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For upcoming events by Megan Fitzroy Phelan, Patrick Phelan and Andrew Manning, visit longovenrva.com. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Bowls of cured rockfish with mushrooms and fresh parsley sit ready for their seaweed broth. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Potatoes, sliced thin, dehydrated and smoked, await inclusion in Longoven's mussels dish for the evening. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Fitzroy Phelan's cranberry and white chocolate dessert, a playful nod to winter. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Andrew Manning helps plate the way through the start of the meal. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Layers of smoked and dehydrated potato swim in a mussel cream sauce along with whole mussels and fennel. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Megan Fitzroy Phelan, left, and Patrick Phelan debate the plating of a verdant broccoli sponge dish. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
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Light, airy and bright, a delicate broccoli sponge began the pop-up at Sub Rosa. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
Sitting pristinely on a table, a textured pile of white is the star of the conversation. Chefs Andrew Manning and Patrick Phelan, and pastry chef Megan Fitzroy Phelan, huddle around the dessert: a puck of white chocolate topped with cranberry and a small mountain of “snow”: yogurt and meringue. It’s to be the final dish in the following night’s sold-out Longoven pop-up at Sub Rosa Bakery — another installment of the trio’s prix-fixe dinner series that’s garnering a reputation for creative and visually stunning plates, and tickets that seem to disappear as soon as an event’s announced.
“Let’s break the meringue up because it’s sittin’ in sheets right now,” Phelan notes quietly. “And the snow has got to fall lighter. This clumped because it was pre-done. Let’s just do yogurt, buttermilk, a little sour cream.”
“As far as ounces go, I mean what, there’s like, an ounce here?” Fitzroy Phelan inspects the dessert she began preparing more than seven hours earlier.
“I think it’d be awesome not to see any red,” Manning adds, spoon in hand.
Tested just out of the freezer, the white chocolate hasn’t yet tempered. The texture, however, is fantastic. There’s a problem with the cranberry, which is still punctuated with seed and skin. Do they make two snows? Should they compote the cranberry? Do they pre-scoop the meringue? Should they add a vinegar component? What about an herb?
Every dish receives devotion to detail, and with pop-ups scheduled as often as every other Sunday — and each dinner featuring four or five new courses — that’s a lot of effort, but it’s effort extended gratefully. Surrounded by a sink full of squid; a smoker filled with paper-thin potato sheets; and a sous vide machine slowly cooking its way through pork, the trio is in its element.
“Plainly speaking, we love to push boulders up hills,” Phelan says. “We’re just built that way. That’s what brought us together. I think we’re all the same personality types to a certain degree: If we’re not in the shit and we’re not feeling like we’re at least personally being challenged on some level — and I don’t want it to sound pretentious that’s it’s always got to be something new but — we’re those types of personalities.”
Phelan and Manning realized this quickly while cooking at Helen’s before Manning took a position in Italy, where he remained for 11 years. Longoven wouldn’t find its pastry chef until 2003 or 2004, when Phelan met his future wife while working together in Connecticut. On a honeymoon stop in Italy, the three discussed opening a restaurant, but it wasn’t until Manning was moving back to Richmond that they spoke of it again. Ready to leave New York City, the Phelans jumped at the chance.
Now nearly two years in, Longoven’s pop-ups are picking up steam, helping the team gain exposure before eventually opening the restaurant; gauging what Richmond diners want; and learning which dishes work.
“Food can be an experience, and it doesn’t have to have a lot of money attached to it or feel like you’ve gotta order a pizza afterwards because it’s built with tweezers," Phelan says. "But the value can be in the experience and in the moment, and in sharing that meal with people at the table.”
It isn’t fine dining. It isn’t molecular gastronomy. It’s simple, even classic, flavor combinations elevated through complex technique and plating that guides your fork through, ideally, a new way of eating. It’s unlike anything on the table in Richmond, and ranges from $55 to $75 with beverage pairings.
“It depends on who you are, but I couldn’t imagine [cooking] and settling for less and just saying, ‘Well this is what the people want.' I’d rather pump gas, seriously,” says Manning. “If you can’t keep growing and pushing yourself, what’s the point of doing anything?”
Want to attend Longoven's next pop-up event? Sign up for the trio's mailing list online to get notifications about their April 24 dinner.