FOOD- THE DISH- Food cultured: The ecology of Nicola's Veggies

Eco-organic: Dragana Katalina-Sun and Kimberly Ramberg hope Nicola's Veggies will be the Downtown Mall's quick, tasty, and healthy alternative.

Marco & Luca co-owner Dragana Katalina-Sun, who runs the popular noodle and dumpling shop in York Place on the Downtown Mall with her Chinese-born husband, Sun Da, opened Nicola's Veggies on April 18, along with a little help from Kimberly Ramberg, in the the little space on Second Street where the couple first began selling their dumplings. (The opening is good news for us at, since our offices are just above the shop in the building owned by the Hook's editor.) But what she's offering couldn't be farther from dumplings and spicy noodles. 

Although just as tasty and quick to prepare, Katalina-Sun's new offerings just might make patrons as healthy as an ox– and about ten pounds lighter.

That's because her menu is based on nutritional consultant Donna Gates' book The Body Ecology Diet, now in its 9th edition, which advocates adding cultured foods (known for being filling, contributing to weight loss, and providing added energy) to one's diet, changing the quality of fats and oils we consume, and cutting down on carbohydrates and sugars. The basic idea is that our digestive systems are closely linked to our immune, endocrine, circulatory, and central nervous systems, and that the foods we eat need to nourish this "inner ecosystem." The book has garnered raves in the organic food world, and many folks are turning to it to lose weight sensibly and eat better.

Katalina-Sun says she was reluctant at first to launch a restaurant on this concept, unsure about how the "eat right" message would go over with foodies more interested in thrilling their taste buds than their inner ecosystems. But considering how many folks are thinking harder these days about what they eat and where their food comes from, she may be on to something. Besides, Katalina-Sun says she wanted to create something she believes in.

"I love dumplings, and other foods like that," she says, "but I really believe in this food. I think it will make people feel better."

Indeed, her menu has nothing on it to feel guilty about (cultured white and red cabbage salads with pumpkin seed oil, veggie wraps cooked quinoa, carrot juice, and a special Greens of the Day juice– just a few of the offerings). In fact, weight-watching, health-conscious Downtowners could theoretically go on the Nicola's Veggies diet, trading in a few burgers and heavy-sauce lunches for something quick and healthy.

Mixed drinking: Enoteca gets liquor license

Despite lacking a formal kitchen– although having one is a Virginia ABC requirement for obtaining a liquor license– it appears that enoteca will soon be serving up the hard stuff. Manager Marisa Catalano tells us that the Downtown wine bar just obtained a full liquor license.

A few weeks ago we wondered how a wine bar with a few panni grills behind the bar could qualify as a full kitchen. After all, to get a mixed beverage license, ABC regulations require a restaurant to have "adequate facilities and sufficient employees for cooking, preparing, and serving such meals for consumption at tables in dining areas on the premises and includes establishments specializing in full course meals with a single substantial entree," and serve no less than $4000 in food each month, "of which at least $2,000 shall be in the form of meals with entrees."

However, to the joy of us liquor lovers, enoteca seems to have convinced the ABC that bulky pannis and cheese plates amount to a full meal.

"Our menu includes Italian specialties like grappa, limoncello, Sambuca, Campari, Amaretto, and Frangelico," reports Catalano. "We've also included some familiar favorites like Johnnie Walker Red and Black Labels."

In addition, there'll be some high-end delights such as the well-traveled Kelt Cognac, a hand-bottled stock of Laird's 12-year-old Apple Brandy, and Kentucky's own Woodford Reserve.

Dang, wine and liquor– who has my keys?

Events-mistress: National Gallery of Art calls on OXO's Kim

OXO co-owner Alice Kim, who was largely responsible for bringing us the popular Artini fundraisers for the Second Street Gallery in the Ix Building, will soon be organizing special events at a different venue.

"I was offered the opportunity to work on special events at the National Gallery of Art," she tell us, "and since I'm too intrigued to say no, I've decided to give it a try."

But don't worry. Kim says she's not leaving town, just commuting, which will hopefully give our events-mistress reason to keep dreaming up great hoedowns for us!

High Jinx: NoVa mag finds barbecue man

Charlottesville's quirkiest barbecue man, Jinx Kern, spent over an hour last week being interviewed and photographed for a glossy Northern Virginia-based magazine called, appropriately enough, Northern Virginia Magazine.

What in the world is a glitzy NoVa coffee-table mag doing down here speaking with Kern, who runs what has to be one of the world's smallest restaurants, Jinx's Pit's-Top Barbecue, near the corner of Meade Avenue and East Market Street?

It seems that Kern's smoky ‘cue has already made a stir.

"Apparently, the publisher was in here a few months ago, incognito," says Kern, who believes his smoky delights will make the cut of must-eats in an upcoming issue featuring ideas for exploring Charlottesville, U.S.A.

The Upstairs up and running

The Upstairs, which occupies the old Al Dente space above Escafé, offically opened on April 22. In just 50 days, Escafé owner Mark Brown and company transformed their upstairs space into a swanky bar/restaurant that'll be serving steaks, fresh seafood, and liquor and wine. 

Before the opening Brown gave us a little tour and let us sniff a $2000 bottle of Hennessy cognac he has available in his climate-controlled wine room. Of course, our Tuesday production day left us unable to attend the opening, or even report on how it went, but for curious foodies we'll be sure to post something on our food blog to nibble on. 

All this food news was first reported online. Check it out at