Secco Wine Bar is a thriving, two-and-a-half-year-old operation in Richmond’s Careytown neighborhood that has won praise for its food-friendly wine list and Mediterranean-inspired food ranging from fried chickpeas with Aleppo pepper to pork liver terrine with pear mostarda.
Business has been so good, in fact, that owner Julia Battaglini has decided to close her River City Cellars wine shop next door and expand Secco into that space.
The man running the restaurant’s kitchen is Tim Bereika, who took a break from cooking at the Pork Crawl, recently thrown by the American Pork Board in Virginia, to talk with Nation’s Restaurant News.
Tell me about the food at Secco.
It’s Mediterranean inspired. It kind of goes along with the type of wines we carry [which is mostly European], and that’s my background in cookery, but we use a lot of regional. We kind of see what’s coming into season, what’s going out of season, and we change our menu accordingly. We still do some traditional dishes, too. We do a schnitzel sandwich, lots of fresh pastas, a tortilla española.
We do a lot creatively, but inspiration comes from regional ingredients with sort of a background in Mediterranean cuisine.
What are some regional ingredients in Virginia that you like?
It depends on the season. Right now we’re working with Tokyo turnips, kale, collard greens, a lot of root vegetables, like carrots, and some cabbages. In the summer obviously tomatoes, squash blossoms, lots of different squashes, mixed greens, lettuces, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, pears, apples. We’re pretty well located and have diverse growing seasons.
You’re originally from Boston. Did you cook there, too?
No, I kind of grew into cooking later in life. I originally went to art school for graphic design and went down that road for a little while, but I got sick of sitting behind a desk for an ad agency. It was Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop. I still wanted to be creative and I always liked to cook, so I sort of went that route.
How did it you go about it?
I enrolled in a culinary school to get a foundation. I went to J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond. They have a culinary program there.
I took some classes there and worked for a caterer part time, just to get my feet wet. Then I went to Italy for three months for a total immersion thing. I took classes and worked six days a week.
Where in Italy?
I pretty much stayed in Florence the whole time — 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in class, then 3 to midnight or so cooking. I tried to immerse myself and learn as much as I could.
I came back and worked in a northern Italian restaurant here called Amici Ristorante. It’s been around for about 20 years. I learned from them a little bit, got some line experience, and then moved from there to a country club when the recession happened and stuck it out there for a couple years to get a steady paycheck and some more line experience.
And then to Secco, which was the first kitchen that I was in charge of. I’ve been there two and a half years, since we opened. I helped paint the walls and tile the floor.
What’s a dish you’re making these days that you’re proud of?
I make a gnocchi that I infuse with fenugreek, and then we braise off lamb from Border Springs Lamb in Patrick Springs, Va. The shepherd there, Craig Rogers, does a great job with his animals.
So we make a nice ragú with the braised lamb and finish the dish with house-made preserved lemon.
How do you infuse gnocchi with fenugreek?
It’s fenugreek powder, so we just add it to the dough. It’s real simple but it has a nice twist to it.