A former gas station-turned hot dog stand in Norfolk’s Riverview borough recently underwent yet another facelift. Unlike its predecessors, the space’s newest inhabitant, Blanca Food + Wine, swaps classic American fare for elevated European cuisine.
When Blanca owner and Executive Chef Courtney White told me that first-comers would be surprised by the renovated space, she wasn’t kidding. White managed to turn a humble diner with old-school metal countertops into an elegant, European oasis. While the counters remain, the rest of the bistro’s interior has been updated with soft colors, dainty tea lights and a row of tasteful bar stools that give guests a front row seat to Blanca’s truly open kitchen.
Just outside the bar’s side door is a covered patio that seems as if it’d been pulled straight from the French countryside. In the center of the patio stands a tall wooden table made from scraps of the Nags Head pier. Ornamenting the eight-person counter is a simple glass chandelier and bouquet of white flowers.
A 6 o’clock reservation during Blanca’s soft opening landed my mom, sister and I at a corner table in the covered patio. Not only did we have a direct view into the bar, but surrounding views of Blanca’s outdoor space as well. The concrete slab formally scattered with bright red picnic tables is now edged with dark greens, greys and whites. White made some cosmetic changes to the tables and installed towering wooden trellises and planted boxwoods to separate the bistro from the nearby parking lot.
Our waitress greeted us with a cold bottle of water for the table and a cutting board laden with sliced bread and a hearty dish of creamy butter. We munched on our starter as we glanced over the menu, torn between at least four different starters and entrees.
Immediately teasing our appetites was a fried eggplant topped with mint, honey, almonds and jalapeño, a dish White discovered while visiting Spain last year. The eclectic mix of savors was too good to pass up, so we settled for the Spanish-inspired appetizer as well as an order of spaghetti a limone to share.
I would be remiss if I did not confess that the two dishes, in both presentation and taste, were by far some of the best I’ve ever had. Before I even cleared my plate, I was craving them again.
The eggplant arrived warm and colorful. It was lightly battered in a mix of soda water and bread flour, giving the dish the perfect balance of crunch and airiness without stealing away from the nightshade’s mellow flavor. The combination of mint and jalapeño was surprisingly refreshing with just the right amount of spice. Counterbalancing the bite from the red and green jalapeños were the saccharine drizzle of honey and earthy nuttiness from the almonds.
As we worked our way through the eggplant, we spooned forkfuls of spaghetti onto our plates. White describes the dish as elevated childhood, and her description could not be more accurate. The blend of parmesan cheese, emulsified butter, lemon juice and housemade pasta was familiar, but somehow unique and more flavorful than your typical bowl of butter-and-cheese noodles. White’s bursts with lemon zest and was rich without leaving you glutted. White especially loves her spaghetti a limone because it reminds of her of Supper, a cherished restaurant in New York City’s East Village. Like most dishes on Blanca’s menu, the spaghetti a limone lets White share her favorite, far-away savors with local guests.
As is the natural dining progression in my family, we requested a dessert menu. We chose White’s favorite, a chocolate mousse, and were surprised by its heavy texture. The mousse was less like the fluffy ramekins I’m accustomed to and more like a chocolatey cookie dough. Texture aside, it was decadent, filling and just bitter enough to get a real taste of the cocoa.
Blanca officially opened on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and I have no doubt that the European bistro’s reservation list will soon become one of the most coveted in all of Norfolk.
Blanca Food + Wine is located at 4117 Granby St., Norfolk and is open from 5–10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.