Isabel's wrath: The Dark descends on foodville

Blackout on West Main

You're expecting 80 people for lunch tomorrow– a wedding party, no less– and then an obnoxious guest with no reservation shows up and cuts off all electricity– lights, cooler, freezer, flusher all gone.

This was the bind Mark and Vickie Gresge, owners of l'etoile, the elegant bistro across from the train station, found themselves in when Isabel came calling.

Along with Starr Hill, Continental Divide, Station, and all of the other food purveyors on West Main, including the entire Main Street Market (ohh, all the cheese, the fresh fish!!), the Gresges suffered an entire weekend of lost business– but they didn't lose the nuptial feast.

"We just couldn't turn this wedding party away," Vickie tells Dish, "so Mark prepped like crazy on Thursday, and on Friday we welcomed our guests-­ with candles in the bathrooms."

What about the food? Even in the competitive restaurant world, neighbors unite in times of need. "Duffy Pappas from Continental Divide has a walk-in with a generator, and so he let us store some of our food in there," Vickie says.

The Gresges got their power back (at work, not at home) at around 1:30pm Sunday. They planned to assess the damage and be open for business as semi-usual on Tuesday– with a new lunch menu featuring dishes like duck confit salad, quiche made with local eggs, and tarragon and roasted walnut chicken sandwich.

Take that, Isabel.


The low-down on Mas

Now there's even more Mas to go around. The finished (in an unfinished sort of way) downstairs lounge and dining area opened on Monday, September 15, to catch overflow and give private gatherings a place to party.

With a half dozen wood-top tables, comfy custom-made seat cushions, and industrial-elegant light "fixtures" (bulbs glowing at the tips of rubber-coated electric cables) hanging from super-high ceilings, this sunken space offers a secluded alternative to the bustling bar.

For those who were at Mas on the night Isabel blew in– and blew the power out– this must've been an especially enchanting experience.

"We had about four hundred candles on the bar " chef Tomas Rahal tells Dish. "I must've looked like Dracula."

In the wake of Isabel, Mas was luckier than most– the power was back on by early Friday morning, and Rahal was already working like crazy.

"So many restaurants still didn't have power," he says. "I could tell we were going to get slammed." The fact that sous-chef Anthony Johnston had quit a few days earlier didn't make the workload any lighter.

But having new baker-pastry chef Meri Jane on hand sure did. Meri Jane took over the baking in August, postponing her plans to give crepes a permanent home in Charlottesville. If the new dessert "Chocolate Mas" is any sign– a baked then butter-grilled brioche filled with bittersweet chocolate ganache– her collaboration with Rahal could have been made in heaven.

Things weren't so heavenly for Studio 206 upstairs. When structural engineers hired by new (as of early September) building owner Coran Capshaw discovered that major, pre-Isabel water damage made the space unsafe for use, studio owner Chris Friedman was forced to find a new space for dozens of scheduled classes virtually overnight (which she miraculously did-­ at 300 Main St.).

Although it's not yet certain what function this upstairs will serve, repairs have already begun on the floor, roof, and overall structural integrity of the historic building. As for the Mas café, Rahal assures me it will happen, but all in good time.

Post-Isabel: Mark Agee and Manual Rivera of Standard Produce get ready to restock some restaurants.