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A revamp at the Ritz Grill; Chocolaterie Violette

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A Ritz revamp

When we last reviewed the Ritz Grill (15 S. Tejon St., ritzgrill.com) in early 2013, the longtime Tejon Street stalwart had just undergone a huge interior renovation, and its Concept Restaurants ownership team had just finished serious R&D and soul-searching to become "current," in their words. Only a couple items, like the popular Voodoo Chicken, had to stay.

Three years later, it seems that spirit of not being left behind remains, as newly appointed kitchen manager Christi Nickey says she's been granted quite a bit of leeway and creative control by Concept Restaurants chef Eric Janssen. She's already instituted more daily specials and minor menu changes, with more refreshes on the way for all menus: happy hour, late night, bar, lunch and dinner.

"I would love to reestablish The Ritz as a serious food contender and more of a chef-driven restaurant," says the 33-year-old, who recently finished an animal science degree at Clemson University. She also ran a CSA program on an organic farm in South Carolina, having previously cooked across the Palm Beach, Florida, area and graduated from the Florida Culinary Institute.

When she recently arrived in the Springs "for a change of pace," she worked part-time at the Ritz as a line cook and joined newbie Red Gravy as the morning sous chef. Red Gravy's chef Eric Brenner says "she will be a great asset to the Ritz in elevating the kitchen operation."

One of Nickey's first moves was to begin making her desserts in-house, including new Key lime crème brulée and apple strudel offerings. She says sales of sweets have already almost doubled. She's also adding new salads and springtime items, including new sandwiches. And you'll now find street-style pulled pork tacos with crispy slaw and chili-lime aioli, as well as a lamb shepherd's pie.

"My heart is with local food — I'm gearing up for farmers market season," she says. "I'm hoping I can direct the Ritz in that direction, and I think Eric will be supportive as long as my food costs are where they need to be."

Truffle time

White chocolate infused with rose petals. Milk chocolate dosed with ginger, cinnamon, clove and molasses for a gingerbread flavor. Dark chocolate laced with mint, cloaked in mint-infused white chocolate, coated in dark chocolate with candied mint, for a Zebra Mint truffle.

These are all products on display from Chocolaterie Violette (see Facebook page), a new cottage industry effort that you should see at farmers markets this summer. Owner Shelly Cribben says she's self-taught through books and trial batches, and she draws some inspiration from time spent in Belgium. "I always liked baking," she says. "I figured this was something I could do, too, and I wasn't bad at it, so I kept going."

Just one more current experiment: a cinnamon truffle made with Firebomb moonshine from 3 Hundred Days of Shine.

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