Monday bustle: Diners skate out for Restaurant Week
Tony and Ana Jorge were making their way back to their car on Water Street as the rain stopped and the mercury dropped Monday evening, the first night of Restaurant Week. They had just enjoyed a romantic dinner at Tempo where they sampled French chef Brice Cunningham’s duck breast in a savory carrot cream sauce accompanied by Swiss chard from Hi-Five Farm in nearby Shadwell.
“It was really very good,” says Mr. Jorge. “The sauces and reductions especially— these are what you come out for.”
Luscious sauces aren’t the only reductions. On July 9, sixteen restaurants began offering a $26 three-course prix fixe menu— a tempting week-long deal considering that a single entree at such participants as Maya, Blue Light Grill, or The Melting Pot can easily top $30.
If the Jorges represent the typical customer experience— sated on good food and a good deal— then Cunningham might represent the average chef’s experience during a week when even Charlottesville’s most prepared kitchens brace for a rush of hungry foodies expecting exquisite concoctions from their favorite local spots.
As Cunningham rattled off Tempo’s French-fusion and progressive-American menu additions, his frenzied team of cooks sliced perfectly circular discs of beets to slide onto appetizer plates and drizzled glazes in elaborate patterns over seared skate. Add to this an unrelenting tide of servers balancing piles of the delicate food compositions in the crooks of their elbows, and the result is well-ordered chaos.
Tempo, enjoying an earlier-than-usual swarm of diners Monday night, is the third Charlottesville restaurant (Petit Pois and Fleurie are the other two) opened by Cunningham, who studied under world-renowned chef Alain Ducasse in France. The chef’s father left France in 2011 to join forces with his son at Tempo.
Where Tempo put its robust signature flavors on display for Restaurant Week, the nearby Blue Light Grill came up with a "something for everybody" menu aimed at drawing in diners who hadn’t previously eaten at the shellfish-centric Blue Light.
“This summer we’ve been very into pickling things, and we’re keeping everything very fresh, very organic, very local," says assistant head chef Corey Kuck. "This Restaurant Week we’re trying to show a little bit of what we do and still give customers what they want— very nice food from local purveyors.”
Like Tempo, Blue Light is also offering a skate dish with additional offerings of fettuccini and roast chicken breast. Its Restaurant Week desserts— a chocolate mousse triffel, crème fraiche panna cotta, and grilled peaches— could tempt the most refined palates. Yet a little past 7pm, the restaurant was about half-full, and a server mentions that it felt a little empty.
“We’re looking to have a steady Monday and Tuesday, because we know Wednesday through Friday is going to be really busy,” says Kuck. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
Over at Maya, the menu reflects the restaurant’s standard nouveau southern vibe as well as some playful touches, like champagne sorbet garnished with Pop Rocks, the ubiquitous '70s-era carbonated candy.
“I had to go to the Dollar Tree to pick those up,” says owner Peter Castiglione as he stands in front of the nearly full patio facing West Main Street.
“We had people walking through the door at 5pm, right when we opened," says Castiglione. "Last winter, we did about 1,000 people, so we’re hoping to pull in around eight or nine hundred this week.”
One thousand diners will equal one thousand dollars for the PB&J Fund, a local non-profit that that connects kids with healthy eating habits and gets the 26th dollar of each Restaurant Week meal.
Maya’s menu features shrimp and grits in a smoked tomato gravy, grilled Wagyu sirloin, and seared salmon with fennel and spiced carrot couscous, enough choices for diners Kelly Oakes and Carolyn Polson.
“I had the fried green tomatoes and then for dessert a blackberry and basil sorbet,” says a smiling Oakes.
“We had the salmon entrée and the shrimp and grits appetizer— it was fantastic,” enthuses Polson, who runs The Inn at 400 West High, a new downtown bed and breakfast.
“We love that some of our dinner went to the PB&J fund," says Polson. "We always go to Restaurant Week.”Read more on: Charlottesville Restaurant Week