Zinc-speak: Meet you at the gastropub?
Sometime before the end of March, British and French forces will collide on West Main in the old White Orchid space. However, unlike Waterloo, this collision is a friendly one, designed to fuse the best culinary influences from each country, creating what chef Vu Nguyen refers to as a "gastropub."
Nguyen, who did time at the Soul Kitchen in Chicago and recently manned the flames at Cassis, has teamed up with former Bang and Bizou GM Thomas Leroy to offer us... Zinc.
"Think Balthazar and Pastis, two restaurants in New York that embody the French/British symbiosis," says Nguyen. "The term 'gastropub' has only scratched the surface of the American vernacular, but we're hoping to make it a household name in Charlottesville, while still preserving the classic French bistro tradition."
As Dish understands it, a gastropub is a place where you can just walk in for a beer and a bite, but the food is the kind you'd find in a fine restaurant. Think sophisticated French cuisine with a jolly British attitude.
Hmm... Zinc joins Orzo on the upper end of West Main... do we spot a trend in one-name restaurants? Add Pluto, Cobalt, Rizo, and Spin, and we just might start something!
The Kitchen artist on Carlton
When Santi Ouypron's new restaurant, Pad Thai, opened last week on Carlton Road– in a big new building across from Coiner's scrap yard– he must have marveled at the journey that got him there.
Born in Thailand, he studied to be an artist, eventually graduating with a fine arts degree in painting and sculpture. Soon afterwards, he got a job as a "kitchen artist," creating elaborate food presentations, holiday exhibits, and even ice sculptures. At the same time, he learned to cook, making himself more valuable to employers.
"I'm an artist, and it reflects in my food presentation," says Ouypron. "For them, it was like having two men in one job. Sometimes you're a good chef, but you don't know how to lay out the food."
In 1980, he took a job as a kitchen artist in Malaysia, and for the next ten years he honed his craft worldwide, working in North Yemen, Dubai, China, Bermuda, London, and Germany, where in 1987 he received a Gold Medal in Chocolate Sculpture at the World Culinary Olympics.
In 1989, Ouypron finally settled in the Bahamas, where he worked for 11 years as both a cook and kitchen artist. Over the years he had visited Charlottesville several times– his brother, niece, and sister live here– and in 2005 he finally became a US resident. He had imagined working in a big resort city like Las Vegas or Miami, where his gifts for presentation might be better rewarded, but family finally lured him to Central Virginia.
After a year at the Boar's Head Inn, Ouypron secured the space on Carlton Road, a brand new retail and office building recently zoned commercial. As Ouypron's interesting history suggests, you can expect an emphasis on presentation at Pad Thai, as well as a variety of international influences.
Directly below Pad Thai, Dish discovered a new Mexican bakery called Las Palmas, which opened on March 1 with only a small sign and a single balloon on the corner of Carlton Road and Meade Avenue. Las Palmas is another addition to a part of town that has become our Latin Quarter, and it just might be the only Mexican bakery in town.
And what are Mexican baked goods? When Dish visited, employee Fidel Nabarrete (owner Bibiana Moreno was away) was kind enough to give us a tour of the display cases, introducing us to pina (pineapple tarts), fresa (Strawberry tarts), conchitas (sweet, surgery breads), and guarche (a giant piece of spun bread with a sugar topping).
Apparently, Mexicans like a lot of sugar on their bakery goods, as the avalanche of white on Dish's black sweater proved after we'd gobbled the sweet conchitas.
Sassy Indian on Route 29
On Sunday, March 4 the Royal Indian Restaurant opened on 29 North, across from Forest Lakes in the old site of Pizza Bella North. (You may recall that a sign on the door in February signaled the end of that nearly five-year-old Italian pie spot and the impending opening of this Indian one.)
Royal Indian is owned by former chef and part owner of Milan, Ravi Dahiya, who appears to be returning to his roots. According to spokesperson Sajid Vohra, "Ravi is offering something a little closer to traditional Indian food, a little more spicy, a little more sass, and a much broader menu."
For those who live and work on that side of town, Royal will be serving up a lunch buffet from 11:30 to 2:30pm, seven days a week, plus dinner from 5 to 7pm. In addition, Vohra says they'll also be having theme nights, such as an all-vegetarian menu one night a week.
Barhoppers is the thing!
If you walk into a restaurant in March and notice a woman strangling a man with his tie, someone hiding under a table, or a group of angry young women coming at you with bottles, pots, and pans, don't turn around and run. Sit down and enjoy. It's the 2007 Barhoppers Series.
You may have missed the opening night of Barhoppers, the annual gathering of local actors, playwrights and directors who use local bars and restaurants as stages, but it's not too late to see the local thespians make merry as you eat and drink. With the first performances at Rapture wrapped up, the troupe heads over to Escafé March 18-20 for a series of non-smoking shows, then it's back to Rapture for shows March 25-27. Tickets are $8 and shows start when the tables fill up– so hurry!
Vu Nguyen and Thomas Leroy hope Zinc will be the "gastropub" where everybody knows your name.
PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER