FOOD- THE DISH- Food reviews: Eating is the easy part

Don't like Mondays? Orzo's Ken Wooten and Charles Roumeliotes hope their West Main eatery will brighten up the beginning-of-the-week cuisine scene.

We knew that the debut last week of our new restaurant review column, The Eater, would stir things up (the Post has called us "insanely committed foodies," after all)– we just didn't realize it would happen so fast and with such fury.

Almost immediately, the Hook's website was bombarded with comments. Some folks praised reviewer Ned Oldham's column while others condemned it; some came to the defense of Maya (the restaurant reviewed), feeling the review was negative, while others felt the review was positive. A local website even took the time to track down Oldham's bio and post his photo in attempt to warn restaurant owners.

Jeesh, you'd think we'd hired an assassin.

Finally, a very angry someone claiming to be associated with Maya stormed into the Hook's editorial office last week, pointed out that we botched the restaurant's hours (true– an editorial error, not Oldham's fault), insisted that the restaurant uses fresh whipped cream (Oldham questioned that), cursed us, and left. 

Conclusion: we are insanely committed foodies! (Or should that be foodies committable for acting insane?)

"From his [Oldham's] surprise at the grouper's fishiness to his questioning of whipped cream's prefab packaging, his inaugural review made for good journalism," writes foodie Kate Malay in a letter to the Hook about the new column, "not just because he's knowledgeable and perceptive (he clearly is), but because he has integrity— he put his name on it. I hope our community receives him well; he's doing something very, very difficult. Eating is the easy part."

Oldham will be back with another tale of dining adventures in the next couple of weeks.

Ix welcomes Al Dente

Al Dente's chef/owner, Karim Sellam, tells us he plans to re-open the Italian eatery in the Ix building, right next to Blue Wheel Bicycles "next week for sure." 

Al Dente found itself homeless when Escafé's owners decided to locate their new place, The Upstairs, in Al Dente's space on the second floor of the building. 

Sellam, however, appears to have no regrets about the move. In fact, he says he's excited to have actual parking and an outside patio area, and he hopes to become a "destination" restaurant. (Indeed, sometimes we wonder how– with 60 eateries on the Mall right now– restaurants there manage to separate themselves from the pack.) In addition, he's cooked up a lunch menu for folks in that part of town, a kind of choose-your-own-pasta-and-sauce arrangement. Of course, Sellam says that at night, it'll be Al Dente as we knew it.

Dunkin' comin'

Back in January we reported on a plan to bring Dunkin' Donuts to the area. (Or maybe we should say a plan to bring the chain "back" to the area, as the yummies were sold here on Emmet Street long ago.) According to local GM Kevin Hunsberger, the chain wants to bring seven Dunkin' Donuts to the area in the next five years. As DD also owns Baskin Robbins (there used to be one of those here, too, on the Mall and then where the Ben & Jerry's is at Barracks Road), it means that some of those stores will have ice cream too! 

Hunsberger says the first Dunkin' Donuts is under construction at Lake Monticello, and they've just signed a lease for another one in Ruckersville. As he told us in January, they'd like to also have one on the Downtown Mall or near the Corner. Again, stay tuned! 

Rita's open on the Corner

Thanks to Kate and Rob Matikonis, there is now some "ice, custard, and happiness" on the Corner. The duo finally opened Rita's franchise adjacent to the College Inn last weekend, after being "crazy busy trying to make it happen." Rita's has a chain of stores up and down the east coast offering a bevy of frozen treats including Italian ice, frozen custard, cream ice, gelato, and Blizzardesque blended desserts.

Orzo saves Mondays, adds spring fare

Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar on West Main has decided to be one of the restaurants that never sleep. Starting in June they plan to be open for dinner on Mondays, the traditional day of rest for many restaurants. 

"Since we opened, we've served dinner only on Tuesday through Saturday nights," says co-owner Ken Wooten. "Because our guests are always expressing frustration that there are so few dining options on Monday nights, we decided to step up and meet the demand."

Good-bye, Mr. Mondavi

Legendary California winemaker Robert Mondavi died last week at the age of 97. Considered by many to have been the godfather of the American wine industry, Mondavi was a mentor to local vintner Patricia Kluge, whose Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard bottled its first offerings in 2002. Earlier that same year, Mondavi was in town as the keynote speaker at a wine symposium hosted by UVA's McIntire School of Commerce, at which he called a good glass of wine "the essence of civilization." Mondavi stayed at Kluge's Albemarle House when he was here.

"When Robert Mondavi started making wine in Napa he was a pioneer to step outside of Europe, where the wines of importance were made," says Kluge. "He revolutionized the wine world in so many ways. He was a mentor, guiding and encouraging me in what I'm doing today. He was also a friend and he will be sorely missed."

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