FOOD- DISH- Rahal's big adventure: Mas tapas chef hits the road

If Mas chef Tomas Rahal makes it back to Charlottesville alive, Belmont's trendy tapas bar could see some tasty, and authentic, additions to its menu. If...

Rahal had promised to send Dish food dispatches from the Spanish front, but after days without a message in our inbox, we began to worry. Had Rahal been gored by a bull? Captured by gypsies? Seduced and abandoned penniless by a dark-eyed senorita?

As it turns out, he was merely recovering from the trip.

After a harrowing 16-hour journey, including security delays, a near cardiac arrest as he tried to haul his own luggage on the Madrid metro (fortunately, he was rescued by three mustachioed old ladies dressed in black who offered to carry his bags... don't ask), and multiple train and cab rides, Rahal finally found himself in Sanlucar and Jerez, the capitals of Spanish sherry making.

"I ate like an otter," Rahal writes, "which is how one eats on the seaside here. To wit: fried medusas (sea anemones), clams of all kinds, steamed, in garlic tomato sauce and fried, squid, fried as choclo, or stuffed with pork, tuna baked with wine and tomatoes, mackerel in tasty tomato anise sauce, squid eggs, baked spider crab with roe, fried baby shrimp with onions (my fave), mussels, octopus al gallego (kind of a vinegar sauce), big fat anchovies in vinegar and garlic, bocarones, kinda like an average night at Mas."

Next, Rahal is off to Tarifa next to Gibraltar, then on to Malaga and Marbella. Stay tuned for more dispatches!

Fried pencil erasers?

In you like fried clams, you can thank freelancer writer Janis Jaquith for bringing them to the area. Last summer, Jaquith bemoaned the absence of the New England delicacy in an essay for the Hook.

"How maddening to think that right here in Charlottesville we can buy a baguette at Albemarle Baking Company that is every bit as good as any bread I ever tasted in France," Jaquith wrote, "and at Fleurie you can order a foie gras so intensely succulent that it's a reason for living, but if you're looking for a fried clam that has never been frozen, and does not taste like fried pencil erasers, you're out of luck."

As luck would have it, D'Ambola owner Philip D'Ambola happened to read Jaquith's essay, and after a trip to New England he decided to serve fried clams at his Afton restaurant, which is just off Route 151. "You would be surprised how the clam has surpassed the fried oyster (the Virginia de facto preferred shellfood)," D'Ambola told Jaquith in an e-mail, "and yes, we will have real fried clams, not clam strips, served with french fries or fried zucchini, tartar sauce, and cole slaw."

Jaquith's reaction? "This is the best news I've had in I don't know how long," she says. "God bless the Hook!

Splendoreous morning!


gelateria on the Downtown Mall will start opening early in the morning beginning April 3, owner Fax Ayres tells the Dish.

Early morning gelato? we asked.

"We're trying to expand our coffee business," says Ayres. "We have a strong Italian espresso drink menu with the LaVazza line of espresso and brewed coffees as its foundation, as well as our signature Italian hot chocolate and hot chocolate mochas."

Ayres also plans to have a selection of magazines and newspapers on hand, as well as breakfast pastries, muffins, homemade chocolate/hazelnut biscotti, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies. "Of course, if you need a little gelato to start your day," says Ayres, "that will be available too."

No Littlejohn's on the Mall

Lastly, Dish has learned that Littlejohn's plan to open up a satellite sub joint in the old A&N space is a no go. Apparently, John Crafaik, owner of the landmark corner deli, decided Gabe Silverman's lease was a little too complicated. Too bad. Littlejohn's would have surely livened up the east end of the Mall.

Mas chef Tomas Rahal hopes to bring back some new ideas from the old country.