Since coming back from Los Angeles, French-trained pastry chef Rachel de Jong of Cou Cou Rachou has sought out international fare while leaning on classical Charlottesville comforts.
Portrait of Charlottesville
C&O Restaurant is a Charlottesville institution. It’s a charming building right off the Downtown Mall. It’s a basement with wood-paneled walls and the bar is this beautiful, huge oak piece, and on the walls are pictures of old Virginia, like railroad-type illustrations. There are white tablecloths, little bud vases on the tables, candles, and oil lamps everywhere. So, it’s just very cozy and very old Virginia with classic cocktails. They also do late-night burgers on the weekends.
Charlottesville does offer a lot, but I think especially with international cuisine, it’s harder to find. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of these spots opening and Doma is one of those. They have some great Korean soups and it’s very well done. There’s also IX Art Park’s farmers market.
I like Mama Bird in particular. Jen Naylor is the owner; she is also Korean and makes beautiful, wonderful, prepared foods and some hot items that you can buy, like their soups and dumplings, Korean pancakes, and those sorts of things. And then she also has Sussex Farm [in nearby Esmont] where she grows specialty produce.
Since I moved back and started Cou Cou Rachou she has been very kind and supportive. I always have her kimchi at the bakery to make eggs and kimchi for the bakers in the morning.
Wood-fired and Focused
I think the whole wood-fired pizza thing has been going around the US for quite a while and Lampo kind of made their niche in Charlottesville. I love that their menu is refined and that they’re not trying to have a gargantuan option. It does change seasonally, but high attention to detail and ingredients is what brings me back.
Italian Influence in Charlottesville
The owner of Splendora’s Gelato, PK Ross, is a total inspiration. She’s a huge supporter of the community in Charlottesville and I think that she does it in a very genuine way and props other people up. She’s always working on new flavors and always trying to find the best way to get the correct texture using lots of local produce. She’s also working on a couple of side projects and making organic and handmade chocolates.
Market Street Wine is a wineshop that’s been around forever. I grew up in Charlottesville and I remember going there with my mom with the original owner and I was always so intrigued. It’s on this kind of basement level so it has that wine cellar aspect. I think they are trying to buy as much as possible on the organic and bio level but, you know, obviously a lot of the smaller producers can’t afford that licensing so they just do a lot of research into how these farms are taken care of and how the wine is produced, and they always are open to answering questions about that.
Chinese Food Fix
Peter Chang has all the standard American Chinese options, but his chef specialties are incredible. The tofu skins they’re doing right now are a braised cabbage and tofu skins situation, which is much more mellow than a lot of the other food that he creates.
The other dish that we love is his tofu skins with Sichuan peppercorns, and it’s very intense and a different textural experience.
Farther Up the Road from Charlottesville
My dad is a huge outdoorsman, and our family days were always going hiking. Humpback Rock and Crabtree Falls are two of our most frequented, but there’s a million and it’s hard to go wrong out here. It’s right in the middle of the Blue Ridge and there’s lots of turn offs on the highway to view overlooks, and it’s not far from Charlottesville. You’re also then close to Waynesboro, Staunton, and some other cute Virginia towns.
La Sabrosita is a Mexican market that also serves food. It’s a dynamic menu, but everything I’ve had there is good, and they have excellent ingredients that are all imported because of the market. They have some pool tables in there, so, Sundays are always fun to go and watch the dads play pool and their families are just sort of hanging out. So, it’s a nice scene, and that’s in Waynesboro.
Nina Promisel is the owner of Greenwood Grocery and they’ve been there for a long time. It’s a charming spot kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s driving out of Crozet towards the mountains, and she’s created this little sort of oasis with a very high-end grocery. She has a lot of gardening supplies, there’s coffee, and there’s the deli with sandwiches that are well-loved. We usually go there after or bring along and eat them halfway on the hike.
Gabriele Rausse Winery is a family affair. Every time you go most of his children are doing the service. What I love about it is just how personal and low-key it is. It feels like the wine that he wants to be making, and it’s the type of environment that he would like to see and be in himself.
They also have these fun little yurts with cool no-smoke fireplaces in the middle of them. I think it reminds me of the European house vineyards that you go to and can feel a good sense of the hospitality that they’re providing.
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