FOOD- THE DISH- Atomic reactions: Burritorie closes, Aroma's finds digs

Aqui es Mexico's Jose Patino, cook Raqual Vasquez, and Patino's daughter, Anna Perez, work wonders at the little Mexican eatery on Carlton Road.

As night owls and burrito lovers know, Atomic Burrito on the Downtown Mall closed its doors October 31. 

Rumors about the closure had been in the air for some time, and although many had hoped they weren't true, it appears that another of the Mall's subversive, homegrown venues has wrapped. 

While Atomic owner Andrew Vaughan could not be reached for comment, despite repeated calls and emails, sources say the business is up for sale. Vaughan's other restaurant, Orbit Billiards, is also on the market.

 Gabe Silverman and his partner, Allan Cadgene, a California-based lawyer, paid $300,000 for the Atomic building on Second Street SE in 1999. Whether the new owners will run it as Atomic or come up with another concept is unknown. What is known?

For restaurateurs seeking a Mall location, the stakes couldn't be higher. Previously, the Atomic space was home to Liquid, a popular juice bar and health food eatery, but that too failed to thrive. Did Liquid and Atomic buckle under the weight of their leases? 

There's no doubt restaurant space downtown is at a premium– at least $2,500 to more than $6,000 a month to lease a space, depending on its size, and that's not counting what someone might pay to buy an existing business.

As La Cucina co-owner Meridith Benincasa told Dish earlier this year, when she and her husband, Franky, sold their restaurant (they were lucky enough to own the building on Water Street), "Rents are so high, and buildings are so expensive, that only chains or restaurant groups can afford to move in. It's going to be an interesting few years for restaurants in Charlottesville."

A whiff of Aroma's at Barracks Road

Well, it appears that Aroma's will finally have a new location. And the space for the popular Mediterranean restaurant that has thrived– against all expectations– in the bowels of the Fontaine Research Park will reflect its cuisine. 

Aroma's owner Hassan Kaisoum reports that work has begun on a Barracks Road Aroma's next to Five Guys and Panera Bread He hopes to open at the start of the new year, but can't say when exactly, as there are still a few hurdles to jump. Whereas the old Aroma's– which may or may not close, says Kaisoum– served only lunch, the new improved Aroma's will also be open for dinner.  

Mexican truffles on Carlton Road

Leave it to Jose Patino of Aqui Es Mexico, the little treasure hidden on Carlton Road, to bring us challenging Mexican delicacies we may never have heard of otherwise.  Patino, 64, a grandfather of 12 and former marathon runner, has slowly been turning Aqui Es Mexico into a success with his energy, family hospitality, and authentic Mexican-Salvadoran cuisine. Recently, Patino added huitlacoche, a mushroom-like plant fungus that grows on corn, to his menu. 

In America, huitlacoche is known as corn smut, a dreaded fungus that destroys corn crops, but in Mexico it's considered an expensive caviar-like treat. In the mid-1990s, as the Mexican fungus came into vogue at many high-end restaurants, American farms were allowed by the USDA to infect corn with huitlacoche– ironic considering the USDA had spent years trying to eradicate it. Not surprisingly, corn smut hasn't caught on as a delicacy in the States as many culinary experts believed it would, despite a movement by some to call it Mexican Truffles.

However, Dish recently tried a buitlacoche appetizer: a plate of tortilla chips covered with the black paste and garnished with sour cream, tomato, and assorted spices. Our report: it taste like a slightly sweet and delicate mushy mushroom... and we loved it!

Afton Mountain brewery opens

The Blue Mountain Brewery (our own German-style beer garden), located in Afton just 15 miles from Wintergreen Resort, has finally opened! 

If you haven't had a chance to check out this new "farm brewery," Dish recommends you do so while the Fall plum is still on display. Co-owner Matt Nucci, who owns the place with his partners,Taylor Smack and his wife, Mandi, reports that they've hired a full-time chef and cranked up their food menu to accompany their five new beers on tap. He also says they're kegging and bottling three of their beers, which are now available in local stores and bars. Not bad for being open only for a few weeks!

"We're giving tours of the brewery on the weekends," says Nucci.  "Fridays and Saturdays have been totally crazy, and were expanding our parking lot over the next few days."