Last weekend, in an effort to broaden our horizons while down at Monticello, Jon and I decided we would try and find charming and independent places to eat. It’s harder than you think- late last year, we also tried this, and we let far off into the bushes by Yelp, and then got into a big fight with Yelp because Yelp doesn’t “feature” negative reviews, which means you can get let to a totally craptastic restaurant where the maitre’d accosts you about timeshares. But that’s another story. So yeah, we don’t Yelp anymore. You can if you want, but beware of maitre’d’s with aggressive agendas and burried negative reviews.
We resorted to friends and the New York Times food page. You’d really think you should just be able to stroll around downtown, window shop a bit, and then meander into somewhere to nosh. You’d think. Well, we did. We were wrong. We tried to find a few places that had been recommended, but after closed streets, traffic nightmares, construction, no parking, and places only open between 1:00 and 4:30 every other weekday… we gave up. We just wanted some breakfast. Waffle house isn’t as bad as you might imagine.
After wandering around Monticello, we were hoping for a nice late lunch. The NYT gave a lovely review to a place out in the country- the atmosphere got great marks, the food was described in lyrical praise, we weren’t interested in their wine-tasting bar, but we managed to find it on our GPS. Bingo. Let’s go.
Well, it was certainly charming. The scenery was nice- lovely rolling Virginia hills in the blue ridge valleys. Even in the late winter, the fields were pretty and the winery was beautiful. I should have known something was off when, heading towards the barn doors, every woman I saw had on The Uniform. (It may vary slightly based on where you live, but here in Virginia, it’s knee-high riding boots (riding isn’t necessary, nor is even knowing what a horse is) slim jeans or riding-pants tucked into the boots, a large bag, a white long-sleeved t-shirt, and a puffy, dark-colored belted parka with a fur-lined hood.) Once you notice it, it’s hilarious how the Uniform is everywhere. This place was lousy with the Uniform. Jon and I giggled, headed inside. I’m not making fun of fashion- I read Tom & Lorenzo like everyone else. It’s just fun watching a trend blow up. Anyway… inside we went.
It was like Pinterst puked.
Charming and beautiful and calculatedly whimsical, from the rough-hewn rafters to the Mason jars of weedy flowers on the table and the raw linen covered, down-stuffed sofas clustered around low tables made from industrial carts with factory wheels still attached. The open duct-work and galvanized metal, the unfinished thick cuts of tree making up the wine-tasting bar… oh, it was all so pretty. Girls in the Uniform held their glasses of white wine while tall gas-fired heaters made circles of warmth on the colonnade. We asked the chirpy hostess if we could order food without wine-tasting. Sure, she said, and walked us back to our faux-rustic table.
The menu was lovely- as you have probably imagined there were chalkboards everywhere (just like at my house), and the water for our table was brought in a jug with a cork stopper with two small hand-blown cups. When you go somewhere like this, it’s implicit that part of what you pay for is the atmosphere. We know this, and had budgeted accordingly. We didn’t go in imagining we were going to have a cheap meal to eat and run.
If you were ordering from the entree section, and you read “smoked speckled trout with salt and vinegar chips, horseradish crème fraîche, preserved fennel, micro arugula, caper oil” what would you imagine? Perhaps, given it’s an entree, you might imagine a filet of trout, perhaps with some salted and soured crisp potatoes, and and maybe a side of arugula salad, with the described caper oil and preserved fennel- enough to call it a meal, right? Knowing it cost $17, you’d probably imagine something like I did. It sounded lovely.
This is what I got.
There were eight potato chips on my plate, with a tiny bit of trout on each chip. That’s a 10″ dinner plate. I think the fennel, which got it’s own byline on the menu, is the little dab to the right of where I had take a bite. Not a bunch of bites- ONE bite. To be fair, it was utterly delicious, and were this an appetizer, or— even in a push, a salad— I would have been delighted. But an entree? Really? Jon enjoyed a “Virginia Country ham sandwich with gruyère, merlot & onion jam, garden herb salad.” It was the same price as my entree, and you can see it in the background. He said it was good.
We were having fun, and aside from the fact that the cheese plate came COLD (people, come on! you can’t advertise an artisanal cheese plate and bring it right from the icebox! please read up on cheese plating…) the food, such as it was, was delicious, and the ambiance was charming. But we are decidedly not hip enough for a place like this. I felt like Anthony Bourdain- give me good food, I don’t mind paying for it, but make it worth it.
Jon snapped my picture, and posted it to Facebook before I realized what he was doing. It got a little out of hand.
I’m not telling where we went- it doesn’t matter. It was fun, and we enjoyed ourselves in spite of ourselves. In the ladies room as we were leaving, their were two young women in the Uniform, happily chatting and holding their glasses of wine. In the bathroom.
We went to Outback for dinner.