Gold medal pizza? Thai pie vies for prize

When Bistro 151 owner Anna Wallaker entered her Thai pie in the International Pizza Contest at the eleventh hour, she didn't expect to win a free trip to Vegas. But on March 25 she and pizza chef Gerald Wright will leave the quaint community of Nellysford for the glitzy Strip, to compete in a rigorous three-day "Pizza of the Year" contest.

As one of only five finalists from around the world, Bistro 151's challenge will be to prepare up to eight perfect pies a day and persuade a panel of discriminating international judges that their "winged" (chicken) pizza is superior to competitors representing "exotic," "seafood," "traditional," and "vegetarian" categories.

What's the prize? More valuable than the plaque and $1,500 prize (pennies in casino-land) are the bragging rights. They'll get a spot on the cover of the industry bible, Pizza Today. Heck, we'd drive a lot farther than the Wintergreen valley to taste the "Best Pizza of 2003."

So what exactly is Thai pie? A far cry from your traditional tomato and mozz, undoubtedly.

"It's an extremely hot and spicy pie that's not at all ordinary," says Wallaker, who inherited the pizza's name and a few ingredients from the bistro's original owner, Jim Green. "I can't publish the recipe just yet, but I will say that fresh ginger and lemon grass are essential." Rice noodles, an innovative peanut satay Riesling sauce, and, of course, spicy chicken are just a few of the other fixings in this thin-crust, brick oven-baked delicacy.

Pizzas with pedigrees are nothing new to Nellsyford. Thai pie is just the latest in a long list of award-winning Bistro 151 offerings. Previous titles earned include "best vegetarian," "best traditional," and "best pizza in the Northeast." 2004 contenders? Could be another Asian-inspired white pie, the "lucky duck": duck medallions, caramelized onions, scallions. and a lingonberry sauce.

If you're in the mood for something without a crust, ask Anna to make you some of her famous homemade manicotti with "gravy," or choose from a diverse menu that offers everything from she crab soup to steak.

How does a world famous food originate in a village so small it doesn't even have a Food Lion? Dish had to ask.

"The people here are amazing," Wallaker explains with heartfelt enthusiasm. "I've lived in New York, traveled the world, but Nellysford is my absolute favorite place to live. When something happens here, the entire community pulls together."

In that case, she'd better have enough lemon grass on hand for a supersize celebratory pie.


Supersize sushi?

 Speaking of supersize, the new Fuji Sushi & Grill Buffet is now officially open. Dish stopped by the former site of The Wood Grill Buffet last Thursday– the official grand-opening– to check out the latest Asian buffet to line traffic-heavy Route 29. We weren't alone– though after surveying the scene, we realized that there were just as many kimono-clad employees (chopping, rolling, pouring, re-filling) as customers.

Buffets, or "Vikings," are big business in Japan. But because fresh seafood prices are so high there, "all you can eat" is generally not an option at sushi and sashimi bars. Apparently, no such price restrictions apply at Fuji. This is sushi for bottomless appetites. "All you can eat" prices start at 6.95 for lunch and 12.95 for dinner. Wad of wasabi, anyone?

Another thing you probably wouldn't find in a traditional Japanese sushi bar– or at most other Asian buffets in Charlottesvilleis mashed potatoes. But Fuji offers something for every taste– in addition to the sushi bar and hibachi grill, there's a salad bar, a kid-friendly "American food" bar (pasta, burgers, fried chicken), and a cocktail bar serving $4 scorpion bowls complete with straws and umbrellas.

A black stone fountain makes an imposing statement in the entryway.

"In Japan, fountains symbolize money," manager Ann Chan says. Judging from the size of this "mountain of a fountain," expectations at Fuji are sky-high.