Monday, May 19, 2008

Appetit: Compete to Eat on Broad Street

As soon as we got in the car, Jasper started screaming bloody murder and the rain picked up from a drizzle to an event dampening light shower. I could see the headline, "Rain Wets Broad Street's Appetit." We debated turning around as I became increasingly pessimistic. Sneaking in the back way (Two Street), we parked next to the Wachovia, but forgot to get cash at the ATM. "I'm sure they'll have cash machines at this thing. After all, Broad Street is revitalized."

Well, there were no ATMs and the vendors only took cash and the rain started pouring and Cous Cous didn't have mock chicken tagine, and... is that Jasper crying? No. It was my tantrum this time. I imagined Broad Apetit being small and pathetic, but it was big and impressive (and crowded!). Nothing pleased me. This was a foodie pity party in the making. Then, we tried the grub and everything changed. The clouds parted (intermittently), hunger pangs subsided, crankiness waned, and Jasper slept for the duration. By the end, we had spent $21 on food for two and we were obscenely stuffed. Cha-ching! It was like a cross between a gourmet State Fair and playing Top Chef judge for Richmond's most popular eateries. Here's the rundown on our purchases:

Cous Cous: Vegan spanakopita w/tofu and nuts
I went for the mock-chicken tagine, but they didn't have it. Instead, they offered a phyllo dough triangle stuffed with tofu, nuts, and all sorts of tasty goodness (no clue). Since my wife and I were splitting everything, I made a fauz-paz by asking for two pastries for an extra buck. Not a cool move on my part. Every food item had a set price of $3. I learned and adjusted quickly.

Six Burner: Scallop ceviche with watermelon, cucumbers, and jalapenos
It was bay scallops, which bring out the snob in me. I love ceviche, but I thought the juice was a little too light (needed more lime/jalapeno). Karen liked it though. And she's really skeptical about savory watermelon dishes.

Comfort: Deviled egg w/curry sausage and watercress. Fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce
This was Karen's one meat treat and she dug it, although she doesn't usually like sausage that much. I decided that I've never had a deviled egg that was either good or bad. They're all just fair to middling in my book (including Comfort's). The fried green tomatoes were awesome, but the portion was especially small. We make these at home as soon as we've got unripe fruit on the vine and our sauce is about the same as this remoulade.

Hidden Treasure: Parmasan and pepper crusted salmon atop a tomato and pecan risotto
These folks were not busy at all, but the food sounded good. They heaped it on the plate, which pleased us both. Karen said the salmon was fishy, but I thought it was all tasty enough, especially the roasted pecans in the risotto.

Enoteca Sogno: White bean and tuna salad

Karen loves white beans and after one bite she was insisting that we make this to take to work for lunch. The tuna was scant, but Karen confessed to eating a big chunk before I got the plate. Lemon juice and olive oil tossed with bitter greens. Mmmmmm... I'll soak those beans in roasted garlic spiked broth and lunch will be extra special.

Louisiana Flair: Beignets with Mississippi blueberry sauce
After hitting Cafe du Monde 3-4 times during Marti-Gras in 1999, I have been pining for another authentic plate of fried dough N'awlins style. Can Can? Not even close (although serviceable with their strong coffee). These little puffs really took me back. Straight out of the flyer, steaming when we ripped them open, and they melted in our mouthes. The cinnimony blueberry sauce was likewise addictive.

Stuff we really wanted to try, but they ran out or we didn't want to brave the line:

  • Savor: Java Tempehwich
  • 1 North Belmont: Coffee smoked scallops
  • Tarrantino's Pizza: It looked like NY style and I saw several people using napkins to mop the grease off the top of each slice. Mmmmmm...
  • Personal Chef to Go: Blue corn crusted West Indian curried lobster and crab cake
  • Tarant's: We've never been, but the chalkboard sign out front made us want to walk right in with full stomachs and try the fish tacos.
And the winner is:

Karen said the beignets were her fave. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves dessert. Of the savory foods, what was the best? It was unanimous. The flavorful phyllo pastries at Cous Cous knocked our socks off. And I'm not giving the prize to these folks cuz it was my first bite of food and they bent the rules for me, by selling me an extra pastry. It was simply satisfying as hell. There was a plate of cous cous involved too, but neither of us are wild about that stuff in general (although I ate every bite). The lunches I've had at the restaurant haven't impressed me that much, but I recognize that they're gaining in popularity for a reason. Maybe it's time that Karen and I give Cous Cous another try.

Runner up goes to: The three dollar plate idea. We tried seven things and split every one of them. An affordable way to satisfy many curiosities; just the way I like to dine. They say the event is going to be annual. I think it should be weekly (not feasible, I know). About 5,000 people showed up and many of the yummiest sounding dishes were all gone half-way into the day. So, kudos to those who pulled this together.

As I write this, NBC12 News at Eleven is showing footage of a throng of white people milling about downtown carrying little plates of food. The newscaster is explaining that Broad Appetit's goal was to bring people downtown who don't usually venture there "and push the crime out." WTF? My gluttonous impulses do not make me a superhero crime-fighter. Is it just me, or is there a bit of a message embedded here? I understand the downtown revitalization theme, but the blocks between Belvidere and 1st Streets aren't especially dangerous. I counted 10, mostly non-violent crimes on the Broad Appetit stretch of the street so far in 2008. I wouldn't be surprised if the Broad Appetit's promotion was similar to the outreach effort for the Charrette's first installment, resulting in a mostly white turnout, but maybe NBC12 was putting words in the mouth of the event, by labeling "crime" as the issue (it's really a white fear issue). I dunno, it just seems like that same old racial polarization and crappy Richmond media spin. Nonetheless, the food was damned good.

19 comments:

  1. Janet8:21 AM

    We were there yesterday and had a great time. Our winner of best dishes were the white pizza from Tarrantino's and the cornbread with soul butter sauce from Croaker's Spot (the seafood chili over white rice was fabulous as well). We stayed at The Jefferson the night before (with dinner at Lemaire) and walked over and had a great time.

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  2. Is this THE Janet, of Chowhound fame?

    You are so right about Croakers. I go there pretty often. My goal was to try things from restaurants that I don't frequent. Staying at a downtown hotel for Broad Appetit and walking to and fro sounds like a pretty good weekend.

    The RTD said that Mise En Place won best dish for their baby hamburgers. I can't imagine a slider THAT good, but who cares what a vegetarian thinks?

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  3. Greetings:

    I was there and, well, I'm biased since I was part of the event team, sort of, through Richmond Magazine and between rain showers introduced people from the main stage and helped with the Bug Chef Cook-Off which had to be moved to a tent behind the Madison and Broad stage.

    One of the aspects that pleased me about this event was--at least from where I stood -- the true diversity of people just out enjoying themselves in their city's largest thoroughfare. Talk about playing in the street!

    I was impressed how even with the threatening rain, due to the Weather Channel and the Interwebs, attendees came prepared. With the rain, bumbershoots blossomed all along Broad and that was quite a heartening sight.

    What inspired me, too, was the vista of all those splendid tents marching down the length of midtown, their topmost pennants flapping, and the lines stretching out from them for food that was tasty and therefore not quick to last. Good thing was, for the restaurants close by, they could prepare more.

    People want to come into town for these kinds of events, given they have cause to, and there is access. The organizers tried to get ATMs there, by the way -- and for the record, there is one (I know, just one) at Second and Grace. So they put "Bring cash" on all their publicity collateral.

    Later, I spoke with one of the bug chefs, David Gracer, from Providence, R.I., who was impressed by the city's architecture, its trees, and our hospitality. He'd really enjoyed walking the streets and admiring the views we perhaps take for granted. And, he ate dinner the night before at Croaker's Spot and loved it.

    So, gourmets and gourmands, I'd say we had a pretty good Sunday afternoon in midtown Richmond, rain, and all.

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  4. Blue Racoon: I parked right next to that ATM, but by the time we'd pushed the stroller three blocks and smelled the food, there was no way we were turning back before eating.

    Anyhow, thanks for chiming in. Those who worked to make the event possible have reason to be brimming with confidence after yesterday's showing. I'm sure there'll be more blogs weighing in with their own praise-filled posts.

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  5. Anonymous10:42 AM

    For those who don't know, the feeling down there is even better on a First Friday's night. It's obvious that more life needs to be brought to downtown by any means necessary.

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  6. Sketchy11:11 AM

    We really enjoyed the event. If nothing else, it showed people that there are restaurants down there.

    I hit them up for lunch, but the news saying this was an event to fight crime -- that's just silly.

    we went to enjoy some good food, and we found a few new places to have lunch. My biggest complaint - Five dollar drinks. they should have been three dollars each - to fit the mood of the entire event.

    I need to get my post up. We have a few pictures.

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  7. Tarrants (Tarrantinos) makes superb pizza. :) The sauce has a little bit of a zip to it which is nice and it's everything you'd want in a New York style pizza--cheesy, foldable, delicious. :) When you get a chance to try it, I think you'd enjoy it.

    -B

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  8. Because I'm on the market for a new go-to NY Style pizza joint, I popped in Tarrantino's and witnessed the no frills accommodations for slice scarfing. That's a compliment as a good pizza parlor is a no nonsense endeavor. That said, I'm predisposed to nonsense from time to time, so I'll be bringing my pie home to accompany beer and a movie on my couch.

    $5 drinks? We always have water/soda from home somewhere on our person to avoid such rip-offs.

    "By any means necessary?" I hope that's an inclusive creative nonviolent insurrection you're talking about.

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  9. I ate at Enoteca Sogno the other night when I was in Richmond on business. My group had the white bean crostini, fava bean crostini, red peppers and mozzarella and calamari for starters and I had the wild mushroom pasta for main. All good. And the panna cotta was to die for. We also drank a great Vietti Barolo (on the company's dime, thank you very much).

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  10. Janet8:12 AM

    Yes, I am THE Janet of Chowhound fame for whatever that is worth :-)

    And the $5 drinks were beer and wine. The Barboursville sparkling at $5 for a generous pour wasn't a bad deal at all. Hubby and friends had premium beers for $5 also.

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  11. Kathy Emerson/Broad Appetit9:38 AM

    Thanks for all the feedback. The committee will begin meeting next week to discuss and develop Broad Appetit 2009; all of your suggestions will be considered. Community support was tremendous, residents armed with umbrellas and ponchos, mapping out battle plans to try the star of the show: food from our regional chefs and growers. The Whodunnit? Art Exhibition was a great success, too. We did our best to have a mobile ATM on site. Next year look for more food, more chefs, more art, shuttles and an ATM. Keep the comments coming.

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  12. janet - we did the barboursville sparkling- it was hefty for 5.00, we agree.
    foodie- nice write up - it was a weird view on the tele, though-

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  13. Wow, THE Janet. On chowhound, I am snackish

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  14. Janet: Your prolific posts on Chowhound are really useful, but Richmond doesn't really use that site. You need a food blog, cuz you've got fans out here in the blogosphere.

    Kathy: Great event. My advice would be more demos of culinary novelties OTHER THAN bug-cooking. I can't imagine that most of those restaurants were happy to be upstaged in the press by fried worms (much less, baby hamburgers). Also, we food bloggers will need all access passes that give us entry into each tent so we can poke around in the food prep process, sampling to our hearts delight (for research purposes, of course). That will be all, thanks.

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  15. Kathy Emerson/Broad Appetit7:23 AM

    rva foodie

    You're absolutely right about culinary demos (other than bugs!). We will be looking into installing an outdoor kitchen for that very purpose for Broad Appetit 2009. Please keep comments coming, we really value them and want to improve/enhance the event to every extent possible.

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  16. Janet8:11 AM

    Hi Snackish :-)

    I have considered writing a food blog (with other Richmond tidbits as I am a native as well as life as an empty nester). Thank you all for the kind words. I will definitely take the next step.

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  17. Okay, I have stared a blog (very, very new and rough and in much need of tweaking and adding stuff). Please be patient with me and thanks again for the kind words. It's richmondfoodforthought.blogspot.com

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  18. I pray for no rain next year. Between the lines and the kids, the crowds and the vendors running out of food (at 1:30 !!!!) I had a tough time of it. Maybe next time I'll take the day off so I don't have to try to squeeze it in on my lunch break!

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