Tastes of the town: A tour of Williamsburg cuisine

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April 14, 2011

11:40 PM

Being a student at the College of William and Mary can often be crippling for our collective palates. With many of us, like me, limited by what is within walking distance, and with quick and cheap food sources readily available, it’s quite easy to write off Williamsburg as a culinary dead zone. A new tour of New Town, Taste of Williamsburg, aims to change that perception with weekend jaunts to several local establishments for food samplings. With a fork and an empty stomach, I joined a group to see if the trip was worth residents’s and tourists’s time and expense.

Center Street Grill

After a brief introduction to New Town detailing its “history” — there is, after all, only so much to say about a place less than a decade old — the tour moves to the first restaurant, an American grill serving up large-plate appetizers. The calamari leaves a lot to be desired, with only the tiniest amount of spice to give it something resembling flavor. Things improve, however, and their “Philly roll” (think the sandwich, not the sushi) with a cheese scallion sauce is a hearty spin on the traditionalism that their décor would suggest. A basil pesto flatbread finishes out the meal, but, as is often the case with pesto, the sauce can easily overpower the dish. Choose a piece of the flatbread carefully; those heavier on the tomato and mozzarella are your best bet.

Ichiban

There is currently no food on the docket for this tour; instead, some Chinese teas are served as a cultural and gastronomic counterbalance to the rich, fried offerings from the Center Street Grill. Teas vary weekly, but during my visit, I particularly enjoyed a relaxing and soothing peach oolong. Following that was a fruity blend which, along with this stop, began to ease any concerns I had about the tour’s merits.

World of Wine

It’s a good idea to be of age while on this tour; the wine tasting here, with food pairings every other week, adds atmosphere and depth. I had a surprisingly succulent pasta to accompany the well-chosen varietals; a stand-out was the Nero d’Avola that mixed well with gnocchi. If the selection that week was any indication, there should be plenty of new ground to tread each time.

Opus 9 Steakhouse

This was, naturally, my most anticipated stop. The high-end chop house is a local favorite, and I’d never gotten around to dining here. After a bit of background on the tiny delicacies we would be devouring, a welcome feature reminiscent of haute cuisine establishments, the servers brought out the dishes were brought out. A pan-fried crab cake, resting on some red pepper aioli, was mouth-wateringly crispy and tender. The bit of brisket with sweet potato puree was smoky and savory. What should have been the piece de resistance, a cut from a perfectly-crusted New York strip, was outclassed by the peppercorn sauce beneath it. While the meat itself was good, it was not on par with some of the other prime beef I’ve had in the past. However, the quality of the food was enough for me to consider a return trip to the steakhouse, despite the hair-raising price tag.

Short Stop Deli

The ambience here couldn’t be more different from that of Opus. A sports bar, complete with boisterous regulars, open counter and “beer cave” furnish this sandwich shop, with various combinations of Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. The sliced turkey was remarkably flavorful, considering the typical blandness of deli poultry. Simple, serviceable food and a relaxed environment make for an enjoyable pit stop after the aesthetic onslaught of Opus 9.

Buon Amici

The final leg in the Taste of Williamsburg, Buon Amici, is a lovely culmination to a fun and filling afternoon. Authentically Brooklyn style, this Italian eatery provides a tantalizing starter in kalamata olive bruschetta, then serves a fine house salad to cleanse the palate. With one last assault on our ballooning stomachs, a hearty penne with ragu is brought out from the kitchen. Your appetite may by now be long-forgotten, but the peppery pasta is well worth the overly swollen waistline. Although not officially part of the tour, a pizza margherita was provided for the group; light and crispy, with fresh toppings, this pie is worth obtaining to remind someone that restaurants such as Domino’s should only be tolerated for convenience’s sake.

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