Charlottesville Breaking News

Monsoon, switched: Friends season Market Street with Siam

How did two Thai art students wind up taking over Monsoon, Charlottesville's oldest Asian fusion restaurant? Well, to hear 31-year-old "Kitty" Ashi tell the story, it began in Bangkok.

Kitty hails from a restaurant-running family, but it was in art school in Bangkok that she became friends with the now 29-year-old restaurant co-owner, "Pooh" Dutdao.

Starting as a dishwasher, Kitty arrived first in America and began working her way up the ranks at a corporate restaurant, Tara Thai. Last summer, while looking for an opportunity, she spotted an online ad saying that Monsoon, started over 20 years ago, was for sale. By this point, Pooh had moved to Central Virginia and Tara Thai as well.

"It's kind of like destiny," says Kitty.

Building owner Lu-Mei Chang had found a duo willing to carry on some traditions– even while revamping the menu toward Thai specialities.

Today, lunch specials are $7.99, and dinner starts at just a penny more. The restaurant at 113 Market Street, which they bought from Chang last June, is now called Monsoon Siam.

"We kept the Monsoon name," says 31-year-old Kitty, "because we wanted to give her respect."

True to their art school roots, the two have adorned the walls with some of their original artworks, including collages of stained wood, and they've installed a record player– yes, playing vinyl&...

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Escafé readies: Grand reopening before month's end

Escafé's coming back, baby. As first reported in the Hook, the venerable Downtown Mall restaurant with the hip nightlife recently packed its bags from its longtime home in the shadow of the Omni hotel with plans to open up in the former home of Oxo, which ended a nine-year run in 2008.

"It's merging what Oxo was with what Escafé wants to be," enthuses the 44-year-old owner-operator, Todd Howard.

And that could be one dynamic combo. It's the first breath of life in nearly four years for the Water Street site which, as Oxo, was a chef-centric place whose white-on-white interior kept the emphasis on the food while promoting a pretty wild late-night scene at the same time.

Under Howard, however, the walls are starting to see some color again. And anyone who remembers the upper seating area as a place of quietude may be in for a surprise as a pair of ceiling-mounted speakers have just been installed up there at what Howard calls "the terrace" to help the popular Wednesday night Karaoke and Saturday night music video dance parties rock. (He says that sound shouldn't intrude on the rest of the restaurant.)

One thing that won't change is the famous two-to...

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Model's mystery: Police response faulted in motel death

In the wake of the mysterious death of a down-on-her-luck former supermodel, authorities are claiming that they handled her death according to protocol, but questions remain about whether the death scene should have been investigated as a potential crime scene– and why Charlottesville Police never notified next of kin.

"They treated her like a dead dog on the side of the road," says Federico Pignatelli, a long-time friend of Linda Doig, whose tragic life and death were the subject of the Hook's January 5 cover story.

Charlottesville Police claim they tried to call Doig's daughter, but the daughter disputes that account.

"If they'd left a message on my phone telling me it was about my mom, I would have called back immediately," says daughter Ashley Richards, adding that she didn't see any unknown numbers on her phone in the days after his mother's death.

To Pignatelli, a well-known California-based photography studio-owner and businessman, the lack of notification is just one painful part of police inaction. More ominously, he asserts, was a failure to investigate, particularly with the death scene presence of an alleged serial abuser and control freak.

Pignatelli says the presence of allegedly abusive boyfriend Carey Hicks should have launched a serious investigation. Instead, as Police acknowledge, they concluded– and they say they have the medical examiner's report to back it– that death resulted from the...

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2012 contest: Grisham will look for savvy short stories

2011 was yet another busy year for John Grisham. Not only did the master of the legal thrill produce The Litigators, but he also managed to release his second Theodore Boone young adult novel: The Abduction.

And now he wants to see what you can do. He has again accepted the challenge of wielding a gavel in the literary world by judging the Hook's annual short story contest.

Prizes and such
The idea that one of the world's top-selling authors wants to read your work should be incentive enough to enter, but wait, there's also the $1,000 in cash prizes.

The grand-prize winner receives $550, second place $275, and third place $175.

Next comes the fame. The grand prize-winning story will be published in the Hook in late March when lots of literary types are in town for the Virginia F...

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Healthy Chinese: Song Song's Zhou & Bing

Right across from the "Skybar" on 5th Street NE, you may or may not have noticed that a placed called Song Song's Zhou & Bing opened on the Downtown Mall with little fanfare around the first of the year. The owner, Song Song (a name her grandmother bestowed), says she has done no advertising. Her husband is a professor at UVA, and they have been here for about two years. When Dish visited, she was all alone behind the counter.

After getting her graduate degree in biochemical engineering, Song Song left China to do cancer research at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Later, she earned her MBA at Case and landed a high-powered  job in Connecticut working for a medical research corporation.

But all those years of study and research led to a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome, crippling her hands and fingers.

If there were a silver lining, she says, it was her interest in healthy Chinese cooking, which she learned to help her own healing and now offers at the small restaurant to help yours.

Song says her carpal tunnel was so severe she couldn't even hold chop sticks, and that it was from working too hard.

"I had to do exercises every day," she says while stirring a pot. "It was not easy to get here."

The menu is simple, featuring zhou, a kind of po...

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