Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From the draft vault - Regina's Pasta Factory

Sept/Oct 2011: It's not often that I go out to eat as much as I did this week. What's even more rare is that every night, I went to the same place. I may have an addiction. I'm kind of torn on how to blog three different evenings, so bear with me. I might hop around a lot.

Wednesday: My daughter and I needed to run some errands. While we were at the store, we determined that we were famished. While SuperTarget is super in its own respect, I wanted something different. Something awesome. Something unexpected. It wasn't in the freezer section or at a drive through. I remembered some obnoxious radio commercial about Regina's, and then recalled how a friend and I tried to go there a few weeks ago but then found out there was no wine and we ran away in tears. Well, I ran... she kind of just sat in the car and cried, but that's ok. I'd heard such good things, and we were so close to the restaurant. I could go one meal without wine, right? It's just one meal.

The first thing I noticed as we pulled up to the store front of Regina's is that there is no lighted sign. It would be easy to miss, if one wasn't looking for it specifically. We saw people inside, so we ventured on. The second thing I noticed about Regina's is the smell that overcomes you as you walk in the door. I've mentioned this before... the tomato, the garlic, the basil. The wonderful, fresh aromas permeated the air as the owner Dario welcomed us in and invited us to sit down. He explained how the restaurant worked, he showed us his grandmother's pasta machine, he waved to his mother who was serving another table. He joked with us and made us feel at home. Someone brought us fresh rolls and olive oil with garlic and basil for dipping.

I decided on the lobster ravioli with crab alfredo sauce, while my daughter opted for the garlic and herb pasta with marinara. We talked and ate bread, watched them put our pasta through grandma's machine. Things were starting to get exciting.

As we waited, we had time to look around the restaurant. It's very clean, with lamps made from shiny colanders, bright red walls and paintings and photos scattered  about. There are a handful of tables, maybe ten or so, and a small meeting room off to one side. Sinatra, Connick, and Martin play on the radio and set the mood perfectly. Relax.

One of the servers brings our dinner, more bread and more water. The servings are good sized, and the bowls are deeper than they look at first glance. Each plate has a bit of freshly grated parmesan on it, and there is no parmesan or salt and pepper on the tables. I actually would have liked more pepper in my sauce, but it was incredible without it as well. The raviolis were stuffed full of ricotta and lobster, and there was plenty of crab meat in the sauce. My daughter's pasta was delicious, although I admit I don't recall anything specific because I was kind of in an alfredo fog... at some point through the meal we decided that this was our new favorite restaurant. We ate as much as we could and then decided to share a limoncello marscapone cake for dessert. It was the perfect compliment to our meal, nice and light, not overly filling.

Wednesday dinner was a roaring success. I found out we could bring our own wine in, Dario invited us back, I said "See you tomorrow night" and we came home... to my son, who was pretty pissed that he didn't get the initial invite. Bah. Guess where we're going next week for dinner?

The State of Things and Looking Ahead

It's been so long! I can't keep up. The economy sucks and has taken its toll on a handful of great restaurants that I'd tried or who were on my list to try.

Regina's Pasta Factory - Cosner's Corner - Closed
Was amazing the first few visits. I loved the family atmosphere that Dario and his wife provided there, it was as if one was walking into their home. Warm, welcoming, the smells of garlic and tomato permeated the air. The antipasto salad was incredible, the fresh pasta unbeatable. The sauces were flavorful, authentic and delicious. I loved that we could bring our own bottles of wine to enjoy.

And then something happened. I don't know if it was too much business too soon, if there wasn't enough business, if things were mishandled or inconsistent, if the location was poor... but something happened. Regina's in Southpoint is no longer. I had heard unfavorable reviews over the past few months and the last time I went, the pasta wasn't as good, but everyone has a down day now and then, right? I'm sad.

Thankfully, J and I were able to take a one-on-one cooking class with the owners of Regina's last November, when times were good. We know how to make the pasta and I've figured out the Mi Amore sauce, which was my favorite there.

I'm sad for Dario and Elizabeth, I hate to see good ventures fail. I don't know if their King George restaurant closed also, but I wish them well, hope for the best and I'm thankful that we were able to learn something from them and enjoy their hospitality for even a little while.

Sully's Steak and Seafood - Southpoint - Closed
My personal experiences at Sully's were always good. I loved the firecracker shrimp, they grilled a mean steak, their lunch deals were amazing, everyone was friendly and I was always pleased with the service.

I tried to run in there a couple months ago and saw that it was no longer open. (I don't get out much) The Mad Crab has a second location there now, so I'll need to check it out.

Buttermilk and Olde Lace - Downtown Fredericksburg - Closed
This was a fairly new restaurant at The Chimneys downtown. I'd heard good things, and my daughter and I ran in once to grab a menu. It was overly decorated with antiques and Victorian charm and the food smelled amazing... but it also apparently fell victim to either a floundering economy or the ridiculous politics associated with owning a restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg. I never saw a bad review for B&OL, and was really looking forward to a Sunday brunch one day. Nothing seems to stay at The Chimneys for long.

Barefoot's Seafood - Downtown Fredericksburg - Closed
Closed Oct 2011. I can't comment too much on Barefoot's because I worked there. A lot. I was there to open the restaurant, I was there to experience first hand the drama, the chaos, the weirdness that every restaurant has it's share of. I made good friends during my time, and it was definitely a learning experience. I think that with a couple minor changes and one major tweak, Barefoot's would have been a huge money maker... but for various reasons, couldn't make it through the growing pains. I saw the very best and the very worst that the business has to offer at Barefoot's, realized it was a sinking ship and eventually left. I've been fortunate enough to stay in touch with some of my favorite customers. I miss the fried oysters and being able to have crab bisque every day. I miss my wine distributors. I do hope that someone can build a successful business there because it appeared that Fredericksburg really enjoyed having a crab shack and seafood house.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but I am looking forward to trying some new places soon. I owe you a years' worth of reviews and am working on them now. In the next few weeks, look for my searches for the best reuben, the most amazing crabcakes and the tastiest steak in the 'burg and just my usual two cents on:

Soup and Taco, etc. - Downtown Fredericksburg
Smyrna Mediterranean Cuisine - Ferry Farm
Fujiya House - Central Park
The Tavern at Lee's Hill
Delaplane Winery - Delaplane, VA
Vintage Ridge Winery - Rectortown, VA
Lake Anna Winery - Lake Anna, VA
Red Bowl - Spotsylvania
Castiglias - Downtown Fredericksburg
Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville
The Inn at Poplar Springs, Casanova, VA
Blarneystone - Downtown Fredericksburg
Vita Felice - Lee's Hill
Colonial Tavern - Downtown Fredericksburg
Amy's Cafe, Downtown Fredericksburg
Paul's Bakery
Old Towne Steak and Seafood - Downtown Fredericksburg
The Bavarian Chef - Downtown Fredericksburg
Pho Saigon -
Carl's - Downtown Fredericksburg
The Bavarian Chef - Downtown Fredericksburg

...and probably a few others, depending on where I happen to be when hunger strikes.

I'm really going to try to be better about posting updates and getting out there to try out new places and foods, and love getting suggestions on new restaurants (or just new to me) and specific dishes.

Is it lunchtime yet?