Looks like Rappahannock Central, home of River District Arts and Middle Street Gallery, will soon be the site of El Quijote, Rappahannock’s first tapas and country-Spanish restaurant. Rapp Central owner Jerome Niessen signed a lease last week with Emilio Fontan, owner of a small but highly rated tapas restaurant in Miami, to take over the packing-house-turned-arts-center’s too-long-empty bistro space.
Fontan, with wife Laura and chef Andres Delgado and future restaurant operations staff Alfredo Duran and Rosita Mendosa, visited briefly with the Rappahannock News’ Sperryville columnist Chris Doxzen last week after signing the lease. Chris reports:
Emilio has divided his time between his and Laura’s home in suburban Maryland home and the restaurant he owns in in Miami’s arts district, Rincon Escondido — recent winner of a “Best Spanish Restaurant in Miami” award. He says he drew inspiration for Rincon Escondido (which means “hidden corner”) from the years he spent living in Spain to shape the restaurant’s menu, which teems with authentic Spanish hot and cold tapas, such as bombas de queso — goat cheese fried balls dipped in orange blossom honey — or piquillos al tar-tar de atun, composed of Navarra red peppers stuffed with spicy tuna tar-tar, black paella with octopus ink, and suckling pig Segovia-style, all complemented with Spanish red and white wine or sangria.
His presence in Sperryville, and the planned March opening of El Quijote, begged me to ask, “Emilio, you’re not in Kansas anymore — why choose Sperryville?” He laughed and mentioned that while raising three kids in Maryland over the last 10 years, he’s been through Sperryville numerous times — often on the way to or from Luray Caverns with the kids — and that he came to have a good “vibration” about the place, and particularly the former Cafe Indigo at Rappahannock Central, which he’d visited several times, along with other spots in the village. On one visit, he noticed the restaurant had closed, and then a coincidental discovery that his own former real estate agent in D.C. was the same agent offering Niessen’s restaurant for lease and . . . well, “it was like a circle,” and he just knew he had to be here. Emilio sees visions of “another Napa” in Rappahannock.
“I am happy that we held out so long for the right restaurateur,” Niessen said Tuesday. “Emilio is the right guy with a proven track record, an artist with a wonderful personality and I am sure with great food we are all going to love. I hope that the restaurant will become a place again where Rappahannock meets and that the community will give Emilio its fullest support”.
Jim Allmon, art and marketing director of RDA, is equally enthusiastic: “Having a restaurant, especially one with a unique menu specializing in tapas and Spanish cuisine will enhance the experience for people visiting River District Arts. I speak for all the artists in saying that we are excited to have Emilio and his crew join our vibrant creative community.”
The quintessential entrepreneur, Emilio’s passions have included acting, ballet, and jazz dancing. (Check out emiliofontan.com.) His life experiences growing up in Gabon, Spain and California, and having lived through much political turmoil and civil unrest, colors his zest for life. He grew up with parents who celebrated great food, family and friends. He told me in his youth, he felt like he lived in a hotel, with so many friends and family a constant presence. It came as no surprise to him to want to continue his passion for food. He told Jerome and I that he opened his first restaurant serving simply cocktails and dessert. We smiled and nodded to each other, acknowledging the appeal of this rather unique concept.
We wish Emilio and crew all the best of luck. Thank you for helping to make Rappahannock a destination.
Meanwhile, River District Arts hosts a reception Feb. 15 of its “Makin’ It in Virginia” exhibit of fine crafts by 23 juried members of the Artisans Center of Virginia, a show that runs Feb. 15-April 13 and is the first collaboration of FDA and the Artisans Center of Virginia.
Right now our camp site is in the so-called dead of winter. The air is 14 degrees, our tree-swings are waving in the wind, the Frog Pond is frozen solid and beautiful ice sculptures cover the Hazel River rocks.
Rest assured though, that thousands of newts and tadpoles are resting under the ice, mayfly larvae in the river are as active as ever and countless puckwudgies are hard at work underground. Soon the wood frogs and giant spotted salamanders will converge on our little pond to breed. And a couple dozen lucky campers will converge here in June for the 28th Rappahannock Nature Camp.
The big news at camp this year is that we are hoping to offer a second session, for campers age 12 and up. No upper age limit!
Our day camp’s first session, for campers age 8 to 12, will be June 16 to 27, with the second session planned for the following two weeks. As always, we will explore the Singing Creek neighborhood and the Shenandoah National Park in our search for flycatchers, dragonflies, black racers and red efts. We will, as always, camp out one night at Azalea Rocks.
A note about Session 2: As of now, this is a proposed session for teens and adults, which will provide an opportunity for more focused study of local flora and fauna. Session 2 will depend on a good tally of interested prospective campers. If you are interested, please let me know right away. More information will follow.
Over the years, the Rappahannock Nature Camp has evolved into a true community event. The Piedmont Environmental Council, the Rappahannock County Garden Club, the Emily Hilscher Passion Award and some generous anonymous donors contribute support for our camp every year. With the planned second session, financial support will be even more important. If you would like to contribute, tax-deductible donations may be sent to the Piedmont Environmental Council, P.O. Box 532, Washington, VA 22747.
For more information and a 2014 application form, visit the PEC office, upstairs in the old bank building in Washington. While you are there, pick up a copy of our annual newsletter, News from Singing Creek (written and illustrated by our campers). Or you can contact me, the camp’s director, at 540-987-9530 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And the Piedmont Virginian published a good article about camp which you can read at pecva.org/wildchild. As always, space is limited, so early registration is a good idea.
See you at camp!
— Lyt Wood
As part of the 22nd season in the Smithsonian at Little Washington concert series, Robert Mealy, violin, and Kenneth Slowik, harpsichord, will play sonatas by the great Baroque composer Johan Sebastian Bach at 8 p.m. next Saturday (Feb. 15). The concert is at the Theatre in Washington (and repeated at the Smithsonian in that other Washington the next day).
Both performers are leaders in the field of historical performance. Slowik, harpsichordist for this concert, is artistic director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society. Baroque violinist Robert Mealy is concertmaster of the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and director of Juilliard’s Historical Performance program. He also teaches at the Yale School of Music. Between them, Slowik and Mealy have some 140 recordings to their credit.
A much-valued feature of all the concerts in the Smithsonian at Little Washington series is the commentary which Slowik provides throughout the program. His remarks shed light on the glorious music and the life and times of the featured composers. Slowik was the recipient in 2011 of the Smithsonian Secretary’s Distinguished Research Lecture Award, and the remarks during the concerts here are generally an abbreviated version of the talk which precedes each of the concerts heard in Washington, D.C.
Of the music at the upcoming concert, Slowik writes, “We will play four . . . of Bach’s six Sonatas for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord. Dating from around 1720, these pieces were, at the time, absolutely unprecedented in their scoring. They can in many ways be considered the prototype for all the rich violin sonata literature with intricate keyboard parts that followed them including those of Mozart, Beethoven and even Brahms.”
Slowik explains that “the word ‘obbligato’ in the title refers to the fact that the composer has supplied virtually all the notes to be played,” unlike the more “improvisatory” style which the keyboard player was more generally expected to adopt. Slowik concludes that, in the case of the obbligato sonatas, “Bach has woven an intricate web of melodic lines in his inimitable fashion [and the sonatas] still stand head and shoulders above any subsequently composed similar works in the baroque literature.”
Slowik will be playing a German-style harpsichord made by Thomas and Barbara Wolf of The Plains, Va., and modeled after an instrument made in Hanover in 1738 by Christian Vater. “It’s a beautiful instrument, sonorous, yet with wonderfully clear articulation — just about perfect, chronologically and sonically, for Bach.”
Tickets for the Feb. 15 performance are $25 ($10 for ages 17 and younger). Reservations (recommended) at 540-675-1253 or by email to email@example.com.
In an announcement last week of The Inn at Little Washington’s latest awards — that Rappahannock’s best-known destination has retained its standing as one of the most admired addresses in the country with a place on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2014 Gold List, the 500 Best Hotels in the World list by Travel + Leisure, as well as Five Stars in the 2014 Forbes Travel Guide Star Ratings — the Inn revealed that it plans to open its additional six rooms in April.
The Inn will be renaming the former Clopton House, still undergoing copper-top-to-bottom renovations on Main Street, as The Parsonage. “The Inn will expand their accommodations with the addition of the Victorian-style house, increasing their guestroom count by six, to a total of 24 rooms,” the announcement read. The interiors have been designed by London-based set designer Joyce Conwy Evans in conjunction with chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell.
It is the second time in four years the hotel has been honored with a Gold List ranking by Condé Nast Traveler readers, who gave the property high marks for service, food and design. This is also the fifth year in a row that Travel + Leisure readers have placed the hotel on the 500 Best List, the second highest in the state of Virginia and among the top-rated 20 percent in the United States. And it’s the 22nd consecutive year that The Inn has received Five Stars with Forbes Travel Guide for both its accommodations and restaurant.
Guest accommodation rates at The Inn at Little Washington range from $460 to $3,550. For reservations or more information, visit theinnatlittlewashington.com.
At 2 p.m. next Sunday (Feb. 16) at Washington’s Town Hall (485 Gay St.), the Friends of Liberty sponsor a President’s Day Celebration featuring George Washington himself, who’ll talk about presiding over the Constitutional Convention and about his life as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and as the first President of the United States of America. He’ll be joined by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and other Founding Fathers who will also comment and take questions from the audience.
George Washington will be portrayed by Kevin Grantz, who for more than 25 years has brought George Washington to life — on television in “Founding Fathers,” “Founding Brothers” and “Liberty or Death,” and with live performances in 28 states. Grantz has reached tens of thousands with his human portrayal of Washington — the man, not the myth. He has performed at UVA, Washington and Lee, VCU and Marshall, and at many historic sites including Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian, the American Village and Yorktown.
For more information, call 540-937-2504. This event is free of charge and children and students are welcome and encouraged to attend.