Bonsoir, Ciboulette! Market gets a bistro

With its ample parking and pleasant seating areas, it's no surprise that the Main Street Market is becoming an increasingly popular place to grab a gourmet sandwich, bowl of soup, or slice of quiche for lunch. It was probably only a matter of time before this gourmet headquarters, one where so many local chefs seem to work, teach, train or shop, got a restaurant of its own– one open at night, I mean.

That time is just about here. José De Brito, the chef-owner of the primarily French prepared food, cheese, and wine emporium Ciboulette and newly local chef Josh Wheaton are getting ready to open a bistro in the bi-level back half of the store.

This off-shoot eatery, which has yet to be officially named (Bistro Ciboulette is a possibility) will specialize in traditional French country bistro fare with an elegant, innovative touch– which translates into appetizers such as an onion tart with spinach and bacon, escargots with parsley butter, and creamy codfish brandade.

Entrées, which will range from $12- $22, include signature dishes like halibut in chive sauce (chive=ciboulette in French!), salmon in mushroom broth, and an updated version of the classic boeuf bourguignon. Plans are to open by mid-November.

De Brito says that opening a bistro has been a part of his dream ever since he started Ciboulette almost two years ago. Though he has always prepared foods for eat-in/take-out sale in the shop, it was his blossoming catering business that gave him the extra nudge he needed.

"Many of my customers have been telling me I should open a restaurant," De Brito told Dish. "There's no traditional French bistro in Charlottesville yet, so maybe it will work."

De Brito's primary obstacle has been the inability to do everything at once– i.e. run the store, cater, and operate a restaurant in the evenings. That's where Wheaton fits into the picture.

A classically trained chef with 10 years of experience in restaurants from Seattle to Santa Fe– and most recently, at Zealous and Jean-Georges Vong in Chicago– Wheaton met De Brito during a visit to Charlottesville last year. They stayed in touch. When the Frenchman's bistro plans started firming up over the summer, Wheaton and his wife decided it was time to leave inner city Chicago for the greener pastures of Charlottesville. Though the two are collaborating on most details, Wheaton will be the bistro's head chef.

The bistro will come to life just as the market dies down-­ at around 6:30pm. Opening a restaurant in a food emporium seems like a no-brainer, but transforming a brighty lit market complete with cases and coolers into a chic dinner destination does require some doing.

Here, it'll involve moving the stocked shelves, cooler, and other retail paraphernalia from the back to the front of the store, adding a few dining tables, and painting the walls in the main space (burgundy). When the store is officially closed, the food cases will go dim, candles will be lit on finely dressed tables, servers will appear and voila­ a shop will transform into a bistro, though not entirely.

From the customer's point of view, there are several advantages to dining in a restaurant that doubles as a cheese and wine shop. Two of these involve, well, cheese and wine. As Wheaton does his thing in the open kitchen, De Brito will be on hand to help diners create custom cheese plates from the store's choice selection.

And how does picking any bottle of wine from the shelves for retail price (plus a $5 corking fee) sound? Definitely a first for Charlottesville. Since the definition of a bistro is "a small café serving modest, down-to-earth food and wine" Ciboulette very well could become this town's purest expression of the genre.

Last week Dish brought you a story about French champagne, this week a French bistro– are we in the middle of a new French wave, or are we simply honoring our Jeffersonian roots?

Josh Wheaton and José DeBrito.



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