Castanea brings more to Richmond than Mediterranean inspired cuisine and a creative, ever-changing cocktail list. According to chef and Richmond dining scene veteran, Phillip Denny, Castanea’s entire dining experience is designed to evoke the feeling of spending an intimate evening with friends at a small town ristorane on the Italian coast...or Spanish, Moroccan, or Lebanese coasts for that matter. Castanea casts its culinary net wide eschewing trends or “concepts” in favor of fresh ingredients, rustic foods, big flavors, and a welcoming atmosphere.
The dinner menu highlights small plates to encourage sharing along with house-made pastas and gelato, pizzas, and paella (made in the largest paella pan we’ve ever seen). You’ll find classic dishes often prepared with an unexpected twist - all part of Chef Denny’s goal of encouraging diners to discover new flavors or experience familiar dishes in a new way.
Castanea’s rotating cocktail very much embodies the spirit of the restaurant. Just like your main course, your cocktail is likely to feature ingredients that change not only to suit the seasons but also to take advantage of the freshest product available. And there’s just about no better place to sip cocktails and enjoy a snack than on Castanea’s newly opened patio while enjoying some live music.
We sat down with bartender Doug Clodfelter to talk about how the similarities between European and Southern hospitality and what kinds of cocktails changing weather inspires.
How long have you been bartending?
I'm actually pretty green. Coming up on a collective 9 months or so. I started bar backing at a small Italian restaurant in Midlothian, VA. There wasn't anything too crafty going on there as far as drinks go. It was mostly simple stuff like bourbon and gingers or gin and tonics. I later picked up a few gigs as a VIP bartender at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow. That was mostly high volume beer cracking, wine pouring, and basic mixed drinks. I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time when a position opened up at Comfort years later. That's where I got into the "craft" of cocktails. Derek, the bar manager was a wonderful instructor. That guy is packed full of knowledge. He made the job not feel like work.
Describe Castanea’s Cocktail program
As Chef Denny will tell you, the whole restaurant centers around the idea of hospitality. Creating a place where people can relax and spend a couple of hours trying new things, really treating the dining experience as a social event. Our cocktail menu, and my role as a bartender here supports that. Overall, we try to keep things fun and fresh. You’ll find seasonality in our cocktails that mirrors the emphasis on seasonality in our menu. There’s always something new to explore.
Favorite part about working at Castanea?
Easily it’s the energy I get from both the guests and the team. It's a wonderful environment to work in. There's a lot of freedom here as well. If I have an idea everyone is on board and I can run with it. It's always great to be part of a team where everyone contributes.
What is the cocktail you hope people order?
On our menu, probably the Elder Wand. As far as cocktails I've developed, I think this one is really is a journey. That exploration is definitely in line with the larger vision at Castanea: trying new things, experiencing new flavors in new combinations. It's truly a unique - and delicious - cocktail. Oh, and we have a serious Sherry, Port, and Madeira program, all of which pair excellently with our house made gelato.
What’s your favorite classic cocktail?
Without a doubt the Sazerac! It was one of the first cocktails I learned to build. There's something about that first sip that takes me back to my earlier craft cocktail days. For me it's nice to know where you started, that's something special.
What’s your favorite cocktail when no one is looking?
I've been a big fan of The Vesper recently. I didn't know what it was a month or so ago until I had a guest request one. After taking the the old “straw sample” when I mixed it up I was hooked. You might know The Vesper as the drink James Bond ordered in Casino Royale. It’s a martini with Gin, Vodka, and a splash of Lillet Blanc. Very refreshing. Very strong.
Photos by Alex Kreher
- 1 1/2 oz. Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine
- 1/2 oz. Espolon Reposado
- 1/2 oz. Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
- 3-4 Fresh Basil Leaves
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass with 1-2 cubes of ice. Top with club soda and a few drops of habanero tincture (optional). Garnish with grapefruit twist and basil leaf.