Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Boot

In this age of synergy, when cell phones, cameras and PDAs sift seamlessly together, it shouldn’t come as any surprise when a music store and empty restaurant space give birth to The Boot — where food, music and art share common ground.

The location on 21st Street in Ghent is easy enough to find — it’s in the building previously occupied by Cafe Rosso and owned by the same people who operate Relative Theory Records on Granby Street. The spacious dining room is open, its clean lines dotted with white-clothed tables. Glassware sparkles, contributing to the upscale, yet far from aloof ambiance. The playful, eclectic art hung on the yellow walls steers it far from square territory.

The hostess, who proved to be our waitress, led my husband and I to a booth close to the bar. While Dave perused (the wine list, I checked out the specials, enthusiastically written on a chalkboard just behind our table. I was already tempted by what I saw, and the menu presented a wider range of tantalizing options. The cuisine has an Italian slant, bolstered by a “culinary philosophy of fresh and local.” In an effort to promote local, renewable, resources that give back to the community, the restaurant offers food from local ranchers, farmers and artisans, as much as possible.

I ordered an appetizer and a bottle of wine to keep us company while we mulled over the menu. The waitress returned with our Seghesio Renzo Barbera d’Alba 2002. Normally a $34 bottle, it was a real steal at $17 — all bottled wine is half off on Tuesdays! She tasted as good as she smelled, round, dark, juicy and deep. The wine list has a sampling of Virginia's finest, along with tastes from California, Australia and Italy.

We finalized our orders just as the calamari ($8) arrived. Sweet rings and dainty tentacles came fried in golden, soft crusts. A thin saffron-sherry vinaigrette was almost too delicate for the squid, but fat slices of tomatoes beneath soaked it up nicely.

We split a salad ($10), a wonderful choice when its generous size was revealed. A mixture of tender young greens and butter lettuce supported fat stalks of grilled asparagus. The smoky flavor was nicely accented by the perfectly proportioned coarse mustard vinaigrette. Charming young peas were made sweet with tangy mounds of fresh goat cheese. It was literally springtime in a bowl.

Dave was unable to stay away from the pasta special: bucatini carbonara ($14). The long, hollow strands of pasta coiled provocatively on the plate, allowing glimpses of burnished, chunky pancetta, tender spring onions and gentle shavings of Parmesan. One tiny bite was full of rich, intense flavors, in no small part due to the farm-fresh eggs that coated the glistening pasta in an almost-invisible sauce.

I was drawn in by the promise of handmade squid-ink fettuccine with local scallops in citrus butter ($18). The fat scallops were perfectly seared and filled with briny freshness. The pasta was nothing short of amazing: ethereal, light and filled with layers of flavor. Lemony brightness lit up my tongue, and I experienced a truly blissful moment of eyes-closed, quiet contemplation.

The menu continues beyond primi into entrees sorted by pesce, carne, vegetariano and contorni. While tempted, we were unable to venture farther into savory territory.

We finished the meal in proper Italian-style, with gelato ($5) and an espresso ($2). I was unable to decide between the featured flavors. An assortment of three was kindly offered. The passion fruit and cherry gelatos were vivid, creamy and light, while the blueberry sorbet was icy and dense. They were even better all mixed up.

The owners of Relative Theory Records have crafted a unique synergy between the music store, their philosophy of supporting locals and invigorating the dining scene in an exciting new way. Between the serious devotion to local, sustainable and tasty food, the myriad of musical performances, film showings and even cooking classes, there will surely be something to please most everyone.

The Boot
123 W. 21st Street, Norfolk
Phone: 627-2668 Fax: 627-1442
Web site: www.insidetheboot.com
Specialties: Italian-inspired menu featuring fresh & local products
Price range: starters: $5-$13; pasta: $13-$18; entrees: $15- $20; vegetables: $5; dessert: $5- $13
Hours: 5 p.m.- 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5 p.m.- 2 a.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday; closed Mondays
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: permitted on the patio only
Vegetarian: yes, vegan as well
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards, checks
Noise level: conversational
Atmosphere: upscale casual
Additional Information: daily specials, late-night menu, private functions, cooking classes, art, literary and musical events
Star rating: food 4, atmosphere 3 1/2, service 4 1/2
(out of five stars)


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