FOOD- THE DISH- Food & Wine: Setting the Tavola, Keswick's killer Cab

After years spent recruiting chefs for Coran Capshaw's restaurant group, Michael Keaveny (left) is finally returning to his roots and recruiting himself for his own restaurant, Tavola, which is scheduled to open in May in Downtown Belmont.

As Dish reported last week, Crush wineshop owner Paul Coleman has sold his Belmont wine store to former manager of Coran Capshaw's restaurant group, Michael Keaveny, who now says he has a name and a concept for a new restaurant in the space across from Bel Rio. 

To be named Tavola, which mean "table" in Italian, the restaurant, Keaveny says, will be a place where Charlottesville residents can eat like an Italian, sharing local, seasonal cuisine and relishing in "one of life's most basic needs around a table with family and friends."

"I am creating a home away from home for myself and my family and hope to make it feel like that for our diners' as well," says Keaveny, who happens to be a Culinary Institute of America graduate with more than 27 years of cooking experience.

Keaveny says he sees Belmont as the perfect place for a family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant like Tavola, and hopes to become a fixture in Downtown Belmont along with the likes of Bel Rio, Mas, The Local, and La Taza. 

Tavola will also maintain a wine store component with a wine list that will feature small batch, artisanal producers from all over the grape-growing map, with an emphasis on organic, biodynamic selections. The majority of the list will be priced between $20 and $50 with a discount on bottles patrons would like to bring home. Wine classes and pairing events will also be held on Monday nights. 

 Tavola anticipates a May opening, with Keaveny himself manning the burners of the small, yet efficient open kitchen serving "five-star cuisine with two-star prices." No menu items over $19, he says.

Menu highlights include the spiedino di gamberi (pancetta-wrapped shrimp on a skewer over arugula, fresh mozzarella and tomato-basil vinaigrette); the insalata di finocchio (shaved fennel, blood oranges, oil-cured olives and ricotta salata); the pappardelle (handmade pasta with red wine and pork ragu, basil and pecorino romano); and pesce spada (swordfish over white bean puree with cippoline "agrodolce" and fried rosemary).

Keaveny also says that "passion and hospitality" will drive his search for his staff, who he will expect to treat everyone who visits like a VIP. 

"We will remember your face, your birthday, and your favorite wine," he says.

Keswick Vineyards' killer cab

At the Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition this year, our own Keswick Vineyards took home top honors for its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was selected as Virginia's best wine from a list of 250 entries. It was the second Governor's Cup for Keswick winemaker, Stephen Barnard.

Keswick's 2006 Heritage Estate Reserve also took home a gold medal, as did Barboursville Winery's 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Jefferson Vineyards' 2007 Petit Verdot, Veritas Vineyards' 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, and Virginia Wineworks' 2007 Cabernet Franc.

Barnard says he was "elated" to see red wines do so well in the competition, as Virginia has been known more as a white wine producing State, he says.

"The 2007 season was about as perfect a growing season as we could want and the fruit quality was fantastic, so all credit to our vineyard team," says Barnard. "My job is easy then, just reflect in a bottle what the fruit naturally gave me. The exciting thing is that the wine is still so young and probably will get better with two or three years additional bottle aging."

Governor's Cup judge and local wine expert Richard Leahy appears to agree.

"It's frankly too young now, will be worth trying at the beginning of winter in nine months, and should reach peak in three to five years," he writes on his blog. "Excellent balance, very stylish and shows the potential for this grape in long, dry growing seasons in Virginia."

However, Leahy also says he was "disappointed by a lot of dull, ho-hum and frankly mediocre wine among the gems, "considering the strengths of the 2007 and 2008 vintages.

 "The well-made examples of red meritage wines show that others who blew it that year can't simply shrug and say they were powerless to do better in an off-vintage year," he says. "The standard for average quality in the Virginia wine industry should be higher by now."

However, he also said there is a top tier of Virginia winemakers who have soared in front of the grape pack.

"And their wines are not just excellent wines, they are wines that showcase Virginia terroir in exciting ways, showing what is possible," he says. "From the Puligny Montrachet-like Rapphannock '07 oaked chardonnay, to the Cote Rotie-like Rockbridge syrah, to the Duoro-like touriga from Barren Ridge Vineyards, Virginia's top wines are among the best in North America."