Monday, June 21, 2010

dana cowin approved

Dana Cowin, editor of Food and Wine mag,  listed Richmond's own Pho So 1 in "where i'm coming from" in the July issue. See her shout out here. Way to go, RVA!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

the best hangover food - vietnam 1

Well, after a lovely but hot day with friends at the Central Va wine festival (followed by sushi and sake and which may have involved a wasabi eating contest), I had a bit of divine punishment meted out this Sunday morning. By 10 am I was starving and I wanted something mild and comforting. Hubs headed to Vietnam 1, which was packed at 11 am (pho is traditionally breakfast food after all), to get me some bbq tofu with vermicelli noodles. I like mine without lettuce and peanut and with lots of fish sauce and chili paste. I also like crispy onions, but hubs forgot. The tofu was tender with a lovely char and the noodles soaked up the sauce and soothed my ravenous appetite in a way that only simple carbs can do. I perked up in no time. Thank you Vietnam 1! I also recommend this dish for those who are not recovering from an indulgent partaking of adult beverages.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


First order of business: an announcement. Rhubarb compote is back at Bouchon! Yep. The BEST dessert in RVa is back. Why a blurb about Bouchon in a post about Stuzzi? Because we wound up there Friday night after an attempt to dine at Stuzzi. Here's how it went down - We were right on time for our 7 pm reservation (which I made a full 5 minutes after the invitation arrived in my inbox) and were told that there was a 1.25 hour wait for a table because they were overbooked. I made hubs leave work early and had really nagged him to get home so we could be on time, so I felt really guilty. And then irritated. What is the point of a reservation if you are going to have to stand on line for a table? Overbooking reservations may get your restaurant full, but it does not make people who took time to make a reservation AND nagged their spouse to make the reservation on time happy. They should have had a first come, first serve policy- the guest list was limited anyway. There is nary a restaurant in this city for which I would wait 1.25 hours for a table, but when I also have a confirmed reservation? fuhgeddaboudit.
Anyway, we left - but not before I noticed that it was a bit warm inside. Fast forward to Saturday. We walked in about 3 minutes after the 5:30 opening and most tables were already full. So, we stood at the door for a bit while 3 employees talked behind the bar and made no attempt to seat us or anyone else that walked in. Again, I noticed that it was warm inside. We were (eventually) seated, walking right past the wood fired oven (thus the heat) and told that the meal was on the house. Don't y'all worry, though - I do not have any conflict of interest -  My good opinion can not be bought. Five minutes after we were seated, I started to glisten (Southern ladies don't sweat, y'all!). The menu was an abbreviated version and featured the Neapolitan D.O.C. Margherita pizza with its requisite San Marzano tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella and basil baked in a wood-fired oven insulated with lava rocks from Mt. Vesuvius. I ordered a glass of chianti which was mwehh. Maybe because it was pushing 85 inside? Parched, I ordered another beverage. Stuzzi has the full complement of San Pellegrino products including Chinotto, which is supposed to be a bitter citrus (I think it tastes like a weak root beer) and which I love! I hear that it is also supposed to settle your tummy. So, we got a few - (more proof that my good opinion can not be bought as our meal totaled 7 bucks)...My pizza arrived and looked scrumptious, but when I picked it up, the toppings slid right off. Slippage was due to the fact that the crust was completely soggy. I don't know if it was 1. the sauce, which could have used some spicing up (is salt against d.o.c. policy?) and which was a bit thin for my taste, was watery or if 2. the cheese, which was skimpy in amount, was not drained well before being added to the pie and unleashed a ton of water when it hit the oven, or 3. if it was just so hot in the restaurant that the pizza started to melt. The crust that did not have sauce or toppings was delicious. My stream of consciousness went something like this eating the crust: teeth sink in to a slightly crispy and flame-blackened exterior, a dusting of flour on the bottom coats my tongue and then dissolves to reveal soft bready goodness on the inside. Truly pleasurable in taste and texture. Also enjoyable were the wee little cannolis. The tubes were cripsy and the creme was rich and satisfying with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Two bites and you're done. Perfect size for dessert (unless you are eating Bouchon's rhubarb compote - in which case larger is definitely better).  For a soft opening weekend, our waitress was great and I tried not to be too picky. Another waitress brought out our pizza and we asked her for crushed red pepper. She told us that they didn't have any. Huh? So we asked our waitress. They did have it. Otherwise, service was friendly and food came out quickly.
We looked at the full menu which featured many "delicious little things" (ie Stuzzi, for all you non-Neapolitan speakers out there) or antipastos such as olives, meats, cheeses as well as a wide variety of pizzas and topping choices to "make your own",  and pastas.
Assuming they fix the soggy pizza problem and the A/C, I would go back. If these two issues are not addressed, I'll take my cannolis to-go, please. At least until October.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Zeus Gallery Cafe aka Obnoxiousness On Display

I am blogging, which means that I either loved or hated something, and in this case it is the latter. Get ready Richmond, I am going to burst your bubble and do some calling out. I like the concept of Zeus Gallery Cafe which reminds me of this place in Dallas (if y'all are in the neighborhood, swing by... you'll thank me) and I really want to like the restaurant. But I don't. I was underwhelmed again on our 4th visit (brunch is ok.. for RVA standards). Why is this place on Style Weekly's Top 50? WHY?

First of all, I find the owner obnoxious. We had reservations and were given a choice of tables, including the large 6-top at the front of the restaurant. I felt bad taking such a large table for the two of us (large as our personalities may be) but was assured since it was a holiday weekend that it would be fine and that the owner, who seated us, "had been in the business a long time and knew what he was talking about " when he said that RVA was "a small town and we like it that way" (why do I care and what does this have to do with where I sit for dinner and why are you snarkily winking at me? Do you like having the ability to see? Do not snarkily wink at me in a "'that's ok lil' darlin'" way) and which clears out on Memorial Day weekend. Except that following our meal, we went to the Tiffany member's preview at VMFA and it was packed (more on this to follow). I would have appreciated a cleared out crowd for that one.  Anyway, I just smiled and nodded (which is never a good sign) so he would go away. During the course of our overpriced dinner, I heard him greet several customers with "Did you call me?" which I guess is a-hole for "Do you have a reservation?" Those that did not "call him" had to suffer through an explanation of how lucky they were to get a table. Wait.  #1. I thought he was not expecting a crowd as he knew from his wealth of experience how empty RVA becomes on Memorial Day weekend (snarky wink) and #2. I was under the impression that the food service industry relied upon their customers and should be thankful for them, not the other way 'round. He was also overheard telling one table that, "Lesser restaurants would not have survived." I assume he was talking about his own restaurant since his attitude smacked of "eating here is akin to eating ambrosia in heaven" And it was not even a smidge close. Portions were too small, execution was poor, course timing was off and at a snail's pace, the by-the-glass menu did not satisfy and my martini was not dirty enough. When I asked for an unoaked chard, I was told that I should try their house chard, that it was not terribly oaky and if I could "tolerate" some oak, I should get a glass. WTF? Did I not just say UNoaked? As in no oak?

Anyway, my celery root soup had bacon in it. EPIC fail for making me inadvertently eat pork. Which I do not eat and did not expect from celery root soup. Hub's beet salad was the only thing I liked. Yummy sweet but tart balsamic dressing. Entrees of pasta with marinara (so tiny and with a pretentious name) and a nightly special, arugula salad, with red and yellow cherry sized tomatoes were not worth the 50 minute long wait. We wanted dessert, but had to wait so long for entrees and for our waitress after we finished eating that we had to leave to get to the museum on time. This about sums up the food: If hubs and I have to eat cereal when we get home not 2 hours after the completion of our $90 meal, I will never return to the aforementioned restaurant. Not even for stellar service, which Zeus Gallery obviously lacks.

But, the Tiffany exhibit was excellent. Except for the crowd, which obviously didn't know that they should clear out for the holiday weekend. I did not want to leave and could stare at some of those pieces for hours. The glass work truly is amazing. Hubs loved some of the glass mosaics. Afterwards, in the exhibit shop, I overheard one woman ask her husband, "What are you going to buy me?" His response after thoughtful perusing of the jewelry: "Honey, none of these pieces are good enough." Told hubs that he could learn a lot from that guy. I don't think she wound up buying anything either, so even if his statement was not genuine and was a total ploy to get out of there without spending a pretty penny, it was a good one. Come to think of it, the owner of Zeus gallery could do with some lessons from this guy. Flattery is the best way to get what you want. In food service, that means gracious hosting at the very least. Flat out kissing up if your food was as sub-par as this evening's. Not a prolonged discourse from a blowhard who does not have much to go on about.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

one year

On this my one year wedding anniversary, I want to pay tribute to the creative and executive body behind (and brag about) the menu at my wedding reception. Lisa Benusa at the Mill at Fine Creek met my request for a multi-course, seated, vegetarian dinner head-on, and boy did she deliver! Hubs and I wanted to reprise many of our favorites encountered from our travels together, while paying homage to our native Texas and Hub's Vietnamese heritage, all the while playing with color and texture. Lisa, thank you so much! You made our reception perfect! We still appreciate your hard work, vision and attention to detail; from the flowers in the drinks to the bamboo rice to the servers' bowtie color!

Our cake was baked by Sheila, formerly of the Mill, who is now opening her own cafe and bakery in Powhatan in June (stay tuned for more info!). The cake was so moist and had small bits of almonds in the buttercream for texture which looked almost like handmade paper. It was so good that my Dad still talks about it and I ordered a small cake for today. Once the store is open, I am sure cakes will be shipped off to Texas at regular intervals...

and so without further ado, our menu and pics...

Soup Shooter Trio
Gazpacho           Asparagus, Spinach, Tarragon       Borchst

 Fried Green Tomato with Tomatillo-Basil Sauce

 Ginger-Bamboo Rice Cake  &
Mascarpone, Goat Cheese, Black bean- Stuffed Peppers

 Shrimp & Scallop Ceviche            Green Mango Salad

 Grilled Vegetables, Caramelized Sweet Onions, Goat Cheese &
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto in Puff Pastry

 Lemon & Thyme Sorbet

 Amaretto Wedding Cake     Almond Macaroons     Coffee Liquor Bar

photo credits: Jennifer Colina Photography

and to my husband, i love you. i am so happy to have found my someone to cling to me, stay with me right or wrong. someone to sing to me, some little samba song. someone to take my heart, and give his heart to me. someone who's ready to give love a start with me. life is so nice with you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

the wine loft

the wine loft,  which bills itself as "a sophisticated wine bar" and which has large square tiles in the bathroom that are black faux alligator (the interior reminded me of a cheap hotel trying hard to be chic and contemporary) must be too sophisticated for me. i did not like it,  do not recommend it and will not waste my time detailing poorly conceptualized and overpriced food. if one has to inform one's clientele that one is sophisticated and uber-chic, one is trying too hard.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

libbie and grove

Friday night began at Cafe Caturra for a cafe au lait for hubs and an unoaked chard for me. We nibbled on the "breads and spreads." Grilled bread drizzled with olive oil was served with three dips: herbed goat cheese (my fav!), tomato basil chutney (a little on the oily side) and artichoke and white bean puree.  I listened to a barista banter with a customer about classic rock songs in a I-sing-the-song-you-name-the-artist sort of game. He was singing "Born to be Wild" and swearing it was Thorogood. I never told him it was Steppenwolf and that he must be thinking of "Bad to the Bone," because it was not my conversation and I did not want to seem like a know-it-all  (but I really am where classic rock is concerned. a side note: when i was working retail i used to live for classic rock weekends on the radio station because those songs made the day go so much faster. bow down to my classic rock knowledge!) So, off we went across the street to Coast which did not open until 5:30. So, I made a detour into Pearl's Cupcake Shoppe and Elephant's Toe antiques. The red velvet cupcakes were surprisingly good (i'm still scarred from a Carytown cupcakes red velvet misadvenure) and moist. The cream cheese icing was spot on, although I am a red velevet snob and prefer my icing the old-fashioned, Southern way. Which is to say that one makes sort of a light roux and then adds that to creamed butter and powdered sugar for a faboo texture, sans cream cheese. But, I can live with cream cheese icing.  The cupcake itself was missing a chocolate umph! but again, I am spoiled and biased by my Nana's and Mom's red velvet cake. So, not a bad cupcake when all was said and done, just not traditional. And the store interior is cute as a button! They just need a little sitting area by the front windows. I will be back to try the Elvis (bananas foster cake and peanut butter icing) and the Chai honey! Their FB page says that they have gluten free and vegan options as well. The Elephant's Toes antiques stop resulted in the purchase of a pretty little green Jasperware vase.

And here is where I introduce hub's style of food-rating: "Okay" (not really sure I know of anything higher than this other than two instances: upon introduction to a cold melon soup in Santa Fe and a lavender creme brulee in San Fransisco. he will tell you about those two occurrences ad naseum if given the opportunity), and "dookie." The "dookie" meter has varying degrees of which I will spare you (hubs does deal with peoples' innards all day, so forgive him.) Let's just say that Coast was almost at the bottom of the dookie scale. Appetizers were she-crab soup for him and pea soup with housemade cheese for me.  The she-crab was redolent with the sweetness of crab meat and was appropriately thick. It was a bit on the oily side. The pea soup was okay, but not remarkable or memorable. Salads were mesclun greens with fig vinaigrette, which was overwhelmed by raw onion (which I loved and hubs hated,) and a salad special of haricot vert, golden beet, charred sweet onion, pistachios, and blue cheese vinaigrette.  The blue cheese and fig in the dressings were absent. The onions in the special salad were cold and slimy and the temps of all ingredients of the haricot vert salad not consistent. We split the scallops for our entree, the searing of which was perfect on one side and missing on the other, and which had great flavor. The scallops were served over cous cous with pesto, which was more like pesto-flavored green water.  We asked for sriracha and were given chili oil. The service was attentive and unobtrusive, but the food was overpriced and not well executed.

From there we walked down to the Westhampton and saw Chloe. Was very entertaining although the female characters were tragically flawed in a Woody-Allen way. Why can't male screenwriters and directors make female characters more easy to relate to instead of flat-out bonkers? But I love this theatre, especially the back row right in the middle. And one can get Lavazza coffe drinks. The only thing this theatre lacks is Manner bars at the concession.

The previous weekend we had Saturday lunch at Arcade Cafe. I have had nothing but good experiences here, but this one was a miss. We were seated and the waiter hollered in passing that it would be awhile until he could get to us. I was basking in the sun and finishing up this book (scandalous!) so I was okay with that once he brought water over (5 minutes after we sat down, but no menus) Now, I will give him some slack because I used to wait tables myself, and it appeared that he was the only server and he must have been frazzled, but it is not okay to treat your customers rudely. Hubs asked if he could get his egg salad sandwich on Texas toast and was met with a sharp "No!" Which is silly really, because he was asked his bread choice anyway. It was 20 minutes from ordering to food, which is inexcusable for lunch. Especially when that lunch is cold sandwiches and not filet mignon. I have to say that my veggie wrap (the Glenside Drive) was very good and I will forgive them this one time. Although that waiter may not forgive his tip. Hubs is passive aggressive that way.

A stop by J. Emerson, Inc. resulted in a nice chat with Jim, two unoaked chards (maybe I mentioned it's my new fav?) and a Gruner Veltliner. I so heart this place and wish I had more time to talk and browse, but it was a quick drop-in to restock the adult beverage supplies.

I know remiss in  not going to Gearhart's Chocolate but I will correct that soon...

Daily cuteness: