Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Photo by Fred Turko

Don't cast asparagus on this dish ...

Although usually available year-round, spring is the best season for fresh asparagus — and April is the prime month. This is a fun and versatile dish. You could serve it at brunch, lunch or dinner. It — at least the asparagus — could be served cool, with a warm egg, to play with temperature, or the dish could be served  warm, depending on your whimsy. The ingredients’ arrangement, with its bright colors and textures, creates a wonderful journey for the eye — the aggressive spears of asparagus topped with the soft, sensual, gooey ephemeral egg, the little drizzle of the vinaigrette adding that tiny pop of pink. That and the smattering of the bright green bits of basil keep your eyes busy for longer than you'd expect.

And they do say, “you first eat with your eyes,” no?

Photo by Fred Turko

Roasted Purple Asparagus and Red Wine Vinaigrette, with a 62-Degree Egg
Serves 2

1 pound of purple asparagus
3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon of olive oil, divided
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of coarse prepared mustard
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 eggs cooked to 62 degrees, or soft poached
A few basil leaves, chiffonaded

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If the asparagus spears are thick, peel the stalks and cut off the tough stem ends. If thin, snap off the bottom where it breaks easily and trim the ends.

Toss the spears with 1 teaspoon olive oil, season well with salt and pepper, and lay them in a single layer on a baking dish or sheet pan. Roast the spears, turning them once every 10 minutes, until tender and golden brown in spots, 20 to 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and then whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

Divide the roasted asparagus between two plates. Top each with a poached egg. Spoon the vinaigrette over and finish with freshly ground black pepper. Delicately scatter the chiffonade of basil across the plates.

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Claudio Ragazzi, owner of Cafféspresso, is moving into the city. He recently bought the old Carytown Bistro space and is busy renovating. First up is the deck. He wants to have it ready by the end of next week so that he can temporarily move his coffee cart there until the new Caffespresso opens. Bandazian & Holden handled the sale and will manage the property, according to Nathan Hughes, vice president/sales manager with Bandazian & Holden.

Six years ago, Ragazzi was teaching Italian part-time at VCU and decided to add another part-time job to his schedule, with a coffee cart downtown. Together with Williamsburg Coffee & Tea, he came up with his own specific blend of beans for his espresso. “I believe my espresso is the best on the East Coast,” he says with a laugh. “In my opinion, at least.”

Two years later, he opened a brick-and-mortar location in western Henrico County, and the new shop will have a similar look and a similar menu.

Opening a second location in Carytown seemed a natural progression. “I’m from Italy,” he says. “I want a place in the city, somewhere to sit back with a glass of wine and watch the people go by.”
“I want to do more that what I’m doing [in the Henrico location] with wine, cheese, little plates, in the afternoon,” he says. He has plans for music as well.

One challenge is the kitchen — or the lack of one. “I don’t have one in Henrico, just an oven, and it’s the same [in Carytown].” He’s become inventive over the years and has even figured out a way to do pasta. “I am the master of the oven in unconventional ways,” says Ragazzi.

When deciding on the food and vibe of the new place, Ragazzi says, “Basically, [it reflects] what I like to do. It may not always be good in a business way, and I’m trying to get better at it, but it’s all what I like.” Ragazzi offers a chair and a glass of wine to diners by the end of May.
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While we’re all sneezing through the weekend, remember, Richmond Restaurant Week is merely a week away, so get out those lists and start scheduling your life around it. It’s going to be great, with 30 restaurants participating (that’s 4.28 meals you can eat each day in a different place!).

Buy your tickets now for “Women in Richmond Dining," to be held on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. at 525 at the Berry Burk. It’s a benefit for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Woman of the Year, and you’ll “enjoy an amazing six-course meal created, prepared and served by some of the most iconic women in the Richmond dining world.” Ahem. I will also be a waitress for the night. Ticket information here.

Not everybody is thrilled with the farmers market planned for Church Hill. Friends of Chimborazo Park are calling for a public meeting to discuss how it will affect the neighborhood. (CHPN)

Dash Kitchen & Carry, the brand new baby sibling of Toast and Estilo, opened on Franklin Street in the old Well/Cous Cous/Chesterfield Tea Room space. And all of VCU rejoiced. (

Batter Up, the lovely do-something-nice-for-someone cake-a-week project, wants everyone to bake a cake for their favorite teacher during the week of April 21 to 27 (the same week as restaurant week so it ought to be easy for everyone to remember) in recognition of all their hard work and dedication. So, cruise on over to Batter Up’s “Cake! Teacher’s Week” Facebook page, join the group and surprise someone!

Shyndigz, home of some of the best cake I’ve ever put in my mouth, has opened in the old Bogart’s space at 1903 W. Cary St. If you can’t get by there to check it out, here’s a recipe for their amazing fresh fruit cake (not to be confused with fruitcake — ever) you can whip up — and hey! You can give it to your favorite teacher! (RichmondBizSense)

Get down with the local beer at RVA Rock$ OnTap at Mayo Island this Saturday. It’s from noon to 5 p.m., and you’ll only find beers made right here in the River City on tap. Tickets are $25 in advance, and $30 at the festival. (RVANews)

Boka Tako Bar opens TODAY. (

I do not know who you are, Laura Sant of Saveur, but I love you. She’s included the Richmond recipe compendium, 804ork, in the magazine’s list of "Books Worth Buying: April’s Best Food and Drink Releases." And she says all kinds of nice things, like “804ork is a beautifully designed look at the Virginia capital's culinary landscape,” and “the book confirms what I always knew in my heart to be true: Richmond is a great food town.” (Saveur)

In other news:

THERE IS A LIME CRISIS. Terrible weather and an even worse harvest created a shortage, so prices have skyrocketed. Even airlines are holding them back when they roll out the drinks trolley blocking the way to the bathroom. However — good news! It hasn’t hit Richmond. I bought two for $1 just yesterday and that seems like a pretty standard price — although I probably should have forked out $40 to $50 for the whole bin so that I could sell them on the black market to local chefs when we get hit by this thing in the next week or so. (Eater)

Other countries have strange vending machines. Very strange — or awesome? (The Daily Meal)

It’s always something: This Chicago restaurant says that their $100 grilled cheese is totally worth it. (Eater)

In Sriracha news:

The city council in Irwindale, Calif., the town where Huy Fong Foods manufactures the delectable condiment of fire, has declared the smell emitted during production is a public nuisance. How does this affect you? Not so much. Huy Fong has 90 days to put some serious filters in place to take care of the problem. (L.A. Times)

Richmond magazine VPA winners
To show your solidarity, grab some Sriracha bottle decals and artfully stick them on your fingernails — you know you want to. (Food Republic)

That’s about it, dear diners. I’m so proud, that in addition to all of the awards Richmond magazine won at the Virginia Press Association last weekend (we won the grand sweepstakes!), the dining section won a first in the special sections category. Hurray!
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Photo by Fred Turko
I am a big fan of blood oranges with their red-blushed orange skin and flesh that can be anywhere from from pink to brilliant red to burgundy. I can't get enough of their tart-sweet and slightly berry-like taste. When they appear in the middle of winter, I jump at the opportunity to make just about everything I possibly can with them. As their season is rapidly drawing to a close here in Virginia, it's time to wax creative with what's left. As I had yet to make them into cupcakes, I figured it was about time. And because I’ve found that little is quite as satisfying as a chocolate cupcake, the chocolate blood orange cupcake was born — with olive oil and walnuts to gild the lily, of course. And for more fun, try making candied blood orange peels to top the cupcakes off!

These cupcakes are kind of amazing and so incredibly moist. They're heavy in weight, but tremendously light and fluffy on the palate. The sunset-hued buttercream and the chocolate cake spiked with orange zest are a perfect match — as if they were made for each other. I can't think of a more honorable farewell (for now) to the blood orange and a bright and welcoming treat for spring.

Photo by Fred Turko

Chocolate, Olive Oil, Blood Orange Cupcakes with Walnuts

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 cup of coconut milk

1/3 cup of pure olive oil

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of blood orange zest, finely grated

1/2 cup of walnut pieces

3/4 of cup sugar

1 cup of all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon of almond meal

1/3 cup of cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

For the frosting:
1/2 cup of butter or margarine, room temperature

2-3 cups of confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of blood orange juice
1 teaspoon of blood orange zest, finely grated

1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream or soy creamer (as needed)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

Whisk together the coconut milk, sugar, oil, vanilla extract and zest until incorporated. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in coconut milk mixture. Add the walnuts and stir until just smooth (do not over mix).

Pour into the liners, filling each with 3 tablespoons of batter (cups should be no more than 2/3 full). Bake for 18-20 minutes (or 10-12 for minis), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

For the frosting:
Cream the butter until smooth and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar and beat until combined. Mix in the orange juice, zest and vanilla. Continue adding sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition (depending on the temperature of your butter, you may need more or less sugar or added cream to achieve the proper consistency). Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Spread or pipe onto the cooled cupcakes.

 Top with a little curl of candied orange peel —here’s a basic recipe to try.

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So little to tell you about, so much time. Wait, strike that. Reverse it. The food news never waits, never stops, never ends…

Because I’m old and probably don’t have enough tattoos (or any) — but mostly because I’m old and that makes me irrelevant — I can’t try out for i.e.*’s new show on WCVE, A Taste of RVA. However, if you are much younger than I am, and therefore a still-viable person whom people don’t ignore because you’re so frickin’ ancient, and you possess “an ineffable and nearly indescribable ‘RVA essence’ that will help brand our city and promote the genre bending, fusion inspired, inventive cuisine and neighborhoods around the city,” you really ought to go for it. Audition info here.

Kuba Kuba is sweet 16!

Carena’s Jamaican Grille opened Tuesday with much fanfare and I’m happy to say, she’s still got it: Dang, those jerk chicken wings are good — as is everything else. The restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and the take-out window is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Foo Dog opened, and when I tried to go there last night, it was packed. And that's nothing but a good thing. I say, get your heinie out a little earlier if you want to try it.

In beer news: Triple Crossing Brewing Co. opens a week from today, April 11. I’ve lost track of how many local breweries that makes, but I’m sure my intrepid readers will inform me shortly. Stop by the brewery’s opening for a bite from Popping Mealies to go along with your beer. (

VCU continues its expansion, and now it’s about to expand directly on top of Sally Bell’s Kitchen, home of the incomparable caramel upside-down cupcake. After 90 years on Grace Street, the owners have sold their building to VCU and are moving the bakery — perhaps to Jackson Ward. There are no plans to close the business. This has been a long time coming — it’s been almost a year since negotiations were first initiated. Better to sell out than be pushed out, right? Or maybe they’re exactly the same thing … (Style Weekly)

It really and truly is spring, at last: The food truck season has officially begun. (Fan of the Fan)

Boka is set to open next week on Robinson Street. I will give you minute-by-minute updates as I stare hungrily into its windows and wait for the door to open. (

Check out this great interview with Paul Heitz of Amour Wine Bistro on WRIR’s The Creative Habit.

Did I know this? Did GrowRVA tell me about this? Am I going senile in my old age? Whichever, it’s great news! The folks from GrowRVA are starting up a new farmers market at Chimborazo Park — and the food desert just got a little greener in Church Hill. (Richmond BizSense)

There will be a meeting on April 9th, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Main Street Station to continue the discussion about the 17th Street Farmers’ Market. If you’d like to come, please RSVP to

Is this food news? It seems to be. A new nightclub, The Broadberry, will soon replace the old Nu Nightclub. According to their news release, “In addition to concerts, The Broadberry will house a full-service restaurant. Executive chef Xavier Beverly, also the executive chef at The Camel, will be teaming up with Matt McDonald of Joe’s Inn to develop The Broadberry’s menu. Xavier brings experience from his work with Zeus Gallery and Live to Eat Catering. The venue will provide a full menu from the kitchen during all business hours.” I’m down with that.

Remember that horrendous story about the U.Va. student who was surrounded by ABC agents with drawn weapons in a parking lot, so she tried to flee in her car, hitting one agent, because she thought she was being attacked and was then thrown in jail, only to be released when they discovered that she was NOT buying alcohol underage but had instead purchased soda water? (Soda water!) She’s suing everybody involved, including the state, for $40 million. And she’d better get it. As a mother, this story chilled me to my very bones. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

There was a drug raid at New Fish Market on East Broad Street. (Greater Jackson Ward News)

Not exactly food news but mildly diverting nonetheless: The “Sweet Tooth Bandit” walked into Family Dollar in Church Hill and stole a bunch of candy. (CHPN)

In other news:

Most people are misanthropes who don’t want to sit together in restaurants. (The Atlantic)

Most depressing headline of the week: Sugar Is Killing Us. (Salon)

You will not believe what's going on at Chobani. (NY Post)

Coffee flour is a thing and it’s not exactly what you’d expect. (The Atlantic via Jack Acree of Saffron Road)

Hipsters. They drink PBR. Here's why — just don't expect them to mention all of the old, aging punk rockers that drink it, too. (The Savory)

There are weird log lady videos out there and a bunch of famous chefs are in them, but no one knows why. (Eater)

People weren’t that impressed with the New York Times Magazine’s story about a 15-year-old chef, because we are old and cranky. (Grub Street)

The 2013 VPA awards
While I’m not auditioning, I plan to plant some lettuce and skulk around the farmers market this weekend. Oh! And Saturday night, the entire staff of Richmond magazine will attend the Virginia Press Association awards, where we’ll be chomping down on some chicken, quaffing a glass or two of cheap wine and making fun of the folks over at the Style Weekly table. May the best publication win! (Us.)

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