Allison Zinder, a Richmond native who has lived in France for 12 years, brings her unique, self-proclaimed bohemian tastes home for a cooking class on Halloween. At The Compleat Gourmet, Zinder will show seasonal country-style recipes based on traditions of the French grape harvest: chestnut-pumpkin soup, roast chicken and guinea fowl with thyme-grape sauce, potato and celery root gratin, and gingerbread with applesauce, and apple-brandy mousse.
"Living in France has really grounded me in a lot of ways," she writes in an e-mail. "In the U.S. we have access to so many different kinds of cultures and ingredients -- the variety is astounding. But it's also overwhelming. When I visit the U.S. I tend to suffer from food 'pluralysis' which is an inability to make any decision simply because I have so many choices." In France, food choices are determined by the seasons. "Anyone asking around for asparagus in December would be ridiculed out of the market!" she adds.
Zinder's recipes use simple elements that make dishes seem complex. She suggests that American restaurant menus often combine too many flavors on the same plate, that gimmicky fusion trends have over-stimulated the palate. "It's easier to dazzle restaurant customers with quantity and presentation than it is to impress them with simplicity, like mastering the cooking technique for a delicate fish or achieving the perfect amount of sweetness. What I love to make are the basics, revisited."
Zinder's cookbook, "New Paris Bohemian," is a countercultural work in progress. Her Web site, www.newparisbohemian.com, best explains her passions and perspective. She returns for another series of classes in April.
It was only a matter of time before Big Al Coleman, a longtime sports radio presence here, would open his own clubhouse. Big Al's Sports Bar and Grill is up and running, touting the region's largest high-def television at 133 inches, and a smoke-free room with lots of screens tuned to the biggest games of the season.
"This is a natural evolution for me," Coleman says, "and I've learned from one of the best Terry O'Neill at Penny Lane. I want to be sure people are comfortable, and I'm very much there to interact with them and talk to them."
His ESPN Radio 950 listeners know that Coleman is a larger-than-life sports fanatic with a great sense of camaraderie. He's serving a menu of wings, burgers and nachos no surprises there all the way to salads, steaks and Greek spaghetti.
The 106-seat space used to be Wild Noodles, a franchise that lasted at 3641F Cox Road just 14 months before closing. "We're the only all high-definition, nonsmoking sports bar in Richmond," Coleman says. It's open for lunch, dinner and evening games seven days a week. 270-4454.
Eat for a Cause
Swarms of cost-conscious, benevolent diners flock to 20 local restaurants through Oct. 28 for the seventh annual Richmond Restaurant Week, now in progress. It's a benefit for the Central Virginia Food Bank dinners cost $25.07, and $2.07 of that goes to the food bank. Last year, the event raised $13,000, and it's not the drudgery for restaurants that you might expect. "It's one of our favorite weeks of the year," says Acacia's Dale Reitzer, who helps organize it. "We all work together and the quality is still great."
Participating restaurants this year are Acacia, Amici Ristorante, Bacchus, Bistro 27, Cabo's Corner Bistro, Europa, Hard Shell, Hondo's at Innsbrook, Julep's New Southern Cuisine, La Grotta, Michelle's at Hanover Tavern, Millie's Diner, Rowland Fine Dining, Sam Miller's, Six Burner, The Hill Café, The Track, TJ's at The Jefferson, Zed Café and Zeus Gallery Café.
Space is limited and reservations are requested.