Restaurantarama sometimes feels amazed by what’s happening here in our little burg. Not only do we enjoy a collection of fine restaurants that many cities twice our size can’t match, but new places join the pack every month. And many of those newcomers, it seems to us, evince a sheer urbanity that makes our heads spin. Can this really be Virginia horse country? Where on earth are we? And what are we supposed to be wearing?
That’s how we felt when we mounted the stairs to Ten, a second-floor sushi establishment that opened two weeks ago above the Blue Light Grill, becoming the latest addition to Coran Capshaw’s restaurant empire. Maybe it was the commanding view over the Mall through three enormous windows; maybe it was the sleek industrial-loft look of the decor, with electric candles in a grid over the grey-green walls and minimalist, high-backed booths upholstered in a metallic-look leather. Maybe it was the fact that some of the diners we glimpsed looked like they’d been teleported in from some throbbing metropolis of whose sophistication we can only dream.
Whatever it was, the place felt Manhattanesque to a surreal degree. We drank sake out of glasses we’d recently seen written up in Domino magazine; we ate a salad of spicy greens rolled into rice paper so that it resembled edible boutonnieres. Chef Bryan Emperor’s savory maguro rolls with spicy honey and his skewered grilled shitake were presented on oblong white china in arrangements that looked as intentionally designed as the menu (printed, by the way, on linen paper). The calamari tempura was a little pile of crispy perfection—the meat firm, not chewy—on a bed of seaweed salad. And Charlottesville’s best bartender (that’s onetime Zocalo barkeep Ted Norris, according to you, dear C-VILLE readers) came over to tell us that soon he’ll start serving the really good sakes—the ones you can only get in New York and Los Angeles.
When dessert arrived—a Gearharts chocolate dusted with the Ten logo and served in a special, wave-shaped dish of its own—it seemed like the crowning touch to an experience that had been carefully crafted, in every aspect, from start to finish.
Yet so, in its own way, is a place like the Hardware Store, which will close its doors at the end of the year now that Stan and Marilyn Epstein have sold it after 30 years. Difference is, the Hardware Store is a relic of the Downtown Mall’s early days, with its down-home family feeling. And Ten, with its you-know-you-want-us hipness—somehow a little chilly, despite very friendly service—is a harbinger of the Mall’s future.
We don’t claim to understand the demographics of a shift like this, but we suspect that if Ten (along with all the other high-end places around town) is to maintain its style quotient indefinitely, at least a few of us will have to start upgrading our wardrobes now.
Revving it up
And now a dispatch from outer Belmont, where the karaoke hangout City Limits has been transformed into the Mustang Grille by sister-and-brother team Barbara and David Willis. Barbara bought the place in late September and immediately changed the name, without any closure to speak of. With David as manager, she’s gradually been working to “improve the image and bring in more of a dinner crowd,” as she puts it.
Mustang offers three squares a day—basic home cooking like spaghetti and meatloaf—plus pool tables, live bands, karaoke and pictures of Mustangs (both cars and horses). Though this is the Willis’ first restaurant venture, Barbara says they’re a proven team, having worked together on renovating and selling a series of houses. “We’re attached at the hip,” she says.
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