Spicing up Crozet: Cocina del Sol takes Mex west

Dish is working her way around the compass. Last week, I took the scenic drive south of Charlottesville (which of course occupies the smack-dab center on any GRPS­ global restaurant positioning system) to pacific Scottsville, and brought you the story of Magnolia, a new contemporary Southern restaurant opening there.

Well, this week it's time to give the west a word or two. Scenic, growing Crozet, home of historic mainstay Crozet Pizza and the finer foothold Jarman's Gap, to name a couple, is preparing to welcome a new restaurant.

Cocina del Sol, a primarily Mexican restaurant owned and operated by Myrna Montiel, will be taking the (geographic, not culinary) place of a diner called the Crozet Country Club in the 1912 building located at 1200 Crozet Avenue. No one I talked to, including building owner Pete McCauley, seemed to know exactly why the Club closed (they apparently made a killing at breakfast), but Montiel took over the lease on September 30. The space is currently undergoing major aesthetic and structural renovations, getting ready for Cocina's target opening month: February.

It's not surprising if Myrna's last name rings a bell. She's the sister of Alex Montiel, the eclectic, acclaimed executive chef of the Boar's Head Inn. Given his experience and familiarity with the area, Alex is acting as business advisor and translator for his sister, who moved here two years ago from California.

The two share a passion for great food, which they likely inherited from their mother growing up in Mexico City. "Mom cooked, and Myrna was the executive sous chef," Alex says. "Myrna is amazing, but I am the worst Mexican chef."

Modesty is clearly a Montiel virtue. I happened to notice on the Boar's Head website that Alex will be teaching an authentic Mexican cooking class there in January.

Upbeat and upscale, but definitely a family restaurant open for three meals daily, Cocina del Sol will specialize in authentic Mexican dishes (entomatados, molés), but will also feature wide-appeal items like hamburgers, hot dogs, and pasta. I look forward to trying the fresh tortillas (made before my eyes) and the taco bar.

Alex says the decision to open in Crozet was an easy one. "We live out here, and there just aren't enough restaurants in this town," he explains.

As for Mexican news closer to center, Los Potrillos, the Mexican restaurant on the corner of Water and 2nd, will be vacating its big, surprisingly bright space in January. Owner Josè Cruz Torres Garcia, who left work at Guadalajara to open his own almost three years ago, tells Dish he is hoping to find another location, possibly one with better parking.


Vivacious brunch

 Ever since Duner's stopped serving brunch, diners in the Ivy area have been clamoring for more Sunday options. Dish has some news that will likely appease these appetites. Starting Sunday, November 30, Vivace will be joining The Boar's Head Inn and Jarman's Gap in the west-of-Charlottesville brunch market.

Owners Beth and Tom Lippmann tell Dish they had been considering adding brunch for a while (anyone can recognize the brunch-appeal of Vivace's enormous patio), but that they were really pushed into gear by their highly motivated and enthusiastic chef, Eric Womble.

"We were going to wait until spring, but we just had to surrender to our chef," Tom says.

Okay, I agree that the timing might seem a bit off-­ brunch just a few days after Thanksgiving?-­ but Vivace has put a light twist on this usually bulky American tradition. A heavy, movement-inhibiting buffet just wouldn't make sense for a restaurant whose name means "lively," "quick," or "sprightly."

Womble's menu consists of a selection of a la carte items– from strawberry bruschetta, pesto biscuits and homemade granola to a selection of grilled panini (tomato-basil-mozz, pesto chicken) and breakfast entrees like eggs "benedetto," frittata (aka Italian omelet), and polenta pancakes with fig syrup. Pastas and salads round out the lunch side of Vivace's brunch. Hours will be 10am-2pm.

Los Potrillos galloping off?