Review – “Broad Appetit”
Salty, sweet, crispy, meaty, sour, cheesy and icy; it was all available along four booth-packed blocks of the center of West Broad Street, in downtown Richmond VA, today at "Broad Appetit"
More than 100 different restaurants offered their best first impression in the form of small plates, featuring everything from Crawfish & White Bean Salad to Chili cheesecake, all priced at $3 per plate.
Most booths had plenty of everything listed on their sidewalk menus, but a few, such as Reynolds School of Culinary Arts closed early due to popularity of dishes, or bad planning, depending on whose opinion is offered.
I digress.... Sampling everything offered from the wide and varied range of cuisine presented was beyond any human’s capability, so I tried what I consider a good mix of plates.
From "Sweet Dreams" - Chicken Empanada & Carne Empanada
These were two of the best savory filled pastries I've ever had. The Pollo (Chicken) was succulent, juicy and wrapped in the most delicious, crispy and perfectly seasoned crust. The Carne Empanada was tender, meaty, and juicy to the last corner of savory pie shell.
From "Magpie" - Chili Cheesecake
Surprised to see the word "Cake" instead of "Fries" after the words Chili Cheese, the Chili Cheesecake was a nice balance of sweet and ever so slightly savory, in a dessert that could easily have gone so wrong, but was a sharp turn to oh so right, with smooth texture, and remnants of red pepper heat bursting then fading with the finish of each bite.
From "The Garden Grill & Bar" - New Orleans Crawfish, White Bean & Fennel Salad
This cold salad came together well with tender, fresh crawfish, white beans with just the right "tooth" and a burst of freshness from the fennel and minty balsamic vinaigrette.
From "Pizza Tonight" - Basil Pesto Pizza w/ White Cheddar & Cherry Tomatoes
Along with the "Red Pizza" from "8.5", this pizza will be on my best-of list. The crust was thin and crispy, but not cracker-like, with the perfect pliability to fold and eat New-York style. And the salty pesto and cheddar were complimented by the sweetness of the cherry tomato. Possibly a bit too much olive oil in the pesto when applied to the pizza here, but I like my pizza dripping with oils of deliciousness; heart healthy or not (:
From “Millies” – Chicken Curry
Coconut milk, tender chicken, carrots and potatoes where accompanied by a dollop of bright, cucumber and garlic laden Tzaziki, and tender flavorful white rice. Each component sold the dish alone, but together became one exceptional bite after another with flavors and textures that perfected each other.
From “Tio Pablo” - Taco Nopales (Fresh Cactus salad Taco) & Taco El Pastor (Pork & Pineapple Taco)
One for the meat lover and one for the vegetarian; both were excellent.
The Tomatillo Salsa that blanketed the tacos was exceptional beyond words. A large bowl of this alone would have sufficed. The cilantro, roasted tomatillos, roasted green chilies and green onions in this wonderful salsa accompanied the richly seasoned pork in the El Pastor, and the fresh, earthy flavor of the cactus strips, and the sweetness of fresh tomatoes in the Nopales.
From “The Broadberry” – Thai Beef Skewers & Chilled Summer Gazpacho
I realize it’s difficult to produce a well-cooked skewer of grilled meat to throngs of hungry patrons literally chomping at the bit for your dishes, but delivering “livery”, overcooked, and dry beef on a stick isn't a good first impression, pressure aside. And continuing with this theme it’s probably not a great idea to offer bland, watery gazpacho with no presence detected of the cucumber and red pepper promised on the menu board. Each dish missed the mark.
From “The Camel” – Fish Tacos & Crab Bisque
For me fish tacos are a bell-weather, along with fried calamari, for judging a restaurants competency. These two basic dishes are very easy to prepare well, and just as easy to mess up. The Camel’s competency remains intact after delivering a Fish Taco that was well cooked and adorned with the heat, sweet, sour and salty that made this dish a winner. But the grand prize goes to the Crab Bisque which was loaded with buttery crab chunks in a luxurious broth that most restaurants can’t come close to producing. Visions of crusty bread dancing from this bowl to my mouth will be with me for days.
From “Culinard” Culinary School– Grilled Summertime Meatloaf w/ blood Orange Demi-Glace, Roasted Hasselback Potatoes, Warm Summer Squash Salad & Lavender Mascarpone Cheesecake
The meatloaf was well seasoned, moist and tender, and enlivened by the Blood Orange Demi adorning the top. The potato was expertly carved, seasoned a cooked, and the squash was evenly julienned, tender, but not mushy, and also seasoned perfectly. The deconstructed Lavender Cheesecake was garnished with a tuile (thin cookie) that was dusted with dried lavender leaves, and was the predominant but not overpowering flavor. The dish was excellent, with the creamy, yet firm, texture of the cake, buttery crunch of the crumbled shortbread, the crunch of the tuile and a drizzle of flowery honey. High marks to the students of Culinard for this production.
From “The Nile” – Doro Tibs (sautéed/stewed organic chicken w/ potatoes & Ethiopian spices)
This was my favorite dish at the entire event. The deep flavors of the traditional flavoring blend called Berbere, which can include chilies, garlic, ginger, basil and more exotic ingredients including fenugreek, rue, ajwain and nigella, create an all-encompassing gastronomic experience. Every flavor point on the tongue was activated with each spoonful. And you’ll definitely want to use a spoon to capture every drop of this delicious elixir when you visit “Nile!” This dish has adored my will-crave list.
From “Shoryuken Ramen” – Mazemen (Ramen noodles, pulled Chashu Pork, Ajitama Egg, Ginger, Corn, Scallions, Nori, Togarashi)
A soft boiled egg has seldom had bedfellows as sexy as what was presented in this bowl of noodly, brothy succulence. The slight saltiness of the pork along with the pop of the corn and creamy palate coating goodness of the soft boiled egg, jockeyed for top billing while mixing effortlessly with the clear and bold broth and fresh scallion slices; a dance of flavors Michael Jackson would envy.
Never has this great event, showcasing the best cuisine of Richmond VA, disappointed , and this year’s event has raised the bar for the future participants of this yearly culinary destination that will surely remain for decades to come.