It’s the Little Things About Richmond Dining

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Richmond has a lot to offer people who are into food. If you were to ask a few of your RVA foodie friends, “what are your top must-do things in the Richmond dining scene?” or “what Richmond restaurants and dishes would you recommend to visitors?” you would probably get a variety of answers. We are fortunate to have so many great options in our little city. However, the same few things would jump out as repeat popular suggestions. Every city has its claims to fame, its signature dishes, its local haunts, and its “I’m kind of a big deal” restaurants.

For every popular signature dining experience in Richmond, there are dozens of overlooked gems all around us. When I think, and I mean really think hard, about my favorite things about Richmond dining, I come up with some really quirky little things. I guess I am aware of all the meals and restaurants here that would impress a visitor, and I have recommended them several times, but as a local Richmonder, those aren’t the experiences that make me love my city’s food scene. I like the signature stops along your typical Richmond foodie tour that elicit “ooh”s and “ahh”s, but I am absolutely enamored with the funny little things that keep me coming back for more.

For me, it’s the little things that count. The things that may go unnoticed, but that after several visits to a place, you come to expect, and maybe even look forward to. These are the things that I usually keep to myself, thinking that outsiders just wouldn’t understand. And maybe they wouldn’t, because there is nothing grand about them. But they are the little things about Richmond restaurants that make me smile, and although these are tiny aspects of the dining experience, I would be devastated if they ever went away.

This list is far from comprehensive, and it’s written in no particular order. I’m sure that just as soon as I hit “Publish,” I will think of ten more. It’s difficult to stop myself, but if I didn’t, this post would never be completed. Because I am sure that I’ve left some out, I would love to hear your favorite little things about Richmond or your own city’s dining scene in the comments! So without further ado, these are a few of my favorite things. . .

  • The way the butter that accompanies the bread at Can Can Brasserie is filled to the brim of each butter container, then scraped flat across the top to form a perfectly flat buttery surface
  • The salty, briny capers in the vegetarian paella at Kuba Kuba
  • The lovely ladies room at Urban Farmhouse Market and Cafe. No really, I have often thought that I would live in that bathroom if I could. TMI?
  • The seasonal vegetable plate at Parkside Cafe, featuring local vegetables bought across the street at the farmers’ market and cooked to perfection within hours of purchase
  • The mismatched salt and pepper shakers at the Black Sheep; each table has a different set and each set is quite interesting
  • The graham cracker center of a Key Lime popsicle and the vanilla wafer center of a Banana Pudd’n popsicle from King of Pops.
  • The slate cheese platters at Secco, with the name of each cheese written in chalk right below it
  • The combination of creative sauces drizzled on every taco served by the Boka Truck
  • The black and white films silently projected on the wall at Stella’s
  • The pickle of the day at Citizen, which is often unusual, sometimes hard to identify, and always delicious
  • The delicate and precise latte art at Lamplighter Roasting Company, which always reminds me of the very first time I was ever served a latte with fern-shaped foam (magical!)
  • The crispy crunch and the melt-in-your-mouth center of each bite of tandoori cauliflower at Balliceaux
  • The booth screens on the high backed booths at Ipanema Cafe, which always make me feel like I should confess my sins to fellow diners (which could also be blamed on the happy hour wine deal)

What are your favorite “little things” about your local dining scene?

Branching Out: Week in Review

Last Sunday seems so far away. I had a fantastic week that was jam-packed with long days full of new experiences. In the past, Spring has simply meant seasonal allergies, wardrobe challenges due to unpredictable weather, and the promise of summer right around the corner. For me, Spring has always been a season to rush through. It’s the awkward puberty of seasons and I can’t wait for it to be over. Even as I write this, Seals & Crofts’ serenades me as I daydream about summer breeze. Thank you Pandora Radio for reading my mind.

However, this year has been different. I have tried to embrace Spring for what it is and view it in a new light. My new perspective has taught me that Spring is a time of new beginnings. As everything starts to thaw and bloom, we too can get outside and expand our horizons. Spring is a great time to try new things and recommit to our personal growth. For some of us, this is a great time to review New Year’s resolutions and pick back up where we left off sometime in the first few weeks of February. For me, this is the perfect opportunity to try out new restaurants, recipes, and workouts. This past week I have met some new people and gone some new places and I have had a blast! So without further delay, here is the week in review.

On Sunday, I went to a delightful brunch at Stella’s with the Virginia is for Bloggers group. What started out as a tiny hashtag (#VAis4Bloggers) is now a thriving group of Virginia bloggers. The kickoff brunch that founders Sarah and Liz planned for us was fantastic.

Stella’s interior is gorgeous and the Greek theme is not subtle but not over-the-top either. The owners communicated the theme in a way that makes the restaurant feel authentic, not kitschy. One of the many well-edited features of the restaurant is the black and white Greek movie silently projected in the back corner.

Sarah and Liz brought us free samples and coupons for Love Grown Foods granola and coupons for Chobani. There was even a raffle for some of Sarah’s homemade peanut butter and full size bags of Love Grown granola.

Here’s the swag! Which included one of Gabby’s delicious gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

I ordered the Black Kale Skillet, which comes with “sauteed black tuscan kale dressed with lemon-dijon vinaigrette, over toasted olive oil bread, kasseri cheese, topped with two fried eggs.” It turned out to be a great choice and I am sure that I will order this again in the future.

The pita dishes, although not vegetarian, looked delicious too.

The staff at Stella’s was so friendly and accommodating. At the end of the meal, our server brought out complimentary loukoumades, which are like Greek doughnuts. Sorry this photo looks blue. I tried to color correct it but still couldn’t get it right. The rainy skies were doing something weird to the natural light coming in through the windows. Guess you’ll have to go to Stella’s and order the loukoumades yourself to get the picture!

One thing that was not brand new this week, but is relatively new to me is trail running. I met up with some friends to jog on the Buttermilk Trail on Tuesday night. We have been training together for the Dominion Riverrock Filthy 5K Mud Run that takes place in three weeks. I hate road running, but I LOVE trail running. This has been a surprising discovery for me this year. Along the path, which doubles as a mountain biking trail, hangs this excellent sign. As my friend Melissa commented, “that’s some effective visual communication.” Consequently the photo made it onto TODA’s 366 Days of 2012 as the photo of the day for April 25th.

On Wednesday, Kyle and I had a dinner date at Acacia for Richmond Restaurant Week. It was my first time at Acacia Midtown (I have been meaning to go for years) and everything was wonderful. I started with the Farmer’s Punch, which is a cocktail made with clement rhum agricole, allspice, pineapple, lime, coconut milk and coconut foam. It was really tasty. It reminded me of the Mixology episode of Portlandia. But still, super tasty and refreshing. And how about those stainless steel straws? I think I need some!

My first course was a pureed kale and white bean soup with grilled ramps, creme fraiche, and smoked paprika oil. It was smiling at me.

The second course was a goat cheese and rosemary tart with mixed baby vegetables, roasted hazelnuts and crispy kale. It was out of this world.

While everything was delicious, dessert was my favorite course. I had the Dark and Stormy which was inspired by the drink of the same name. I am a big fan of the Dark and Stormy. You may recall that I made my own version with fresh cranberries called the Red Sky at Night. This dessert captures all the flavors of a dark and stormy, with rum ice cream, lime sorbet, molasses cake and ginger beer foam. Thank you, Acacia, for a thoroughly enjoyable Restaurant Week experience!

After all those good eats, Kyle and I were due for another long workout in the great outdoors. On Friday I decided to conquer my fear of biking across the James River and I took on the hills of Forest Hill, the pedestrian path on the Nickel Bridge, the traffic on Cary Street near VCU, and the daunting Belvidere Bridge. How cute are our His and Hers Torker bikes? A silver U-District for Kyle, and a copper Graduate for me.

Here is Kyle on the Nickel Bridge, or Boulevard Bridge.

And here is the lovely view from the Nickel Bridge. Kyle almost proposed here once at sunset, but he chickened out. Now that I know that story, I think about it every time I’m looking West over the James River from this spot.

Sure, Spring still means seasonal allergies and wardrobe challenges, but it means new beginnings too. I don’t know about you, but I’m digging this new outlook.

Restaurant Week: Top Picks for Vegetarians

Richmond Restaurant Week is almost here! This semi-annual event is a way for Richmond diners to enjoy a prix-fixe meal from the city’s best restaurants while supporting a local charity. This year, each meal is priced at $25.11,with $2.11 per person going to FeedMore. FeedMore is an umbrella non-profit organization that consists of the Central Virginia Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, and the Community Kitchen.

As a vegetarian, it can be somewhat difficult to choose which restaurant you want to visit during Restaurant Week because you have to sift through the menus posted at Richmond.com to find the ones that offer vegetarian options for every course. Twice a year, I find myself shaking my fist at the computer, whining “why can’t Acacia give a vegetarian a little love on restaurant week?!”

If you’re looking for a great vegetarian meal during Richmond Restaurant Week, I have done my research so you don’t have to. I looked for creative menus from great local restaurants that included vegetarian options for all three courses. Here is my list of best vegetarian menus for Fall Richmond Restaurant Week 2011. I have included only the vegetarian options here, but you can view all of the full menus at Richmond.com. With the exception of Europa’s menu, you get to choose one item from each course per meal.

Europa (Choice of 3 starters and 1 dessert or 1 starter, 1 entree, 1 dessert)
Course 1 (Starters):
Soup of the Day
Mixed Green Salad – cherries, fennel, gorgonzola and sherry vinaigrette
Arugula Salad – sun dried tomatoes, roasted mushroom, manchego, balsamic vinaigrette
Stuffed Peppers – pesto, risotto, goat cheese and fresh herbs
Eggplant Fries – with romesco sauce
Course 2 (Entrees):
Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi- braised rapini, roasted garlic, and a saffron, fennel broth
Course 3 (Desserts):
Tiramisu
Lemon cheese cake with macerated berries

The Dining Room at the Berkeley Hotel
Course 1:
Sweet Potato Fritters – Pan cooked sweet potato fritters over stewed lentils with a chevre mousse
Fall Vegetables – Oven roasted eggplant and squash served with a balsamic gastrique
Field Greens Salad – Fresh field greens and fall vegetables tossed with white truffle vinaigrette dressing
Course 2:
Mushroom Ravioli – House made ravioli filled with mixed mushrooms and finished with sage butter sauce
Pair with Sea Ridge Syrah/ $7 per glass
Course 3:
Bourbon Bread Pudding with Chocolate and Caramel Sauces
Molten Chocolate Cake
Cheesecake with Fresh Berries
Vanilla Ice Cream

Julep’s New Southern Cuisine
Course 1:
Roasted Butternut Squash, Bourbon, Vidalia Onion Soup finished with Black Strap Molasses Creme
Fried Green Tomatoes served with Peppadew Aioli
Manakintowne Mixed Greens – Firefly Farms Black & Blue Cheese, Cucumber, Roasted Red Peppers and a Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette
Course 2:
Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Grilled Asparagus, Spinach, and Caramelized Vidalia Onions
Course 3:
Sorbet of the Day
Chocolate Cheesecake
Cinnamon Bun White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Sabayon

La Grotta
Course 1:
Zuppa del Giorno – Homemade soup of the day
Insalata Mista – Mixed fresh greens with homemade balsamic dressing
Pasta Combo – Chef’s choice of two different homemade pastas
Course 2:
Pasta Special – Chef’s choice
Agnolotti alla Panna- Homemade ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta cheese in a light cream sauce
Course 3:
Tiramisu – Lady fingers dipped in espresso and Marsala wine layered with mascarpone cheese
and topped with shaved chocolate
Torta all’Amaretto – Homemade Amaretto cake

Zeus Gallery Cafe
Course 1:
Warm spicy pumpkin soup with creme fraiche and pumpkinseed oil garnish
Wedge salad with buttermilk bleu cheese, applewood bacon, cherry tomatoes, and cumin vinaigrette (I’m sure you could request no bacon)
Course 2:
Mezzi rigatoni tossed with arugula, tomato confit, cracked black pepper, and ricotta sauce
Course 3:
Tiramisu
Key lime pie
Belgian chocolate pate
Warm apple cobbler

Hungry yet? I can’t wait to try some of these menus! However, I thought of something else (because I think of everything). If none of these menus excite you too much, or you don’t want to fight the crowds at this popular Richmond event, or you can’t get a reservation at the restaurant you wanted, you might want to go the homemade route.

If you do not want to go out for restaurant week but you still want to help FeedMore, why not make this delicious meal at home, and make a donation directly to FeedMore instead? I am sure they would appreciate your donation of funds or time if you feel inclined to help out.

Veg:ology DIY Restaurant Week Menu

Spa Salad with Avocado, Lime and Pomegranate

Balsamic Baked Tofu with Swiss Chard and Tomato Gravy

Vanilla Ice Cream Sundaes with Guinness Caramel Sauce

So. . . what do you think? Are you going to Richmond Restaurant Week? Which menus are you excited about?

Discovering Hidden Gems in Virginia

Last weekend I took a trip to Franklin County, VA to learn about Homestead Creamery. Luckily I didn’t have to work on Friday, so Kyle and I took advantage of the day off and headed west a day early. On the way, we stopped at Smith Mountain Lake. Smith Mountain Lake is a gigantic lake in Franklin County, VA that is home to several marinas, resorts and private estates, as well as a State Park. The park features hiking and biking trails, a boat launch and a large sandy beach. On a clear 80 degree day, we were most interested in the beach.

The park charges a $3 admission per adult to enjoy the beach, and I think it is worth it. The clean and well-staffed swimming area features a sandy beach with roped-off swimming areas and two lifeguards, indoor restrooms, a grill and snack stand with eating area, a beach volleyball net, and a fun slide that sits on a floating dock.

You can also rent boats onsite, but we opted to just lay out on the beach and do a little swimming and wading to cool off throughout the afternoon. Though it was never overcrowded (as most coastal VA beaches are this time of year), as the day wore on, people started to leave and we found the spot to be very peaceful.

What a treat!

In the late afternoon, we packed up and made the one hour drive to Roanoke, VA, where we stayed for the night. After checking into our hotel, showering and freshening up, we took a short drive towards town for dinner. I took this overnight stay as an opportunity to try a restaurant that we had never made it to on our first trip to Roanoke in April. Wildflour Market and Bakery is a lovely little cafe and bakery in the Southwest Historic District.

I had gotten a few recommendations that this was a vegetarian friendly restaurant so I have wanted to try it out since planning our road trip last spring. We finally made it there last Friday night and it was worth the wait. The charming interior feels like a cross between a big city cafe and your best friend’s kitchen. The tasteful decorating draws you in and makes you feel at home.

There were large painted canvases all around the restaurant, displaying local artists’ work. The bar looked like a few converted bread baker’s cabinets. It may well have been, as Wildflour has a thriving cake business.

Our cheerful waitress helped us navigate the menu and pointed out the whole section of vegetarian options that they had available. Wildflour lists a millet veggie burger on their menu that piqued our curiosity. While we were deciding what to order, our waitress brought a small sample of the burger for us to try, which was really thoughtful. I noticed that she greeted almost all of the other customers by name and her exceptional customer service was very impressive. She even asked us, “so are you all new around here, or just passing through?” Because clearly if we weren’t new to town or just visiting, she would have known us by name already. Oh, small town charm.

The millet burger was  a winner, so Kyle chose it for his entree. Pardon the dark photos, the romantic low lighting was far from ideal for taking pictures. And oh what a stir I caused when I pulled out the camera. I guess they don’t see many food bloggers at Wildflour? Which is a darn shame.

The burger came on freshly baked bread. At this point I suppose I should mention that Wildflour prides itself on making nearly everything they serve from scratch. You can taste the difference. It’s fantastic.

I had the spinach ricotta pie and a side salad with homemade maple mustard vinaigrette.

The fluffy savory quiche was a good choice after spending all day in the sun. There was enough food there for me to feel satisfied, but it was light enough to not weigh me down for the rest of the evening. The vinaigrette on the salad was really tasty, and I understand why Wildflour sells containers of their homemade salad dressing to go. This would be a kitchen staple for me if I lived in the area.

Wildflour does not only excel in fresh from-scratch cooking; they also have a booming cake business and they specialize in doing wedding cakes. There were over a dozen varieties of cake to choose from after dinner, and because we had heard that Wildflour was great at cakes, we couldn’t pass on dessert! After much deliberation, we split a piece of carrot cake.

It was heavenly. If I was planning a wedding, I might consider getting married in Roanoke, VA just so I could have this cake. Do you think they would deliver to Richmond? Probably not. But you bet I would drive from Richmond to Roanoke for another slice. It was deeee-lish.

To be honest, we didn’t have a great experience in Roanoke the first time we visited earlier this year. However, our trip to Wildflour Market and Cafe and our drive around the Southwest Historic District turned it around for us. I will always have fond memories of Roanoke because of the evening I spent exploring this little corner of the town. We had the perfect romantic date to end a perfect day lounging at the lake, and our expectations were exceeded at every turn. I’m looking forward to making another trip out there in the future!

Celebrating Spring in Asheville

Check out my new travel page by clicking on TRAVEL in the header, or following this link: Travel. Need restaurant or activity recommendations for any of the places listed? Check out my posts on the subject via the Travel page or send me an email at vegologyblog[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Kyle and I recently took a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, North Carolina. Catch up on our adventure here:

We left off at our late night arrival in Asheville, NC after a closure of the Blue Ridge Parkway sent us on a crazy, steep, white-knuckle-inducing detour down the mountain and into town. The trip was all roses tulips from that point on.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself though. In order to wake up and smell the flowers (whatever variety they may be), the first step is waking up. On a beautiful first morning in Asheville, we chose to wake up at Early Girl Eatery.

I have mentioned before that we chose our road trip destination based on the wide variety of local, sustainable, and vegetarian food that is readily available there. Early Girl Eatery did not disappoint. It offered the best breakfast I have had in a long time. We started with coffee, of course. I ordered the Early Girl Benny, which featured a soft-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside grit cake, topped with wilted spinach, poached local eggs, sliced avocado and the most amazing tomato gravy I had ever tasted.

Kyle ordered the Veggie Breakfast Bowl, which was also fantastic. This well-composed dish consists of black-eyed peas, kale, scrambled eggs, and farmstead cheese, topped with herb cream gravy. He also ordered a side of smoky tempeh. It was such a treat for both of us to be able to get gravy at breakfast, since most gravies include meat and we usually have to skip it.

The service was great, and it was evident that the attentive staff was as passionate about food as we are. We sat next to a friendly couple who were retired and easily 40 years my senior, and they offered sight-seeing tips and suggestions for local restaurants and activities that were a little more off-the-beaten-path. It was a really enjoyable experience. The delicious food kept us full for hours during our next adventure: a visit to the majestic Biltmore Estate during the Festival of Flowers. We enjoyed a house tour and walk through the gardens, where we were greeted by thousands of tulips in full bloom and dozens of flowering trees.


After touring the grounds of the main house and the gardens, Kyle and I went on a winery tour and tasting. The Biltmore has converted their old dairy into a winemaking operation, which was pretty interesting to see. The estate vineyards supply some of the grapes for their wine, but most of the grapes are purchased from California. I wasn’t in love with many of their wines but it was a nice tour and tasting in a beautiful setting.

When our day at the Biltmore was complete, we headed back to our hotel and took a cab downtown for dinner and drinks, along with a loud and crazy visit to a local bar to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins game (a must for my NHL super-fan companion). Dinner was at Laughing Seed Café. I had the Berry Bliss organic herbal iced tea, “a calming boost to the immune system, loaded with vitamin C,” and Kyle enjoyed a local beer from Highland Brewing Company.

It was so refreshing to see a menu full of meatless options for us to choose from. It was a tough decision, but we finally ordered our food. I wish we could have had four more nights at Laughing Seed to try all of the creative dishes that we wanted to sample.

My entree was one of the dinner specials, the Jet Set Salad. Check out all of these awesome specials!

“a salad of grilled tempeh, roasted coconut sweet potatoes, pomegranate glazed wild cherries, toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted red peppers, shaved onions, and cilantro tossed with mixed greens in maple-Dijon vinaigrette; topped with goat cheese.”

not a great photo - I was in a rush to dig in!

Kyle ordered the Havana Cuban. We have tried many times to recreate the beauty of a Cuban sandwich in a vegetarian version at home, and we have had a few successful attempts that we were quite proud of. The Laughing Seed version blew our creations out of the water. It was a.ma.zing.

“Herb and spice battered organic tempeh, crispy housemade pickles, black bean spread, tomatoes, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and Asheville’s Lusty Monk mustard on grilled flaky Cuban bread”

I highly recommend the Laughing Seed Café if you are headed to Asheville. For me, no trip to Asheville will ever be complete without a visit to this inventive restaurant. It was a relaxing and nourishing place to share a spring evening.

From there we traveled a few blocks down the street to a bar called the Bier Garden to drink a few beers and watch the Penguins game. Honestly, the service was lousy and the crowd was out of control, but they offered an impressive selection of beers with over a dozen taps and hundreds of bottles. We were able to grab two seats at the bar right in front of a flat screen TV showing Kyle’s game so we had a pretty enjoyable evening.

That night and the next day featured a lot of beer tasting. As we sipped beers from near and far on Friday night, little did we know that the very next day we were about to taste some of the best craft beer we had ever had, at a little organic brewery hidden in the mountains of western North Carolina. If the theme of Friday was fresh, local, seasonal food to celebrate Spring, the theme of Saturday was hops, yeast, and malt, in the most delicious combinations we had ever tasted. We were in for a real treat.

Veggie Mess a la Millie’s

Millie’s Diner is arguably the best brunch spot in Richmond and everyone knows it. Millie’s starts serving brunch at 10AM on Saturday, and a line starts to wrap around the corner of the tiny beloved restaurant by 9:30 every Saturday morning. If you want to get a table on Saturday or Sunday morning, you either get there early and wait 30 minutes until they open or you get there later and wait up to an hour until a table opens up. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

One of Millie’s signature dishes is the Devil’s Mess, and the restaurant offers a Veggie Mess for patrons who would rather skip the sausage. The dish is a mess of scrambled eggs mixed with vegetables, curry, and melted cheese. It comes in a massive portion that is best when accompanied by a bloody mary or mimosa. Because I love brunch for dinner, and because I have cut our restaurant dining budget in preparation for our super awesome anniversary vacation, I decided to make these at home one night. They turned out almost as good as the real thing.

Veggie Mess, a la Millie’s Diner

This will be another one of those walk-you-through-the-recipe recipes, because I made it up as I went along, while Kyle faithfully took meticulous notes.

What a guy. 🙂

Start with the following vegetables. Sauté these in 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat:

  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Beyond this point, you can add whatever vegetables you want. I chose enough ingredients to make two huge heaping servings. Most people would say this recipe yields three entree size servings, but I was trying to be authentic. And at Millie’s, they pile on the veggies and eggs. When the onions, carrots, pepper and garlic are tender, remove them from the pan to a small bowl and mix in the other ingredients:

  • 2-4 oz of marinated artichoke hearts (a small jar)
  • 2 oz can of sliced black olives
  • 1-2 handfuls of spinach
  • (I would add diced tomatoes here  if they were in season right now, which they’re not, and in my opinion it’s a worthless addition unless it’s summer.)

Now you’re going to start the scramble. Whisk together 6 eggs and 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder. This is my Mom’s trick for making nice fluffy eggs. Divide the mixture in half, and pour one half into an oiled pan over low-medium heat. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan as you move the eggs around with a spatula. When they start to look like this. . .

. . . it’s time to add the vegetables back to the pan. Divide the vegetable mixture in half, and add the veggies to the pan. Continue to scramble the eggs while incorporating the other ingredients. Add to the egg-veggie mixture:

  • 1 teaspoon curry powder (more or less depending on taste)
  • salt and pepper

Cook for just a minute or two more and remove the mess to a foil-lined baking sheet. Preheat the broiler. Repeat the scramble for the other half of the eggs and half of the vegetable mixture. When you’re finished, sprinkle on top of each mess:

  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used colby jack and I probably used more than 1/4 cup if we’re being honest here)

They should look like this. . .

A coworker of mine rarely sits at a table at Millie’s, opting instead for a seat at the bar so he can view the open kitchen. It turns out that sitting at the bar has its perks, like the ability to pick up little-known local restaurant trivia. My coworker let me know that at Millie’s, they finish every dish under the broiler for a minute or so. Every. Single. Dish. Including the Veggie Mess. Insider info, score!

So now you’re going to place this under the broiler for one minute, for the sake of authenticity. It will look melty and delicious like this. . .

Slide onto a plate and dig in!

Judging by the absence of patrons lining up outside la casa de vegology every Saturday morning, my version is not a Richmond classic just yet. Kyle stood in line for about 40 minutes for this dish though, so I’m calling it a success.

Recipe inspired by Millie’s Diner in the historic Church Hill neighborhood of downtown Richmond, VA.

The Black Sheep

I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t been to The Black Sheep until this weekend. It has been on my list of restaurants to visit for a really long time now, but I never can to make it out there to give it a try. Carissa always talks about how much she loves to get brunch there with her mom, and she has raved about the French toast on more than one occasion. It seems like everyone I talk to loves this place, and I’ve been missing out for awhile. I think the problem is that Kyle and I always want to walk to brunch on the weekends, and with so many great options nearby, it’s hard for us to hop in the car for the 2.3 mile drive to this gem of a brunch spot. I opt to use the word “gem” because The Black Sheep is a diamond in the rough, situated on a quiet corner in the quaint yet rough-around-the-edges Carver neighborhood of downtown Richmond.

We arrived at 9:15 and had our choice of tables in the small dining room. We chose a beautiful wooden table in the back of the restaurant which backed up to a rustic looking sub wall that looked salvaged and was used to separate the dining room in the front from the registers and prep area in the back. I immediately noticed that each table had a different quirky set of salt and pepper shakers; this is definitely an idea that I’m going to borrow when I have my own cafe someday. Ours were cute little gourds.

I sensed that my immune system was working overtime, even though I didn’t really feel sick, so I ordered an orange juice with my coffee. I ended up coming down with a major upper respiratory infection within 12 hours of brunch, so it turns out that my suspicion was dead-on. I still think the OJ helped a little though. Not only did The Black Sheep offer a collection of mismatched salt and pepper shakers, they had a variety of coffee mugs as well. Mine was Hawaiian.

The Black Sheep has a menu that changes seasonally and we found plenty of vegetarian options at reasonable prices. Kyle ordered the No Mas Huevos Nuevos ($8), “two eggs served with a wheatberry & black bean chili, topped with an avocado salsa, served over a griddled jalapeño gritcake.”

The chili was sweet and spicy, the avocados and scallions offered a creamy and fresh complement to the chili and eggs, and the gritcake was a delicious anchor for the dish. We think the garnish on top was homemade crispy flour tortilla strips. Kyle’s take on this dish: “MmmWow,” mumbled while munching down large forkfuls.

I had the Red Flannel Hash ($8), “two eggs served over roasted beets & roasted carrots combined with red potato, red onion, red pepper and parsley” with a lightly dressed mixed lettuce salad and a perfect slice of baguette.

click to see the beautiful color contrast!

 

The vegetables were nutty and sweet and perfectly cooked: not too crisp and not too mushy. There was plenty of hash to accompany both the eggs and the salad. While I rarely comment on a side of bread, this baguette was noteworthy. It might have been the most perfect baguette I have ever tasted, warm with a thin and crispy crust and a soft-crisp interior that featured the ideal balance of air pockets and crumb. It was heaven and it was only an accompaniment. Do they make their bread in house? Can I order some to take home? I’m still dreaming about this baguette – I have never in my life been so passionate about bread before this brunch experience.

Well I obviously loved it, but how did Kyle feel?

“This far exceeded my expectations.”

“This chili is so. . . . awesome!”

“We are definitely doing this again.”

“Let me get the check.”

Score!

If you are in the RVA area, get thee to The Black Sheep ASAP.

NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2011

Well it’s been two weeks since my trip to New York. . . shall we talk about it?

Lucky me, a trip to see my best friend coincided with Winter Restaurant Week. We didn’t even plan it that way originally, but it worked out beautifully. After scouring the NYC restaurant week menus online for vegetarian options, we decided on Savore, a little Italian restaurant in SoHo. Melissa and I wanted to try somewhere we probably never would have ventured into otherwise, and Savore sounded delightful. We were joined my Melissa’s cousin Becky, who was also visiting the city for the weekend.

We started with a bottle of the Tomaiolo Chianti Classico Reserva 2005.

It was a nice house chianti that warmed us up and helped us ease into the bread course, which was served with a tasty white bean puree. See, we had really been looking forward to a glass of wine and we needed the warming up, because despite having a reservation, we waited thirty minutes in a blustery doorway for our table to be ready. This place was packed on a Friday night. We stood in the entryway as bus boys brought chairs in from outside (?) and filled them in around the already jam-packed tables. We were finally seated at a table in the front window, crammed between a frozen pane of glass and a table of two diners who probably would have preferred a little more privacy. But I thought, hey, it’s a family Italian restaurant. You can expect a little closeness, and the more the merrier, right?

We ordered from a three course prix-fixe menu and quickly settled into our cozy surroundings. After all, the wait and the awkward seating arrangement no longer mattered; we were just happy to catch up with friends as we waited for the appetizers to arrive.

Melissa ordered the mussels.

The portion was huge, and we were thinking there was no way we would be able to handle three courses of this size. Unfortunately, only half the mussels were properly cooked and the rest came out raw. Big bummer, but at least Melissa still had room for her entree. I, on the other hand, devoured almost every bite of my appetizer, “Belga,” shredded endive with pears, walnuts and gorgonzola, dressed in balsamic vinegar.

Soon after I cleaned my plate, the very attentive waitress refilled our glasses of wine and returned with the main course. Melissa had filet of salmon with fresh tomato and asparagus, sauteed with prosecco.

Becky had the taglioini with shrimp and fresh tomato.

I had the triangoli, filled with squash and tossed in a light truffle puree with green peas.

The squash filling and the sauce were great, but the pasta was underdone and almost impossible to eat. I felt like I was swallowing rocks with each not-quite-al-dente bite. I thought for sure that an Italian restaurant in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood would deliver a delicious fresh pasta, but it turned out to be chewy and tough. I don’t know if it was because it was a busy night or what, but I was pretty disappointed. The conversation flowed anyway and we had a really great time, telling funny stories and reminiscing about past adventures, so I just sucked it up and enjoyed my pasta filling and truffle sauce.

Thankfully, Savore turned it around with dessert. I had the chocolate bread pudding in a chocolate-strawberry sauce. It was divine.

Melissa and Becky both ordered the tiramisu, which did not disappoint.

To top it all off, the maitre d’ came over to apologize for the long wait, and he brought us a collection of complementary drinks. We had limoncello and two dessert wines, and we thought it was a very nice gesture given the rough start to the meal. We sipped and laughed until we had not a drop to drink left, and then tried to motion to a waiter for the check. By this time the dinner rush had died down quite a bit, and there wasn’t a waiter in sight. It took us 20 minutes to flag someone down, which was quite an ordeal.

While Savore tried to redeem itself with a sincere apology and a strong drink, sadly it failed. Luckily we had a fantastic time in spite of the mediocre service and food. That just goes to show you the influence that delightful dining companions can have on your meal.

So as not to end on a sour note, I do have good news to share. While I was so excited to experience NYC restaurant week at Savore, the star meal of the weekend was at a dark and sophisticated Korean restaurant that we wandered into the next night, at the end of a long stroll through SoHo and TriBeCa. Kori delivered superb service and fantastic food. This might have been the best kimchi I have ever tasted.

And a mean soju cocktail! Witness a lovely new take on the traditional mojito.

The photo of the tofu bibimbap is even darker than these and not worth posting, so you’ll have to visit Kori and see it for yourself. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised, like me. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it?