Comebacks: Blue Moon rises, Tokyo Rose blooms

Blue Moon Diner fans still have a reason to howl. The recent flurry of renovations at this beloved little West Main Street institution owned since 1996 by UVA grads Marc Hahn and Robert Gustafson is not, alas, a sign of a come-back.

Instead it's an indication of the growth of the building's current occupant: Harvest Moon Catering. After closing the diner exactly one year ago (on August 29) to focus on their more lucrative catering business, Hahn and Gustafson were so busy feeding UVA sororities and fraternities­ in addition to their other special event clients- during the academic year that they postponed renovations until this summer.

"Now that the rest of West Main is becoming so upscale, we thought it was time to do something," Hahn says.

Once a private residence, the building that's been a diner on and off since 1949 is looking fresh with updated teal green façade and a retro-looking prep kitchen in place of the former diner. The counter has been removed, walls and window frames have been tiled in green, black, and white, and the floor now sports black-and-white checkerboard linoleum.

The main kitchen in the back, where I found Harvest Moon's new chef Rebecca Cartwright (a recent New England Culinary Institute grad), also got some serious upgrades.

Though they've been impressing a variety of catering clients with their diverse menus and service, Harvest Moon must be making the biggest impact at UVA. Instead of hamburgers and pizza, students at the Greek houses they cater to dine on dishes like seared chicken and grilled beef with a peach-cucumber salsa. Menus change daily.

"We want to enlighten the students," Hahn explains, "and show them there's more to food than white bread and American cheese."

With all these changes afoot, regulars will be glad to know that the Blue Moon Diner sign will likely stay put. "It will stay in effigy," Hahn says. "In our hearts we'd love to do it again."

Speaking of restaurant signage, a shiny new one just went up at Tokyo Rose­ the long-lived sushi restaurant and live music club on Ivy Road that's been closed for serious renovations since the winter. In January, the Rose's original owner, musician Atsushi Miura, sold the business to Philip Chen, who owns and operates the Chinese restaurant Yuan Ho on Maury Avenue.

When I stopped by earlier in the week, I found Chen's mother, Helen Yan, sitting on a bench outside with Pei Ho, the restaurant's new chef, a Taiwan native who trained for six years in Tokyo. Apparently they've been doing a lot of waiting lately.

"We are ready to open, but we still need to wait for the Health Department and the electrician," Yan explained. She gave me a tour of the new dining room with its sleek, curvy black booths and shiny tables, custom-built sushi bar, and traditional tatami room.

The menu wasn't ready to show off yet (pending translation), but Yan says it will be entirely Japanese and feature many weekend specials­ like grilled salmon with miso sauce. Previously nocturnal, the new Tokyo Rose will serve lunch as well as dinner.

Downstairs, the completely renovated basement smells of fresh paint and new furniture. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling, and a big-screen TV and Karaoke set will soon be installed on either side of the new bar. Yan says they're considering some kind of live music component, and they also hope to rent the basement out for parties.

After such a long wait, I better be holding chopsticks instead of a pen the next time I visit Tokyo Rose.

The sign stays.

Tokyo Rose readies for opening.