Zocalo has undergone a number of major changes recently, with owner Ivan Rekosh buying out his longtime partner and then bringing in a new executive chef, Zynodoa’s Josh Hutter, who’s been shaking up the menu with a variety of surprising new offerings.
“I’ve been cooking the same food for 15 years, and it’s great to have another mind and set of skilled hands in there to collaborate with,” Rekosh says, adding that he plans to step away from regular kitchen duties except during peak times of the year. “For the most part, Josh can handle it–he’s a professional and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Rekosh says he was long reluctant to revamp the menu, but the time was finally right for some modifications.
“The biggest complaint I get is that the menu never changes and is stagnant,” he says. “The problem was everything is somebody’s favorite.” So Zocalo is maintaining its core menu, but Hutter is adding an extensive specials list every week that will change frequently. “He really understands the flavor profile of Zocalo and has modernized it,” says Rekosh.
Hutter, an Albemarle High School graduate, spent 10 years at a succession of notable D.C. restaurants like Taco Bamba Taqueria, Sonoma Restaurant & Wine Bar, and The Riggsby, Michael Schlow’s restaurant in the Carlyle Hotel. But with a growing family, Hutter yearned to escape the crazy commutes and crowds and return to a place where he’d prefer to raise his children. He and his family settled in Staunton after he landed the job at Zynodoa. Now, he’s enjoying working back in Charlottesville, where he cooked at Downtown Grille, Blue Light, Bang, and Metropolitan earlier in his career.
“I really love the central Virginia area, especially Charlottesville, and the lifestyle,” he says. He’s pleased about the collaboration with Rekosh, and the chance to brainstorm new menu offerings that blend with Zocalo’s South American/Mexican style.
“We’ve kept the core entrées on the menu and now offer a different side menu with two to three appetizers and entrées, depending on seasonal availability,” he says. “I’ll come up with a dish and bounce it off Ivan, and if it’s really nice, we might keep it on for a few more days, but we’ll try to keep things moving and keep them fresh.”
Some recent specials included a grilled filet mignon with chipotle-roasted portobello mushrooms and roasted fingering potatoes with a black garlic crema, as well as a pan-seared rockfish with piquillo pepper and saffron risotto and roasted broccolini with chorizo vinaigrette. Last weekend, he offered a lobster empanada with aji amarillo crema and arugula salad.
“There’s been a lot of change with Ivan buying out his partner, then taking over the place for himself and realizing he wants to step back from the kitchen and take an owner role and see the bigger picture,” Hutter says. But he and Rekosh have hit upon a recipe of collaboration that works well, they say.
“Customer response has been awesome,” Rekosh says. “We’re selling a lot of specials.”
caption: Zocalo’s new executive chef, Josh Hutter, worked at a number of D.C. restaurants before returning to central Virginia.
Photo: Amy Jackson Smith