Arrivederci: Christina Ball bids farewell

BY CHRISTINA BALL DISH@READTHEHOOK.COM

After three years of scouring the Charlottesville area for the most delicious dining news, this Dish has decided to hang up her fork.–editor

 As much as I adore this assignment and all the flavorful foods and folks it has allowed me to meet, my new Italian enterprise and related travels are making it evermore challenging to cover the local restaurant scene on a weekly basis.

My friends have consistently reminded me that I have one of the best jobs in Charlottesville, and for the most part, I've agreed with them wholeheartedly.

Though some weeks I needed to scrounge for a story, lately it's been difficult to keep up with all the changes in the restaurant universe. When I started, for instance, there were few reasons to drive past Lowes on Route 29. But the Forest Lakes area is now booming with new restaurants and cafés­ already too many to count! Crozet, too, is in the midst of a new dining era.

Sitting on the sunny patio at Mas Tapas in Belmont last Sunday, I was transported back to the site of my first Dish story in November 2002. Brand new reporter's notebook in hand, I snaked my way around two-by-fours and sawhorses to witness the transformation of a barbecue joint into what was to become one of Charlottesville's most stylish and trend-setting new-millennium restaurants.

Given our mutual passion for the subject, my first interview with Chef Tomas Rahal lasted over an hour. Much to my editors' dismay, the resulting column tallied a whopping 2,000 words­ more than three times the limit!

Over time, I learned to whittle my words­ but the passion for food and food writing/ reporting has grown with each bite of brick-oven bread, each bowl of bouillabaisse, each glorious Gusburger, each sip of local coffee, beer, or wine.

A sign of the many transitions this town has experienced since I've been writing The Dish, Belmont is no longer a dining desert. Once almost entirely dormant, this little residential enclave is now buzzing with activity­ and it's about to intensify.

Just a few doors down stands La Taza, and the nearby restaurant/ jazz club Sax is in the middle of construction (and permits...) and should open some time after the new year. Just a few steps across Monticello Road, Hal Brindley's wildlife gallery and café, Creature, will likely open in January 2006.

Last week, I found the doors to Creature's gallery open, with Brindley's stunning color photographs of bats, birds, barn owls, and wolves hanging on the exposed brick wall under new track lights. Beneath the glass top of a large L-shaped bar sit hundreds of wildlife slides that come to life with the flick of a light switch. As I imagined pulling up a stool and a glass of syrah, I was suddenly so thankful to live in Charlottesville. (I get that feeling a lot lately).

***

Many give thanks before the meal, but in this case the thanks come after. Besides the savvy journalists in the Hook newsroom, I want to send a big grazie to all the restaurateurs and chefs in and around Charlottesville­ thanks for feeding me, for talking with me, and ultimately for inspiring me. The next time you see me, I'll bring only my appetite– no notebook or camera, I promise.

Like you, I will look to my talented replacement, Dave McNair, to find yummy new stories and to answer some lingering questions: When will Tokyo Rose re-open? What the heck is Dmitris Tavampis planning to do with the spot next to The White Spot? When will the new creperie open on Water Street? What restaurant will Coran Capshaw buy next?

You'll find me teaching Italian language, culture, and cooking and orchestrating food-and-wine events at the Main Street Market. Yes, instead of writing about it, I'll be serving it!

Salute e grazie.

 
Full circle: Christina Ball, back where it all began– at Mas in Belmont
PHOTO BY ENRICO CESARETTI