A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a popup dinner at Tarrant’s West. The dinner was centered around Mollydooker wine, a famous Australian brand known for an irreverent shake, and Little Saint, the newest restaurant in the RVA Hospitality group. (“New” may be a loose term now that we’re approaching the end of Little Saint’s first year.) Without even having to write it, you know the evening was filled with lots of reds, the Mollydooker shake, and the best of culinary fares.
RVA Hospitality is the restaurant group that includes (obviously) Tarrant’s West and Little Saint, but also their siblings, Tarrant’s Café and Max’s on Broad. I’ve gotten to know RVA Hospitality’s owner, Frances Santarella, very well since RVA Hospitality has been such a strong supporter of Richmond Brunch Weekend for three years. When Frances asked me to come to this popup dinner, I couldn’t say no. This also offered me a chance to see the recently reopened sunroom at Tarrant’s West fit with hanging plants and streaming sunlight—all aesthetics that I love to Instagram! The space is even perfect for when it’s too hot to sit outside, but you want to feel like you’re outside (with a fan blowing above you).
The popup came to be as a celebration of Little Saint receiving the local “Best New Restaurant” Elby this winter and as an opportunity showcase Mollydooker wine. Now I had never heard of Mollydooker before this event, but it’s an elixir by a legendary female winemaker from Down Under named Sarah Marquis. What makes these wines famous—and hip and playful—is their need for a “Mollydooker shake.” While many wines have sulfites—which can be associated with hangover headaches—Mollydooker wines contain nitrogen to bottle in the flavor. So, before you take a sip, you need to shake the bottle to redistribute all the nitrogen. And by shake, I mean turn the bottle upside down and give it a shake. (You may still get a headache, but it won't be from the sulfites.)
At the dinner, I never got the chance to shake the wine myself. That duty fell to RVA Hospitality’s sommelier, Sean Rapoza, and other experts on hand. I fully trust their shakes were better than mine would have been—especially after two glasses.
Beyond the shake, the wine remains youthful. Each bottle is decorated with a cartoonish lampoons of court jesters, boxers (the wine called “The Boxer,” imagine that), and princesses on steeds (the Enchanted Path). I enjoyed every wine, but came to be particularly fond of the Enchanted Path and—wait for it—the Gigglepot (it’s named after Sarah Marquis' daughter). My preference may have something to do with the two glasses consumed previously, but the Enchanted Path is a cabernet blend while the Gigglepot is a cabernet sauvignon, and I know I have a thing for cabs.
If not obvious, I don’t have a strong background in wine consumption. For reference, my mom once asked me, “What is that good wine that comes in a box?” I replied incredulously, “Franzia?” And my mom replied, “Yes! I need to get some of that.”
Since then, I’ve tried to grow my palate beyond what genetics apparently gave me. Lately I’ve taken to writing down wine names when friends give me a glass that I like. And that’s what I did this evening.
Frances also showed me the legs of the wine. If you want to impress your friends, show them this trick. I had rarely paid attention to my wines before this to see it what "wine legs" actually are. Frances held up her glass in the sunlight and pointed out the rivulets along the sides of the glass. These are the “legs” (or sometimes the "wine tears"). They show the wine’s viscosity and can hint at its sweetness or alcohol content.
In this case, the Enchanted Path clocks in at 15% ABV and the Gigglepot at 15.5%. (I wonder where the "giggle" came from - beside her daughter.)
I’d be remiss not to mention all the food these wines came paired with. The culinary fare was decided and executed by RVA Hospitality’s Executive Chef Alex Enggist and showcased the best of RVA Hospitality. I was glad I had no decision to make in what to eat, because I always get the same things when I go to Little Saint or Max’s (the grits bowl or the mussels! You can’t go wrong!), and this night I got to try much, much more. I daresay no flavor (or probably calorie) was spared in the cooking.
We started with a crispy cheese croquette nested in a tangy tallow aioli. I’ve decided aioli is just a fancy word for mayonnaise, but that doesn’t change how good it tastes.
My favorite course came later – bison tartare served with a quail egg, capers, and cornichon (pickled cucumbers…so basically pickles). I had never had tartare before, but since this dinner, I’ve ordered it everywhere I can find it (even in Cuba last month, which I don’t think is the safest option; please don’t be like me). The trick is to spread the egg throughout the meat with the capers, and bon appetit!
Continuing with the theme of bison, we had bison bistro steak for our fourth course, complete with potatoes aligot (there’s cheese mixed into mashed potatoes! the romance!) and ramp (which is a vegetable I wouldn’t even know what to do with otherwise). The entire meal was topped with a bordelaise made with Mollydooker wine. Wow!
We concluded with a sixth course (yes, I’ve skipped some for brevity; you’re probably full too) featuring dark chocolate mousse—which it would be okay if we stopped there, but it came topped with bacon and bourbon crème anglaise. All things I couldn’t even make even if it came in a box! This was paired with Mollydooker’s Carnival of Love (that’s the name of the wine—a 2016 shiraz).
Overall, I think you could call the whole evening a carnival, from wine to fare to dinner conversation. The good thing is, while most carnivals come in and out of town, you can revisit this carnival any time you want to drop by one of RVA Hospitality’s restaurants or order a bottle of Mollydooker! I’d also advise you keep an eye out for the next popup dinner by Little Saint or Tarrant’s. Maybe I’ll see you there!
Editor's Note (which means Cazey and Sara): You can also check out Max's on Broad's new patio space beside the Maggie Walker Statue - and Max's has reopened for lunch! So check out their new menu.