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Our resident local foodie and photographer takes us on a tour of the newest and tastiest restaurants opening in our area.
AGNI RESTAURANT & BAR
46005 Regal Plaza, Suite 140
After 12 years of being a software engineer, Sri Ganesan needed a change. So, she started serving dosas out of her driveway… until the county got wind and closed her down. “I’m from India,” Ganesan laughed. “Back in India, if you decide to do something, you’re just free to do whatever you want. No rules, no regulations.”
From there, it took a year of effort to conceptualize what is now Agni Restaurant and Bar, one of the few restaurants in the area that specializes in South Indian cuisine.
“This restaurant is my dream,” Ganesan said. “This is my passion, more than anything else.”
Most of the Indian restaurants in Northern Virginia tend to offer Northern Indian cuisine, said Ganesan, and the difference between cuisines is notable: Southern Indian cuisine is less creamy and uses a different spice profile – all while also being very customizable for gluten allergies, vegan/vegetarian diets and even spice level.
Stepping into the restaurant, the homey and bright ambiance is both welcoming and visually stunning. Bright orange accent walls, hand-drawn artwork by Ganesan herself and a variety in seating arrangements (check out the one floor seating table for a fun and different dining experience!) keep the small restaurant from feeling stifled. A perfect place for families, friend groups or romantic dates – Agni is a gem of a find in a world of corporate chain restaurants.
Begin with a beverage – panagam is a delicious chilled drink meant to provide relief from the brutal Indian sun. If you’re new to South Indian cuisine, go for the dosa platter: a savory crepe made with rice and lentils that is served with a two delicious chutneys, one tomato and one coconut. The dish also includes a side of sambar, a vegetable and lentil dish flavored with spices like mustard, cumin and coriander, plus savory fried lentil donuts for dipping. Huge portions that are easily eaten with fingers lend itself to a fun, community-style meal that will keep clients returning for more delicious and refreshing cuisine.
Ganesan is excited and ready to show her customers the depths of Southern Indian cuisine – a menu that goes far beyond paneer and tikka masala. “I’m going to take this as a challenge,” she said with a smile. “People can’t open the menu and just order butter chicken.”
TUMI URBAN KITCHEN
20630 Ashburn Rd #196
Ashburn, Virginia 20147
Any Northern Virginia foodie worth their salt has heard of Rocoto Gourmet – a food truck featuring Peruvian street food – and Richard Chalaco’s newest concept, Tumi Urban Kitchen is the next big hit in the local foodie scene.
The idea is simple – place an order online when the menu for that week goes live and come pick up your order, to eat at home. Think of it as fast, casual carry out – but don’t mistake this for your typical “fast food” joint. Chalaco pushes himself to use fresh ingredients, prepared daily, to create high-end restaurant quality dishes. “I’m not a food snob, but what I’m trying to do is make Peruvian food relevant,” he said.
Peruvian cuisine and culture is a blend of many other nationalities, that have married to create their own style of fare. Decades of fusion have brought Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese and Spanish flavors and cooking styles into Peru, and the product of those mergers has become its own dynamic style of cuisine, and Chalaco strives to cover “all those tastebuds.”
So what does Peruvian food really look like? Consider Lomo Saltado, one of the dishes Chalaco sold out of during his soft opening. Lomo Saltado is a Peruvian beef stir fry made in a wok, a coalition of Chinese and Peruvian food. Tender cuts of steak with bright onion and tomato in a sauce that has a fresh kick of spice, all atop a mountain of french fries is the perfect blend of comfort food and haute cuisine. And you can’t miss the classic empanada – whether you do beef or chicken, the crispy shell and the savory filling is a winner. And we can vouch for Chalaco’s empanada pro tip: add a squeeze of lime for a punch of acidity in the empanada that changes the entire landscape of flavor!
With a true love of food and strong family connections that brought him into this business, Chalaco’s passion for cooking is at the forefront of both Rocoto Gourmet and Tumi Urban Kitchen. “My mother inspired me,” said Chalaco. “She is the one with the recipes … [and] she always had that special ingredient: love.”
1602 Village Market Boulevard Southeast #115
Leesburg, Virginia 20175
It’s no secret that Loudoun County is a hotspot of dining, welcoming any and all cuisines – the more unique the better. But have you ever stopped to consider what it takes to become Loudoun’s newest dining spot? Maybe you love to cook, but aren’t sure how to write a business plan? You have your grandmother’s recipes, but don’t know how to source your ingredients? Enter ChefScape Kitchen in Leesburg, the brainchild of Rob Batchelder and Ginny Grivas.
Batchelder is a Virginia native, having grown up in Loudoun and graduated from Stone Bridge High School. The son of entrepreneurs (his parents own Creative Dance Center in Ashburn), small business is all Batchelder has ever known. “Anything with business is attractive to me,” he said. “I had invested in food trucks… and I ended up having to be the operator. I had never even worked in a restaurant,” Batchelder laughed. “It was definitely trial by fire.”
After that experience, Batchelder realized that the chefs he networked with all had the same problems: how to do bookkeeping, where to cook, how to obtain the proper health permits… all things that as a businessman, Batchelder knew how to do.
So in 2016, he began the original ChefScape in Ashburn, what is now a USDA Certified space for chefs to come and prep, cook and package their food. While running the Ashburn location, he crossed paths with Grivas and began the partnership that would lead to the Leesburg location which opened January 19, 2019.
Grivas, who started in IT sales and engineering with the federal government and currently has a company headquartered in One Loudoun, was in the business of teaching private Silicon Valley tech companies how to sell to the government. But it was never her passion – Grivas always loved food, events and helping small businesses. Grivas said she felt like all her experiences in various other fields has perfectly prepared her for building ChefScape.
“I can take my knowledge of building business and being a problem solver and translate that to the food world,” she said. “Now, I’m matching my passion with my experience.”
So what is ChefScape? The 16,000+ square foot building (which used to house Smokehouse Live) is many things. The average locals will primarily frequent the food hall, which has Bar AhSo (a partner of Brambelton’s fine dining restaurant) and four food counters that will rotate out every six months – bringing chefs and restaurateurs an indoor location to serve their cuisine to a new audience, and foodies new cuisines they may never have tried before.
More than a place to grab a great cocktail, ChefScape also has a large shared workspace for their members’ usage, whether they need to conduct an interview or sit down and dig into a spreadsheet. However, the space isn’t just for business – push the furniture to the side and sit on the bleacher-style wooden seats against one wall, and you have a space for a recital or performance. Or, bring in farmhouse tables and chairs and you have the perfect private room for a wedding rehearsal dinner.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a foodie paradise without a large, commercial kitchen for their members’ use. On top of the food hall vendors’ having their own kitchen area for prep and cooking, the large commercial kitchen is ideal for whatever a chef can dream up. A 6-week cooking class on the cuisine of Asia? A summer camp for kids, to get their hands in some dough? A multi-course “Chef’s Table” dinner event? The space is there for the members to curate whatever their hearts desire.
Stepping into the food emporium you are greeted with a look that would make any hipster proud – a large, open floor plan, garage doors that will open in the summer, chalkboard menus and murals perfect for selfies and a giant statue of a bull (it had to stay, per their agreement with Smokehouse Live).
“It’s meant to be very friendly,” said Grivas. The space will be comfortable and open to all visitors, whether you’re looking for a girls’ night, family time or a date.
But the open layout is more than just decorations – it goes to the heart of their mission, which is to create community. By creating an in-house network of members who all do different and equally delicious things, the cross-pollination of businesses is a win for everyone. Perhaps BarAhso will use herbs grown at one of the members’ farms, or one of the restaurants will source their meat from one of ChefScape’s butchers. With many of Loudoun’s farms catering to large orders, these relationships between small businesses are the key to success and building a rapport in the food community.
ChefScape also hopes to foster community with their neighbors at The Village at Leesburg. ChefScape has begun working with City Cheetah, a local food delivery service like UberEats, to do carry out delivery and would include the other eateries of The Village at Leesburg in the agreement to alleviate fees imposed on the restaurants. “We’re really supportive of the shopping center, and they’re really supportive of us,” said Grivas.
But what many of the diners won’t see is perhaps the most unique thing about ChefScape – the support they offer their members on how to run a business. While most cooks begin their food journey with a love of cooking, not too many also bring along knowledge of how to design packaging, write contracts, advertise and create product barcodes for retail. ChefScape is ready to offer that support and work with their members until they become “graduates” and go on to the next step in their culinary career.
“We’re so excited for them,” said Grivas. “Our goal is to work with them every single week and analyze what they’re doing.” Perhaps this is their first venture into food, or maybe they’re a seasoned food truck owner who is looking to start a brick and mortar presence. Either way, ChefScape has their back, providing new avenues for them to educated and promote themselves, whether it’s at the food hall, the Thursday indoor market (including an hour at the beginning for industry purchasing, before the general public is admitted) or the once-a-month Friday outdoor farmer’s market that will take over the shopping center.
“This is really a space for artistic expression from the chefs,” said Batchelder. “This is their test ground. This is their space to get consumer feedback. We really want the consumer to take the role of collaborator, instead of critic, to give them feedback and make a positive experience all around.”
From vendors to food to events – ChefScape plans to be a dynamic space, with something fresh and new on every visit. As Batchelder calls it- that’s the “stickiness” of ChefScape – and what keeps it fun for Batchelder and Grivas.
“We love what we do, so freaking much,” added Grivas. “We’re so excited and passionate every single day, because it’s always something new.”
Neighborhood By Traci Medlock
Photos By Traci Medlock
TRACI J. MEDLOCK is a Northern Virginia native and the owner and primary photographer of Traci J. Brooks Studios. When not behind a camera, she enjoys cooking with her husband, sampling craft brews and hanging out with her cats.