Here at Joonbug, we pride ourselves on our adventurous spirit, our thirst for the unknown or the unfamiliar, and our celebration of all things American. The dinner we attended recently, hosted by the Richmond Region Tourism group, represents all three of these pillars of culinary exploration.
With cuisine featured by three prominent chefs from Richmond, and beer pairings from Richmond’s local Hardywood Brewery, we were delighted to be part of such a wonderful evening dedicated to showcasing food from a region that is often overlooked in the scope of the national culinary scene.
Lee Gregory, Joe Sparatta, and Jason Alley were the puppet masters behind the success of this well-planned, well executed dinner. Seated around huge mobile countertops in a stainless steel kitchen at the Astor Center, we got to delve into five courses by three chefs reflecting the local flavor of Richmond and the change of seasons here in New York. The evening kicked off with a house made charcuterie platter for two.
Chef Joe Sparatta from Heritage Restaurant sliced and diced some truly different, off the cuff cuts of meat for his house made charcuterie platter for two. Bresaola, kim chi coppa, Mangalitsa prosciutto (which hails from Dave Matthews’ Best of What’s Around Farm), smoked pork loin, and lard, paired with spiced white beans and an array of mustards overwhelmed the senses at first glance. Surprisingly enough, the lardo was our favorite, sliced ultra-thin with a bit of an oily glean to it. The easy drinking of the Hardywood Blackberry beer that was chosen for this course was a perfect pairing to the diversity on the charcuterie plate.
Next up was Chef Lee Gregory’s handiwork, indicative of the kind of innovative product he puts out at The Roosevelt. Two perfectly roasted scallops, a bit on the salty side, were balanced out by the decadence of whipped sweet potato puree and the nuttiness of boiled peanuts. The roasted brussel sprouts and cranberry mostarda contributed to a magnificent twist on a Thanksgiving inspired scallop entrée, and no one was mad about it. The beer pairing for this dish was Hardywood’s flagship beer, the Singel, a Belgian blonde with a tropical fruity flavoring. The singel is the only beer Hardywood sells year round.
Just when you thought Chef Lee couldn’t show himself up, out came his take on a classic southern Brunswick stew. Duck was the main player in this dish, complimented by foie gras and black truffles, and while we were slightly worried we would be too full to continue eating, the lima beans and corn helped maintain balance while reminding us (like the Starks of Winterfell) that winter is coming. The stew was hearty but not so rich that you needed to take a nap afterwards. It actually prepared the palette for what was next. The Great Return, Hardywood’s choice of pairing, is a heartier lager, perfect for a duck stew of this caliber.
Rice Grits. Just let that marinate into your brain for a moment. Chef Jason Alley of Pasture described this as his version of gruel, but of an upscale, non-Oliver Twist nature. Choosing to use Carolina Gold rice, the grits are warm and comforting, perfect for this time of year. The acidity of the pickled mushrooms and the house cured ham knuckle that he later revealed was cooked for four hours with mushroom stock and shallots enhanced the dish to perfection. Garnished with a cilantro herb salad for a pop of bright flavor reminiscent of some Asian dishes, this course was by far our favorite.
To finish off the evening, Chef Joe Sparatta made another contribution to this experience with his “Bacon and Egg” dessert. A little thrown off by the look and feel of this course, this was not our favorite, but we were pleasantly surprised with the result of digging our spoons deep into the bottom of the egg shell for a creamy, cake like treat.
The real show stealer of this course was Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout. Made from fresh baby Hawaiian ginger and wildflower honey locally grown in Richmond, this beer has received a grade of 100 in BeerAdvocate Magazine, and won the Virginia Beer Cup two years in a row. It tastes like Christmas in a bottle, and would easily pair with any holiday themed dessert, or can be drunk alone on a cold winter night.
Overall, this was a thought out, magnificently executed dining experience. With food this good, Richmond is sure to become a more prominent figure on the National map of culinary destinations, and we can’t wait to go visit.