Delicious wine and fine cuisine are never far apart, and in Virginia, we had more than our fair share of superb meals, as well as one or two disasters. Here are the highs and lows of our trip:
Our dinner here, in perhaps the region’s most romantic restaurant, started with a sublime salad of jewel-like vegetables at the absolute peak of ripe perfection. Carrots, beets, okra, turnips, zucchini, pea-sized tomatoes and herbs burst with fresh flavor, complemented by earthy black cocoa powder and rich sheep’s milk cheese. The salad was followed by delicate halibut and a dish of fluffy squash agnolotti. Alas, my good fortune could not last, and for my entrée, I was presented with a brown-rimmed plate of brown duck topped with brown sauce and brown onions. It tasted even worse than it looked, the duck ranging from merely tough to positively gristly.
We enjoyed a memorable lunch in this cozy space, enhanced by elegant Barboursville Vineyards wines. The exquisite Caprese salad — with house-made burrata cheese, flavorful heirloom tomatoes, crunchy fleur de sel and peppery baby lettuces—was summer on a plate, particularly when matched with a bright rosé of Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese.
This cheery little bistro in tiny Gordonsville, about 10 minutes from The 1804 Inn, serves traditional French fare in a formal style more suited to the Right Bank than small- town Virginia. The perfectly cooked “Escargots Forestière” came in a lush garlic cream sauce studded with wild mushrooms and spiked with fresh tarragon and Pernod.
The gourmet restaurant at Keswick Hall has marvelous views over the golf course and a menu of upscale comfort food. The Polyface Farms chicken in the Hoppin’ John proved to be sumptuously tender, supported by addictively savory beans and rice. I also loved my breakfast of sausage-stuffed Southern-fried quail. Comfort indeed.
We had a wonderful time on our tour of Stratford Hall, the home of Robert E. Lee, especially since our guide seemed to regard the plantation’s former inhabitants (going back to the 18th century) as old friends. The Dining Room, however, looked terribly dated, and my Salade Niçoise came with chicken rather than tuna. “I think we’re out of tuna?” asked the waitress, of no one in particular.
While in downtown Charlottesville, you might be tempted to dine at this restaurant and shop, which offers some 100 wines by the glass. Don’t. On top of the tired décor and inattentive service, the seafood paella we split was inedible. Soupy and inexcusably bland, this sad version of the Valencian classic wouldn’t have passed muster in a Soviet airport.
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