Goodbye, Crystals: From Vietnamese to tandoori on 29N

Vietnamese cuisine on 29 North is now a pho pas. After being open for less than a year, Crystal's, the more upscale of only two Vietnamese restaurants in Charlottesville (Saigon Café's the other one), has closed its doors.

If you've driven by the little gray house next to Krispy Kreme in the past two weeks-­ the former home of Goodfella's– you might have noticed the signs out front now read Milan Indian Cuisine. How did that happen so fast?

"The restaurant wasn't officially for sale," expalinss Milan chef and co-owner Charamjeet Ghotra. "We were looking for a place in Charlottesville and thought this location was perfect. After a week of friendly discussions, we made them an offer, which they accepted."

Milan (the stress falls on the first syllable, and the name means "We are together here" in Hindi) moved into this almost too prime location on February 1. Besides a few essential kitchen additions– a new gas-fired tandoor oven, a deep-fryer, and a row of shiny stoves– the affordably elegant restaurant décor will remain the same.

It takes a lot more than a few inches of snow to keep Dish away from a new restaurant. Apparently, health inspectors are more easily deterred: On the day we came by for a pre-arranged chat and cup of chai, the scheduled inspector didn't show. (Hope that doesn't delay the planned Valentine's Day opening!)

Even if you're not the Maharaja, you probably know that Milan isn't the only Indian restaurant in Charlottesville. But you might not realize that Charlottesville is one of only two towns in Virginia to boast a Milan.

This is actually the second in what the trio of Indian chefs and partners– Jasvinder Singh, Ravinder Dahiya, and Charmjeet– hopes will become a veritable chain of Indian eateries, kind of like Nawab, the constantly multiplying Virginia Beach-Norfolk restaurant where the three met a few years ago.

Milan #1 opened in Lynchburg last May. "Business in Lynchburg is good," Jasvinder tells us, "but we think Charlottesville, with the university, will be even better. Many Indian students are coming here asking if we're open."

So what can diners look forward to at Milan? Cuisine from Northern India– as all three chefs hail from Punjab and Delhi in this region.

"Northern Indian cooking is a lot less heavy than Southern," explains head chef Ravinder. "We don't use much cream, but instead use freshly ground herbs and homemade yogurt for flavor, and cook most everything in the tandoor oven."

One of the most popular dishes at the Lynchburg site is the patia, chicken or lamb cooked with sweet and sour mangos and scallions with a touch of ginger and spices.

We'll miss our curried squid and our pho, but in its absence we don't mind giving Milan a go.


Mudshot! Charlottesville's first wi-fi café

When John and Lynelle Lawrence opened Mudhouse back in 1995, this cozy little café with a high-speed internet connection was the first cyber-café in Virginia. "Lots of people told us to put in 10 or more computers," John tells us, "but we thought that would be too intimidating."

Instead, they kept things simple with a single workstation (the one still tucked away in a corner near the bar). Good call. Despite boosts from technology and caffeine, most computer-dense cyber-cafés disappeared with the 20th century.

With a high-tech Smartroom upstairs and four Tiger Fueled espresso-juice bars scattered around town (Mill Creek, Pantops, Forest Lakes, and now Bel Air Market), it seems this classic café with a tech-y twist will survive long into the 21st– especially now that laptops can now be as fully enabled as our lattes-­ even out on the patio.

Thanks to the newest developments in wireless internet technology and a collaboration with Blue Ridge Internetworks, Mudhouse is now the first wi-fi hotspot in Charlottesville.

"You just turn on your laptop, and it will detect the wireless signal and direct you to sign up," John explains. "Once you're on the Airpath Network, you can use the service at any wireless hotspot around the country."

Sounds as fast and as easy as downing a shot of espresso. And the best part? It's all invisible. No clunky hardware. Almost like surfing on aromatic fumes...