Brick oven bravado

Before I am comfortable writing a review of a restaurant, I like to visit it twice. Invariably, I find that differences in the timing of a visit can result in vastly different experiences.

Even though I may find a place appealing the first time around, it frequently disappoints me the next time. And if I don't care for a place on the first try, I think it deserves a chance to redeem itself – which it almost always does.

Tazza Kitchen is that rare restaurant that had me at hello, at the getting-to-know-you stage, and at goodbye after both my visits. And trust me, there will be more visits to come.

On our first trip to Tazza, we took seats on the patio and enjoyed drinks and appetizers. Our server was more than attentive – he was calm, unhurried, and downright engaging. Even though the patio was rapidly filling with other diners, he took his time explaining the menu, happy hour pricing and more, making us feel as if we were his only – or at least his favorite – customers.

What's more, he came back after we ate to pick our brains about what we thought of everything we'd had. The question was not asked casually; he listened to our answers intently, and our server seemed genuinely pleased and proud to hear our positive feedback.

With his help, we selected a plate each of the Brick Oven Brussels Sprouts ($5) and Brick Oven Cauliflower ($4.50), and they were the perfect light accompaniment to our wine and beer. Roasted in the handcrafted, double-door Italian oven that forms the centerpiece of the bar area, the vegetables were enhanced with tasty mint, red onion, and grana padano (Italian cheese) in the case of the cauliflower, and with maple vinaigrette, pancetta and crumbled egg for the brussels sprouts.

My friend and I also enjoyed the rustic chic decor and the "warm, friendly and buzzy" atmosphere, as she put it. Perhaps what struck us most about the place, however, was the way that everyone on the staff was helpful to the extreme and seemed to love working there. Hard not to like a place with such a pleasant vibe.

On our second visit we arrived around five o'clock on a Saturday night, just after opening, and it was a good thing we did. By the time we left two hours later, the place was jam-packed.

Our orders on this visit included entrees of fish tacos and white pizza (each $11.50). The pizza was topped with a decadent bechamel sauce in addition to caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella and pancetta – just the right mix of sweet and savory. We devoured even the crust, which was crisped to perfection, with edges precisely seared to add flavor rather than detract from it.

The pair of fish tacos, complete with guacamole, pequin slaw, pico de gallo, and cream sauce, was light – a bit too light and mild for my taste, but my friend loved that it did not taste too fishy. Normally, I would not like the heavy-on-the-lime flavor, but in this case it worked. And the sauce was excellent – we just wished there was more of it.

Until I tasted it, I thought the cast-iron dish of cranberry beans dish a someone mundane side for the tacos, but it was surprisingly tasty and a hearty but not overwhelming complement. Both of us agreed, however, that the beans would be improved with the addition of some zesty spices.

Once again, the ambience was cozy (we even scored a fireside table) and the service five-star. The instant I turned around to look for some salt and pepper (absent from the tables) and noticed my server was tied up, another server leaped to my side to ask what I needed.

My only complaint of any consequence is minor. While I was happy to see several good-quality craft beers on tap, I was disappointed to have mine served in a too-small glass. I prefer my beer in pint glasses – and find myself regretting now that I kept my disappointment to myself. Had I shared my feelings about the serving size with even one member of Tazza's solicitous staff, something tells me that I would find a pint glass with my name on it upon my return.

Tazza Kitchen, which was founded by two partners wanting to replicate the simple, fresh cuisine and endearing hospitality they found on travels to Italy and Mexico, touts itself on the website as "where Baja meets the Mediterranean coast."

It's clear to me that the Baja and Mediterranean meet in Short Pump. And I won't wait long for my next chance to experience Tazza's sensory adventures, cozy ambience and first-rate hospitality again.
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October 2017
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The Henrico County Planning Department will hold a workshop from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at John Rolfe Middle School, 6901 Messer Rd., for residents and other members of the public to provide additional input for a study of the Route 5 corridor and Marion Hill areas. The meeting will include an overview of community input received so far and an explanation of how it is reflected in the study’s draft goals and objectives. The presentation will be followed by an exercise that will allow attendees to express their opinions about the draft goals and objectives. Participants will use electronic keypads to register their opinions, and results for the group will be displayed on-screen in real time. Participants also will be asked to provide feedback about a restroom facility that is planned at the Four Mile Creek Park trailhead. The draft Route 5 Corridor/Marion Hill Study, with summaries of previous meetings, is available at http://henrico.us/projects. For details, contact Rosemary Deemer at (804) 501-4488 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Full text

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