FOOD- THE DISH- The Upstairs revealed: Local-motion, food-mag, Clifton Inn-sight

Escafé owner Mark Brown and manager Chip Sawyer are working hard to get The Upstairs  up and running.

In last week's Dish we revealed that Ristorante Al Dente on the Mall is moving over to the Ix building in May, and that the folks at Escafé are opening another restaurant in the space, called The Upstairs. 

Escafé owner Mark Brown and he and manger Chip Sawyer recently invited us over for a tour.

Brown, who's owned the building for three years now, has essentially gutted the old Al Dente space, removing the wall board in one room to reveal some beautiful brickwork. He's also taken out the ceiling, which raises it up about six more feet and exposes two smartly designed wooden cross beams. Along the big arched windows facing the Mall, he's building a cushioned bench that will face a brand new u-shaped bar, behind which he's putting some big bucks into creating a state-of-the-art wine storage.

Armchair Historians take note: Brown says some of his older customers have always said there was a door behind one of the walls, which was rumored to be an entrance to an old brothel in the adjacent building. True? Who knows. But sure enough, when he took down the wallboard, there it was.

He's also putting in a brand new kitchen, complete with a top-of-the-line char-broiler he says is a real "kicker," and some kind of fancy machine that cooks delicacies like fois gras. "You can hard boil an egg so the center is like jelly," he says.

Brown says he imagines an upscale but casual bar scene, serving up high-end cognacs, scotches, and tequilas (and wine, of course), and a restaurant serving up prime USDA steaks and seafood straight from the briny deep.

As for an opening date? That's where Brown is being cautious. He expects the construction to be done in a couple of weeks, and hopes to open sometime in April or May.

The Local in motion

Last September, owner Adam Frazier said it didn't even have a name yet, then in January we learned it would be The Local, now the new Belmont eatery is open for business as of Thursday, March 6. Not bad, considering that chef Matthew Hart predicted a March 6 opening in January.

And as Hart told Dish, it looks like it will be reasonably priced: the most expensive things on the menu are a grilled tuna and a New York strip steak for $16, and apps are all under $7.50. They also have some big, beefy, chickeny salads, house-made gnocchi, carbonara, and will introduce The Local Burger, served up with their own home-made fries.

Local Flavor: new food mag coming

After years working for publishers, including a stint as an ad director for C-Ville Weekly, Melissa Harris (along with a few silent partners) has decided to become one. Sometime in "late spring" Harris says she'll be launching Flavor Magazine, a quarterly food and wine mag with a slow food movement take on the culinary scene.

"I've always been impassioned about the local food movement," says Harris. "And there are so many stories in this area."

This area, says Harris, won't just include Charlottesville, but the whole Piedmont region.

"It will have a fun slant," she says. "..with articles that are like friends telling you something interesting...chef's recipes, a calendar of events...a thinking person's publication."

Clifton notes: Maupin to serve up free cooking demos

Beginning on March 19, Clifton Inn chef Dean Maupin will be holding free cooking demos for curious epicureans. Every Wednesday at 6:30pm until April 9, Maupin will serve up secrets as well as sauces. Here's the schedule: March 19: dry rubs and sauces for steaks (if you're reading this late Wednesday, you might still have a chance); March 26: risotto; April 2: cooking with fata paper; April 9: a study of fish cookery and techniques.

As Dish reported in 2006, Maupin has had two of his recipes published in Food & Wine Magazine, the current Bible of gastronomy.