Monday, February 7, 2011

Not Afraid of a Sardine

I go to dinner in the Fan and wind up chatting with a Jackson Ward neighbor. Funny how that works out on a Monday night.

When I got to Bacchus, not a soul was at the bar, although all the booths and several tables were filled, but not for long. People must have arrived early, because many were out the door by 8:30. School night, don't you know.

My server was busy, but I assured him that I was in no rush, which seemed to put his mind at ease. I started with a glass of the Graham Beck Sauvignon Blanc while trying to decide what I might want to eat.

Most of the people I know who frequent Bacchus do so because they have a favorite dish which they order every time they go. I'm just the opposite; I go in hoping to see what's new on the menu and that's what I order.

Once it was wild boar meatballs; another time it was sugar toads. Both times, most of the people around me were eating pastas with their favorite of Bacchus' rich sauces over it. To each his own.

After the third time my server came over to see if I'd decided yet, I felt it best to throw him a bone. I ordered the salad of julienne Belgian endive and Granny Smith apples with Gorgonzola. An extremely generous mound of what looked like white matchsticks arrived shortly thereafter.

This simple combination was one of the most creative and decadent salads I've ever put in my mouth. The bitterness of the endive set off the richness of the Gorgonzola. The crispness of the apples and endive was the perfect vehicle for the creaminess of the Gorgonzola.

The julienned nature of the salad was a bit difficult to get on my fork at times. but I was richly rewarded with every bite. This was salad nirvana.

Enjoying my wine afterwards, a girl came in, recognized me and said hello. We'd first met a year ago at the restaurant where she was then working. Since then, we'd met in the neighborhood because she lives a block from me. It was nice to finally have company.

Her fiancee, a chef, was feeling under the weather, so she'd come out to eat and bring back food to him. Luckily for me, she was not in a hurry, so we began chatting while she drank her wine and waited for her dinner.

I finally went ahead and ordered my next course, the fresh fried sardines with tomatoes, capers and pepperoncini. It was exactly the kind of dish I'd come in hoping to find.

To my surprise, my server told me, "It's one of the least ordered things on the menu. I like it, but people are afraid of it." Well, I certainly wasn't and my friend said her chef fiancee would be downright envious when he heard he'd missed sardines.

As well he should have been. Four of them were lightly fried and set in a deep bowl with the cooked tomatoes, capers, pepperoncini and then mesclun to the side. I loved how well the acidity of the tomatoes worked with the fried fish.

Once we'd both finished the eating portion of the evening, we could relax into the wine and chatty part. We discussed the Hippodrome and the improvements over on Second Street, the friendliness of both of our long-time neighbors and the need for more neighborhood restaurants.

Turns out that she and the chef are actively and eagerly looking for a spot in J-Ward to open their own restaurant; this was news I was thrilled to hear.

With the addition of each new place within walking distance, there are a) more options for the First Friday and Landmark/The National-bound crowds, b) more reasons for outsiders to make the Ward a dining destination and c) more places for the neighborhood to choose from and support our little corner of RVA.

The J-Ward Girl part of me is bursting with excitement at the prospect of yet another great culinary addition to my beloved 'hood.

I promise not be afraid of anything on the menu. Cross my heart and hope to eat.

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