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Restaurants & Bars 4

Blue Ridge report (long)

Bacchante | Jun 1, 2004 04:11 PM

We recently spent a long weekend in the Blue Ridge to celebrate our anniversary. We generally are in Italy this time of year, and we wanted to try to approximate the experience. Having been at the Maestro chowhounds blowout, we didn’t want to go there so soon, even though it is our restaurant of choice for special occasions.

On Joe H’s recommendation from a post last fall concerning the wines at Barboursville Vineyard, we knew we wanted to visit. We decided to have lunch at Barboursville’s Palladio restaurant on Friday, which was our anniversary. We figured that since the vineyard is owned and run by Italians who also have vineyards (Zonin) in Italy, this would be as close as we could get to being in Italy. You know—several hours on a warm spring day spent over a long meal of 3 or 4 courses along with good wine. We were right. The meal was not as creative as Maestro, but very good upscale Italian food. No “great dishes” to use Joe’s phrase, but we were quite pleased, especially for the price. By the way, we opt for lunch not to save money but because that is the way we eat in Italy: long mid-day “pranzo” of several courses and shorter, lighter evening “cena,” generally with no pasta or other heavy primo piatto.

The lunch and dinner menus at Palladio are very similar. At lunch, it is priced by the number of courses, with and without wine pairings. At dinner, it is a set price for 4 courses, with and without wine pairings. Lunch is $30 for 2 courses, $36 for 3, and $42 for 4; $37, $46, and $55, respectively, with wines. Dinner is $60 and $84. I presume you could opt for the price without wine and get a bottle of what pleases you, although I did not see anyone do this. While not a lover of Virginia wines, and in fact, prefer Italian wines to any domestic wines, I have to admit that the wines were very good.

When seated, we were immediately served their sparkling wine, even before looking at the menu and indicating whether we would be drinking wine. It was comparable to the Zonin sparkling wine that I always keep in the fridge for impromptu celebratory imbibing. Very nice and refreshing, particularly on what was a rather warm day. If you buy this in the tasting room/shop next door, it is $15 the bottle.

For antipasto, I had sardine alla griglia con patate novelle, 2 nice sized, very good grilled fresh sardines with a few roast potato pieces. Husband had torta salata di ricotta, spinaci, prosciutto e cipolle dolce. This was an excellent combination of flavors, allowing the characteristics of each (including the San Daniele prosciutto, caramelized onions, and smoky tomato compote) to be discernable, but none overpowering the dish.

For primo piatto, husband had cannelloni al ragu di agnello, that is, pasta tubes stuffed with lamb and served with a sauce of tomato and eggplant. He loved it. I had risotto con felce e aglio selvatici (fiddleheads and ramps). Although this is not something that would be found in Italy, I ordered it because I wanted to eat local, seasonal foods. The risotto was well-cooked. The fiddleheads were left crisp, and their flavor was intact when eaten individually. However, I would have preferred the dish without the overpowering ramps. I suppose I should have anticipated they would have this effect on the risotto. Perhaps a few less ramps and cooking them down more into the risotto would have been better in my opinion.

For secondi piatti, it was filetto di manzo (filet of local beef) con tortino di porri (leeks) e patate, asparagi e salsiccia picante (spicy sausage) for him and brasato di capretto (goat) con polenta grigliata e sformatino alle zucchini (zucchini flan) for me. The beef was excellent and perfectly cooked (not sure if it was Sunnyside’s); the braised goat was very tender in a nicely flavored sauce that was great on the grilled polenta. Not overly “goaty.” The sides were all perfect. However, we were so full at this point, that we were unable to finish either of these dishes.

We were too full for desert or cheese and so simply finished with espresso. This is unfortunate, because I would have liked to try the cheese plate.

For the wines, the antipasti were served with the Pinot Grigio 2003, which compares favorably to upper-end Italian Pinot Grigios; the price by the bottle from their store is $14; the primi piatti were accompanied by their Chardonnay Riserva 2002, which was quite to my taste (i.e., not overly oaky or heavy like California chardonnays tend to be), price $15, and well worth it; for the secondi, I asked to have the Sangiovese Riserva 2001 instead of the wine on the menu, as sangiovese is my grape of choice. It was good, but I was disappointed in it. It couldn’t stand up to Italian sangiovese-based wines in the same price class ($19). The stand-out wine was the ’98 Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva, which my husband had with the beef. It was excellent, again surpassing many California Cabs, by being full but not overpowering. In my opinion, the chardonnay and cabernet reflect typical Italian-style winemaking vs California-style—i.e., NOT overpowering but designed to be drunk with food. (Joe, is this cab the wine that you had there last year and raved about??) I highly recommend these wines, although the cab is not cheap at $49 in the shop.

All in all, a real Italian-style afternoon, even with ruins to visit after eating and a chance to use my Italian with the ladies in the tasting room. I’m including a link for Barboursville, which contains the site for the restaurant.

Another real find was Odell’s restaurant in Gordonsville, very near where we stayed. We went there on Thursday evening and enjoyed the meal so much we returned on Saturday. The seared scallops with champagne vanilla sauce and roast asparagus were divine. Good mashed potatoes, too. Husband enjoyed the crab cake, even though there was a flavor in it that he didn’t care for and which I could not place. This is probably simply be a personal preference. We also had a very good gazpacho one evening and a nice vegetable torta on the other, with a Portobello mushroom, eggplant, mozzarella, and tomato coulis. The chef cooked for a while at the Inn at Glen Echo and somewhere else I don’t recall in D.C., as well as Landsdowne resort. They have a nice selection of wine by the glass and extremely good prices on a few high-end bottles, such as brunello.

Unfortunately, the timing and consistency of the service wasn’t up to the food. It was fine the first night when there were only one or two other parties., However, on Saturday, when the restaurant was busier, dirty plates were not removed promptly and we observed entrées served 20 seconds after the appetizer was removed. Worst of all, we were asked if we wanted desert while I was still eating my entrée. While I was shaking my head, my husband simply responded that I had not yet finished my entrée. Later, the waitress hesitated when we asked for espresso, as we had had it Thursday evening. It turned out she didn’t know how to make it, and had to get another waitress to make it for her. Odell’s should work on staff training – it seemed as if our waitress was just thrown into the fray. Nonetheless, with some attention to detail and service improved to equal the food, Odell’s has the potential to be a memorable-experience-restaurant.

Sunday on the way home, we stopped at the Sunnyside Farm market and purchased 2 new york strip steaks that we brought home and grilled, along with baked potatoes, lettuce, and strawberries we got there as well. The steaks were, of course, outstanding. The best home-grilled steak either of us had ever had. And perhaps best steak ever. That waygu beef was so tender we almost didn’t need to chew, but still full of flavor.

Another stop to mention was lunch at Smoky Joe’s in downtown Warrenton, where we had great barbecue ribs and pulled pork, along with cole slaw and collard greens.

Link: http://www.barboursvillewine.com/

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