If Ed Nafei cooks like he talks, expect generous portions. Restaurantarama has been eyeing the former Hong Kong spot on Emmet Street for weeks, ever since Nafei took it over and posted a sign promising a new restaurant to be called Savour. Finally we got him to start chatting about what we can look forward to at the former Chinese buffet. And chat he did! The man is a veritable fountain of quotes.
For example, on the feeling he had when he walked into Hong Kong as a prospective buyer, having already viewed around 20 other Charlottesville properties over a two-year period: “I walked in and it talked to me. Immediately I envisioned what’s going to be where. I took maybe 300 pictures.”
You may have seen this sign in front of what used to be Hong Kong. Along with the building’s new proprietor, Ed Nafei, we here faithfully reproduce it. As for what’s inside, you’ll just have to wait.
Nafei’s since been gutting the space, which he found to be layered with a sort of archaeology of Charlottesville cuisine. “When we took the first layer off we found another restaurant under it, then another, then another,” he says. When it’s all put back together, he intends it to feel more like someone’s house than a restaurant, with homey furniture and fireplaces. “The food is absolutely the main thing of this, but you’re not going to come to a place that looks like Las Vegas,” he says, one of many times in our conversation that he intimated a distaste for all things franchise. “I’m not a cookie-cutter guy… This is how I would do a room in my house; this is how I would cook for my family.”
So, yeah, what about that cooking? Nafei managed to skirt our questions about what, specifically, might show up on Savour’s menu. (That name, by the way, is meant to be a slightly continental version of “savor,” pronounced as such.) Instead, he waxed on about the current culinary trend in which chefs seek to impress diners with weird combinations of ingredients. “The lottery has 56 numbers and you have one in a million odds of winning it. When you have 2,000 raw materials to work with, how many combinations can you have?” Simply choosing a pairing nobody’s tried before—vanilla and pork, in his unappetizing example—does not a worthy plate make, Nafei says.
Rather, in describing his menu-to-be, he proclaimed, “The cuisine is not to have a cuisine”—in other words, elements like “classical French” and “contemporary American” may enter the picture, as well as, tantalizingly, “Mediterranean ingredients but not necessarily Mediterranean dishes”—but no one national cuisine will reign supreme. He also claims an interest in “reviving food that we love,” much as Wolfgang Puck did for pizza years ago.
We won’t hazard a guess as to what you might be able to order when Savour opens in early summer. We do know there will be a wine list, curated by a sommelier friend of Nafei’s from his days in California (he’s been in the business for 33 years and opened two previous restaurants, both in the Golden State). We know the menu will change often according to Nafei’s whims (“It’s whatever I feel like cooking,” he says). And we think we can state with confidence that Savour will be nothing like the old Hong Kong.
Last year, we followed the saga of Christian Trendel’s journey toward the debut of his Acme Smokehouse & Barbecue Company on Route 29N. Now, a new chapter: Acme is closed for sit-down business. Trendel says his catering commitments proved more pressing, so he’s using the kitchen now for catering only.
That’s not all. Trendel tells us he’ll be running the concessions at the Charlottesville Pavilion this season, and hinted at further restaurant plans someplace Downtown—perhaps an Acme revival. Stay tuned!
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