Food

Graffiato

GraffiatoThe old and familiar Popkin Tavern sign might still light the corner of Broad and Jefferson streets, but inside Popkin’s old space, a new eatery with as much buzz as Hardywood’s Gingerbread stout has made landfall. Graffiato is a hit, and rightly so.

The original Graffiato opened and proved success in DC’s Chinatown district in 2011. The guy behind it all? Top Chef and Italian-American influenced, Mike Isabella (also Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic by Food + Wine magazine). After connecting with several RVA restauranteurs and chefs, he set his sight on Richmond’s culinary landscape to open a second Graffiato that would focus on the same casual Italian fare (think pasta and pizza), but also feature new additions such as Rockfish, Halibut, and NY Strip.

The fresh hustle and bustle of Graffiato’s dining room and bar [last] opening weekend was just as any new and hot restaurant should be expected. In fact, it was so busy, my 8:45 reservation became a 10:00 dinner.  I didn’t complain except the sounds my famished belly made as I patiently waited.

Graffiato’s space is open, airy, and sexy.  Nothing over the top or pretentious. The staff was friendly, even though they had their hands full with a crazy busy dining room and frustrated diners who didn’t handle their delayed reservations too well (hangry folks for sure).

The drink menu listed a great selection of Virginia brews and wines were categorized by Country, which I appreciate since my eyes scan every wine list for Spanish reds.  My date started with a Hardywood Singel and for me, a glass of Touriga Nacional (a bold red from Portugal).

graffiato1

Some menu studying.

Being 10 pm and all, we needed to eat immediately so we quickly ordered the crispy artichoke with borqurones (anchovies – didn’t realize until later) and capers. The presentation on this dish was sleek and minimal, the flavor a little salty but should be expected. Nothing to boast about but it did settle the constant growling of my stomach.

My date went simple and chose the American Pie pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil ($12) which she instantly devoured. I was craving something small and carb-y so I went with the Smoked Burrata ($12). So glad I did. A thick smear of creamy burrata topped a thick slice of chewy Pane Pugliese bread with a cascade of sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and tangy arugula pesto. It was the perfect portion and flavor.

By the time we finished, it was nearing 11, the buzz of the dining room began to slowly fade but the bar was still in full swing.  We were tempted by dessert but at the same time, we were also ready to head out so we got the Tiramisu ($7) to go.  This was the winner.  Traditionally, Tiramisu is a little sweet for me but Graffiato’s was creamy with balanced flavors of coffee, mascarpone, and cocoa.  Might sound crazy, but there was a slight hint of tanginess that resembled Gorgonzola that proved a pleasant surprise.

After boasting about the good experience to friends, they decided to go for dinner and had a rather different experience. Their server explained the menu was tapas style and advised they order 3 – 4 dishes each. This was not my understanding of the menu or even mentioned by our serves.  Their Potato Gnocci was slightly overcooked and mushy and the table next to them didn’t have much to boast about the Rockfish (I guess so much they told another table).

For me, I’ll certainly go again. My taste buds are set on the Greco Roman pizza with black figs, goat cheese, tasso ham ($14) and their Brussel Sprouts adorned with pancetta, maple, yogurt, egg ($8). Of course, a round 2 of the Tiramisu is in the bag.

Feel trusting? For $29 – $49, let the chef select a variety of tastings from their menu (dinner and drink).

Graffiato on Urbanspoon

Purty 30

Birthday CollageI welcomed turning 30 this weekend with warmth and joy.

Of course, I also welcomed the special occasion with good food, good wine, and amazing friends (plus a new lady that I’m smitten with).

Birthday dinner was celebrated at one of my favorite spots, Stella’s.  Their Greek fare is rich and spot-on, plates are generously “large and in charge” plus, their service is swift and friendly. Thank goodness I planned ahead, making sure to sport a loose fitting dress (knowing I’d be rockin’ a healthy food baby after) because the smorgasbord of delightful food was nonstop.

We started with Spanakopita ($9), sautéed calamari ($11), and grilled pita stuffed with cheese (that was on special).  We passed around the plates, spooning heaps onto our smaller plates, falling in love with the flavors and great conversation. To me, this is what celebration is about.  No need for Evites, tacky streamers, or expectations – give me food and friends and I’m in heaven.

Last time I went to Stella’s, their Artichoke Moussaka ($14) blew my damn mind so, being the creature of habit I am, I ordered it again.  The combination of the earthy fennel, hearty potato, sautéed onion and creamy nutmeg-infused bechamel sauce is reminiscent of warm Christmas flavors. A Greek-y kind of Christmas. I had a bite of my friend’s halibut paired with creamed potatoes and beets. Absolutely phenomenal.

Dinner ended with one amazing dessert - caramel sea salt gelato with Hazelnut Baklava. Oh mah goodness, I don’t even know what to say about this other than “just try it”.

No, no, no, I’ll attempt a short description … it’s the salty gelato paired the savory crunchy Baklava blows the mind. That’s about it. Try it.

After dinner, we headed to the Broadberry to jam out to the fabulous Shack Band.  Besides head bobbing and hip swayin’ to the music, I had Fireball for my first time, got a sip or two of Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout (yes, ALREADY), and enjoyed every moment.

So I’m now officially in my 30’s.  I feel great and I can’t wait to see what this fabulous decade has in store for me.

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Edo’s Squid

I don’t care if my new-found adoration for Edo’s makes me late in the game. I also don’t care if their customer service is not always warm, their steep staircase might detract elderly guests or I sometimes worry during dinner the floor might cave in.

Just like Millie’s, Coppola’s Deli and Dukes mayo, Edo’s Squid is a Richmond staple.

As it should be.

Braised Fennel.  Yes, it's as good as it looks.

Braised Fennel.
Yes, it’s as good as it looks.

Sausage (spicy), polenta and white beans.

Sausage (spicy), polenta and white beans.

Chicken cacciatore

Chicken cacciatore

I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t walked up the dark stairs until last September when I took my dad for dinner while he visiting from Texas. We dined on squid, arugula, and white bean salad, drank beers and fell in love with the sausage, polenta, and white beans while my dad did the same with his spaghetti.

Something about the cozy atmosphere, whizzing servers and smells of spice and pasta felt perfectly … Richmond.

Since then, I’ve been a fan. And that means dinners at Edo’s are with other fans – meaning my three Edo obsessed friends. I remember for a months last summer, they went twice a week. I should’ve known then the place was dynamite.

Edo’s no-nonsense service, hearty dishes, and cozy locale is a recipe for Richmond restaurant success. No wonder their tight dining room bustles with hungry patrons nightly and also tops Yelp, Urbanspoon, and was just mentioned in Style’s recent “The 30 Places to Eat in Virgina Before You Die”.

However, my opinion and adoration is very one-sided. If you don’t like a snug, noisy dining room, long waits and the possibility of having to grab your server’s attention, then this is not the place for you.

Not the place for you at all.

In fact, I’ve seen folks at Edo’s that didn’t get this memo – their arms crossed, standing in the narrow doorway all flustered and wondering why the wait is so long or holding bitch face at their table because it’s too noisy. My friends once witnessed an “almost” patron spit on the floor and yell through the kitchen window because his reservation was pushed back.

But don’t take it from me, listen to these other disgruntled diners (via Yelp) who make my fascination for Edo’s even stronger …

“If you like crowded, dark, loud restaurants with little to no description of what’s in the dishes, where you have to yell to hold a conversation, squint in the darkness to see what you’re eating, search for the waitress who seems to have forgotten about you, and leave with a large hole in your wallet: Look no further! This is the perfect restaurant for you!

I’m not sure why so many people recommended this place to me, but I probably won’t be back. To be fair, the food was pretty good, but for the price, I expect a much more pleasant dining experience.”

 or …

“The food was actually ok.  Not great, but not bad. Few notches above Olive Garden.

The food might have tasted better if not for the two major negatives below.

My 2 complaints, and the reason I won’t go back is:

1) unbelievable level of room noise.  Like no other restaurant I’ve ever been to. It sounded like a crowded loud noisy bar or nightclub.   My wife and I literally had to shout at each other to be able to hear from across the table.  Needless to say there wasn’t much conversation, we ate as quick as we could and got the hell out of there.
(you’d think they would install some ceiling baffles to dampen the noise)

2) We ordered a nice  glass of wine each.   It came in a scratched up juice glass… WTF?  I asked the waitress for a real wine glass, and got a snarky reply “that’s the way wine is served in Italy, and that’s the way it’s served here”.

I asked her if She had ever been to Italy.  Of course she said “no”

A few notches about the OG (Olive Garden)? I object.

Edo’s is not for the pretentious, agoraphobics or restless folks.  It is for people who love good food, can understand a busy dining room and go back wanting more.

What I recommend? Make reservations but if you miss this and wait, grab a bottle of Masciarelli. People watch a little.

Finally seated? Order the braised fennel. You cannot go wrong. Drown other people’s conversation with your own. Eat, drink and you’ll be good to go.

Edo's Squid on Urbanspoon

Party of One: Single & Cooking

I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

No matter if you’re a master in the kitchen or your cooking skills are ho-hum, it’s likely your meals, preparation and eating habits shift with the different phases in your life.

For me, childhood was filled with homemade Texas-style meals made with love by my parents (yep, both of them). In college, it was heaps of creamy chicken ramen, grilled zucchini on the George Foreman, and many Coors Lights. Shifting to being in a relationship for quite some time, I became a ninja in our beautiful kitchen. Most meals were made with the help of Pinterest, my two hands, and something that’d make my girlfriend happy (think mac & cheese, vanilla bean cake, and enchiladas).

Now that I’m single, lots has changed, including eating and cooking.

In my recent short-term sublet, I had trouble befriending my small Fan kitchen. Although I made a crack pie and baked chicken, I wasn’t ready to get back into it again. The act of cooking had so many emotional strings attached to it I wasn’t ready to face.

After too many Lean Cuisine’s, bowls of Special K Red Berries, and bland salads, I grew bored. And thin.

Once I moved into my new place (with one sexy looking kitchen), I’m starting to re-learn the joy of cooking again.

So what does one eat when they’re single? Well, this is the part I’m slowly discovering. I’ve adjusted my recipes and portions to steer away from huge and extravagant meals but I still aim to make something that makes me happy, satisfied, and feeling good.

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greens + quinoa + other stuff = awesome

In my hunt for single people foods (of course, this means getting lost in my new grocery store plenty of times) I’ve discovered Quinoa has been a great foundation for meals. If you’re interested, here are some easy creations I’m obsessing over at the moment …

Quinoa + red apple + dried cranberry + red onion + blue cheese + balsamic + pepper

Chopped kale + quinoa + hard-boiled egg + avocado + sun-dried tomato + almonds + goat cheese + oil + vinegar

Baby greens + quinoa + black beans + tomato + avocado + shredded cheddar + Catalina dressing + Greek yogurt + crushed blue corn chips

Greek yogurt + quinoa + fresh berries + honey

The discovery of creating food just for me has been a learning process (like most recent events have) and something that I’ll look back on with a smile. Everyday, a new kitchen tool unearths, a new idea incorporates into my meal, and my inner kitchen maven returns.

The List: Dog Friendly Patios

Lunchtime: Grant + I at Union Market

Lunchtime: Grant + I at Union Market

The great outdoors has become my newest friend. Every weekend Grant (my beagle-dachshund mix) and I spend hours walking in the Fan, going to the dog park, the river, and sitting under huge trees at Dogwood Dell.

Weekends are our time – however, during our adventures, I get hungry.

Thinking there would be plenty of dog friendly patios, I did a quick Google search and discovered only a handful of options – none which excited me (or Grant).

I know there had to be more so I dug, and dug some more. I’ve reached out to dozens restaurants and compiled a list that’s sure to give you and your pups a chance to grab a bite to eat or a cool drink …

1. Strangeways Brewery (2277 Dabney Rd)
2. Alamo BBQ (2202 Jefferson Ave) Churchill
3. Southern Railway Taphouse (111 Virginia St #100) Downtown
4. Caliente (2922 Park Ave) Museum District
5. Crossroads (3600 Forest Hill Ave) Southside
6. Lamplighter (26 N Morris St) VCU/Fan
7. Center of the Universe Brewing (11293 Air Park Rd) Ashland
8. Hardywood (2408 Ownby Ln)
9. Food Truck Court (at Hardywood or Richmond First Baptist Church at Robinson & Monument)
10. Cafe Caturra – (5811 Grove Ave) Near West End
11. The Savory Grain (2043 W Broad) The Fan
12. Ipanema Cafe (917 W Grace St) The Fan
13. Union Market (2306 Jefferson Ave) Church Hill
14. Fresca on Addison (22 S Addison St) The Fan
15. F.W. Sullivan’s (2401 Main St) The Fan
16. Portrait House (2907 W Cary St) Carytown
17. Barrel Thief (5805 Patterson Ave) Near West End
18. McAlister’s Deli (1300A Gaskins Rd) West End
19. Brio Tuscan Grille (9210 Stony Point Pkwy) Stony Point
20. Casa Del Barco (320 S 12th St) Downtown
21. GlobeHopper (2100 E Main St) Shockoe Bottom
22. Barrel House (140 Virgina St) Downtown
23. Triple Crossing Brewing (113 S Foushee St) Downtown. They’ll be starting their Dog Days of Summer soon.
24. 23rd & Main Taproom at Sette (2300 Main St) Shockoe Bottom. They even have a Monday Yappy Hour until 8 for doggy parents. Genius.
25. Acacia (2601 W Cary St) The Fan
26. Weezie’s Kitchen (3123 W Cary St) Carytown
27. Home Team Grill (1630 W Main St) The Fan
28. Poe’s Pub (2706 E Main) Shockoe Bottom
29. Patrick Henry’s Pub (2300 E Broad St) Church Hill
30. The Franklin Inn (800 N Cleveland St) Museum District
31. En Su Boca (1001 N Boulevard Ave) The Fan / Diamond
32. Palani Drive (401 Libbie Ave) Near West End

 

If there are any to add, feel free to shout it out at grublikeagirl@live.com.

Happy Grant.

Happy Grant.

 

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.