbeque, corn fritters, and fries.

Grayhaven Winery was the next stop and we made perfect timing because we witnessed a proposal in the hour and a half we were there.  Cheers!  Grayhaven had a warm-ski-lodge feeling on this particular cold day so I instantly fell in love with their warmed mulled wine (made with their Cab Franc).  Another plus? This place is dog friendly and we had a cute pup sit next to our table the majority of our visit. Mark your calendars for September 2014 because Grayhaven holds their Annual South African Food & Wine Festival.

My favorite lineup.

My favorite lineup.

We piled back in the car and started driving towards Louisa.  After getting lost and grabbing drinks from a questionable drive-thru convenience store, we arrived at our next destination, Weston Farm Vineyards.  This one had the most spectacular views by far. I also found my favorite wine here, the Petite Manseng. This white blend is smooth and uniquely nutty.  I grabbed a bottle ($14) for myself which I plan to break it out for a well-deserved pasta night.

Perfection.

Perfection.

We arrived at our next stop, Cooper Vineyards five minutes after they closed (at 5 pm).

Lucky for us, our HOVA passport lets you pick up where you last left off so now we have 3 more wineries in store for another weekend.

Virgina is for all lovers (food, wine, hipsters, and North Face apparel) so exploring more of this diverse and beautiful state is always a pleasure.

Fancy schmancy

Dinner With Friends

The fancy name is commonly called Dinner Party while others would call it “hanging out and food”. For me, I call it Dinner With Friends.

A dinner at my house is a special occasion in my book.

The days leading up, I scour my worn Bon Appétit magazines for the perfect (and easy) meal to make for my friends. I pick the wine, prep the playlist (more on this below), purposefully mismatch the table settings, and manage to vacuum all the dog hair off of the floor.

Two dinners ago, I made bone-in baked chicken, roasted butternut squash, asparagus, and a pie – simple and easily liked.  Last weekend, it was bread pudding made with fluffy Italian bread, fresh parmesan, and broccoli rabe. It ended with a warm apple pie and vanilla ice cream.

Throughout the night, bottles of wine accumulate on the kitchen island, conversations span from the latest Vine to profound and deep issues. At times, things get whimsical (or tipsy) where I’ve broken out my tarot cards and even unearthed my hookah. You never know what can happen when good food, good wine, and good vibes are going.

My latest dinner with friends obsession? The music. Besides the food, this is the one thing that can make a dining experience epic or hum-drum.  I’m a big fan of expanding my mind so any (and all) genre so it should be no surprise my last playlist included The Rolling Stones, The Shins, Pixies, Tegan & Sara, Madeleine Peyroux, and of course, Van Morrison.  Find my playlist here or below.

However you do it, whether it’s a pizza delivery, a themed dinner, or bring your own dish-syle, there’s something fuzzy and warm about friends gathering in your home to enjoy … everything.

 

 

Valentines1

Love Eats

Valentines Day is near.  While it remains at the bottom of my favorite holiday list, there’s still plenty of love birds who bask in the 14th.

For those who think ahead (and those who wait till the last minute), here’s a hearty list of RVA restaurants serving up a whole lotta love on that special day.

Texas De Brazil will be pairing wine, cocktail and dessert with the restaurant’s signature gourmet salad area and meat (duh) selection.

Regular dinner:  $44.99

Light dinner: $24.99

Brazilian cocktails: $7 – $9

Brazilian Rose: Guava juice, Grand Marnier and a choice of cachaca, the national spirit of Brazil made from sugar cane juice.

Brazilian Kiss: Ciroc vodka, Cointreau, Chambord and fresh squeezed lime.

Terra Andina Sparkling Moscato:  $10/glass, $40 per bottle

Desserts:  $5 – $7.50

Up-and-coming Kitchen on Cary is making sure you get your V Day on with a glass of pink champagne (included with dessert).

SOUPS

Caramelized Cipollino onion soup, Focaccia Crostini, Virginia McLure Gratinee $6

Roasted Local Wild Mushroom Bisque, Organic Thyme, Sherry Essence and Shaved Parmesan $6

SALADS

Roasted Heirloom Beets, “Spikey” Arugula, Crispy Peppered Goat Cheese, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Truffle Sea Salt $9

Hearts of Romaine, Parmesan Cracker, Alici White Anchovies, House Made Caesar Dressing $8

ENTREES

Pan Seared Jumbo Scallops, Lemon – Garlic Cauliflower and Fennel Risotto, Gremolata $21

House Cured Smoked Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin, Garlic Smashed potatoes, Tarragon Lobster Butter $29

DESSERTS (Served with a glass of Pink Champagne )

Chocolate Pot De Crème, Peppermint Bark $7

Fresh Berry Parfait, Chambord Sabayon, Caramel Gallette $8

West End Patina is serving up a delicious 4-course menu for $60/ per person

FIRST COURSE

Ham hock & white bean bisque, duck confit, crispy kale $6

Sweet potato & caraway, duck confit, crispy kale $8

Manakintowne greens with roasted shallot, goat cheese, citrus, cranberry vinaigrette $10

Manakintowne arugula, Kite’s Country Ham, Virginia peanuts, aged cheddar, local honey vinaigrette $9

SECOND COURSE

Wild scallops with polenta, root vegetable ratatouille $9

Braised oysters stone ground grits, bell pepper, roasted shallot, veal-demi $13

Duck confit risotto, cloth bound cheddar, house smoked sausage, local mushrooms $11

Foie Gras, cranberry & white chocolate bread pudding, tangerine sorbet $13

THIRD COURSE

Wild scallops, local mushroom risotto, tarragon foam, lobster broth $MP

Loch Duart Salmon, butter & thyme basted, maple polenta, brussels, house-made bacon, hollandaise $26

Pan roasted Ashley Farm’s chicken breast potato gnocchi, local greens & mushrooms, chicken jus $24

Pan seared duck breast, black rice, duck confit, orange variation, grape veal-demi  $28

Marinated New York Strip lobster and potato hash, braised winter greens, sauce bordelaise $32

DESSERT $8

Tonka bean crème brulee, vanilla gelato

Chocolate cake salted caramel, vanilla gelato

Local maple pana cotta, coffee bean brittle, hazelnut gelato

 

In addition to these sexy menus above, there’s more to check out here …

Short Pump’s Kona Grill is serving a steak and lobster duo for $39.95 from the 14th – 16th

Bistro Bobette’s Valentines menu will run weekend long 2/13 – 2/15

Mosaic’s 3-course Prix Fixe menu will run $89 per couple plus for $30 you can add a beer or wine with every course

The way chocolate should be. Love Gearhart's.

The way chocolate should be. Love Gearhart’s.

Amici Restorante will offer V-Day specials in addition to their regular menu

Hanover Tavern will offer a 3 course dinner that includes Reisling-braised chicken and raspberry creme brulee. How sweet it is.

The Boathouse will boast a glamorous menu from 2/13 – 2/15 which ends in chocolate covered strawberries.  Live jazz on Valentines night.

And … if you’re not the dining-out-with-everyone-else type, you can’t go wrong grabbing a bottle of vino and box of Gearhart’s Chocolate.

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Estilo South American Restaurant

Cultural cuisine is making a notable round in our growing food scene. From Curry Craft and Carena’s Jamaican Grille to Comida Casera (Brazilian and Salvadorian cuisine), we’re becoming a city happy to introduce ethnic flavors to a mostly southern fare-fixated population.

When Toast owners, Jessica and Josh Bufford discovered another space would be available in the same Village shopping center, they jumped on the opportunity to open another restaurant which would gravitate toward Latin-inspired fare. Estilo South American Restaurant opened in August with a menu inspired by the Bufford’s recent trip to South America and Puerto Rico. Authentic offerings include Ceviche, Peruvian Chicken, Duck Confit Pozole, and Sopes (corn cakes topped with your choice of meat and sauce).

Since “estilo” translates to “style” in Spanish, the sexy and dim dining room reflects its name to perfection. Light woods, cozy booths, and an elongated concrete bar combine to create a neutral and alluring ambience. It’s only when you look out the front door and peer into the parking lot do you realize you’re in a West End shopping center, between a CVS and Starbucks.

Being a newer restaurant, I often acknowledge and expect some experiences to be a bit rocky (staff and food can have adjustment periods, too) but I was disappointed with our server’s lack of urgency and enthusiasm. I usually order a drink with dinner but our server never offered or even mentioned a cocktail. She quickly took the cocktail menu away, so I passed on a boozy beverage. Speaking of drinks, Estilo is the type of place to replace soda glasses with a fresh one (instead of refilling the same glass). No complaints there except when my girlfriend’s 3 empty glasses noticeably accumulated on our tiny high-top … slightly annoying and a miss on our server’s end.

The Papa Rellena ($7), described as “potato fritters stuffed with cheese and Peruvian roasted chicken” sounded like a good way to start. The perfectly round spheres of fried goodness in front of me looked promising but the inner 15 year old inside couldn’t help exclaiming “balls!”. Breaking away from my immaturity, the Papa Rellena was satisfactory but missed prominent flavors of roasted chicken and cheese (the main ingredients).

After digging into the menu online a few hours before dinner (of course), I was set on ordering the Mofungo ($19) – grilled shrimp, crab, mashed plantains and tomato-lime sauce. This whimsical-named dish hails from Puerto Rico and is traditionally rich in garlicky flavors. The mound of starchy mashed green plantain was not smooth as I had hoped and the scoops of bland crab meat intensified the plantain’s dry texture. On the other hand, the large shrimp were good but lacking in flavor even though they were deep in a sweet and undefined sauce. Never having mofungo before, I still knew it lacked something intense and distinct.

Unfortunately, my girlfriend’s carnitas ($14) reflected the same tame flavor and her side of plantains sadly sat cold in a bowl of brown sugar.

If I go back, it’d probably be for drinks. Here, you’ll want to order carefully. According to other folks, there are a few bright spots: Sopes, ceviche, and tortilla soup were all praised.

Foodie News

backgroundDouble D’s, anyone? Carytown sweet tooth joint, Dixie Donuts merges with West End’s Daylight Donuts (at 10260 Broad St).  Maple bacon donuts for all.

February is for wine lovers with the Annual Virginia Wine Expo.  This vino-enthusiast event runs from 2/18 – 2/23 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Get your tickets here

The Village Shopping Center (home to Toast and Estilo’s) will soon welcome Charlottesville-based Christian’s Pizza. Previously home to Cheeburger Cheeburger, Christian’s will offer reasonably priced pizza pie – carry out or dine-in.  Their most buzzworthy pizza? Avocado & Feta.

Check out their menu here

EAT Restaurant Partners (think Blue Goat, Wild Ginger, and Fat Dragon) newest Fan project, Foo Dog will open in the spring.  The menu is geared towards Asian street food – casual and hip, of course.

Sub Rosa Bakery finally opened their doors again last weekend after months of post-fire repair and renovations.  Show this Church Hill bakery some reclaimed love with a poppy seed croissant or Heirloom wheat bread loaf.