Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ashby Inn

Sunday, I wanted to take Ann out for a nice lunch to celebrate our anniversary, which quite naturally given my business, falls on a work night this year. There's a new chef at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia and I wanted to go meet him and see what his food is all about, professional curiosity if you will. Moreover, customers ask me daily about his food and whether they should dine there and I wanted to be able to finally answer their incessant questions.

A couple of my former employees work there so I asked one of them to set up a lunch for us. I had asked that we not order, that the chef send us whatever he thought was a fair representation of dishes, so that we could get to know his cooking style. Also, knowing that it was Sunday after a hard Saturday night, I sent word to keep it simple.

We arrived about 1:45, just before the close of their brunch seating at 2:00pm. I let them choose the hour of our dining to best fit their reservation book. Despite it being a rainy Sunday, the parking lot was nearly full when we arrived.

St. Innocent Pinot, A Gift
No sooner than we had sat down than Stuart Brennen, the sommelier, appeared at our table with a bottle of St. Innocent Pinot as a gift from Rory, the former employee who set up our lunch.

Smoked Salmon, Avocado Mousse, Egg, Pickled Ramps
The first course was this smoked salmon plate which was mainly fine, but the avocado mousse tasted to me to be made from overripe avocado.

Chanterelles, Braised Chicken, Frittata
The second course was this goat cheese frittata with a sauté of chanterelles and some pieces of braised chicken. It was plated with a sauce that was entirely too sweet.

Crepe, Goat Cheese, Honey, Walnuts
This crepe filled with goat cheese came next and was so sweet it could have been dessert. It should have been in retrospect, even though it is offered on the menu as a savory course.

My Lovely Annie

The Star of our Meal
After the Pinot, which was a very young fruit forward wine typical of Eola-Amity and the 2012 vintage, we started talking to Stuart about another wine to follow. I mentioned that we have been drinking a lot of Nebbiolo recently and we discussed the local Virginia producers. We ultimately decided to go Italian (never any question in my mind) and Stuart returned some minutes later with this bottle of Marchesi di Barolo Barbaresco, a very fine choice. It was the best thing we had all day.

The prior "savory" crepe course was sweeter and more dessert-like than this almond sponge, meringue, and lemon curd dessert. Although this dessert looks pretty, it certainly is not the kitchen's best work, the cake being tired and a touch dry and the figs being underripe.

Relaxing Outside, Barbaresco in Hand
Because of the timing of the second bottle of wine and the dessert course, we had plenty of wine left. Not wanting to keep them from turning the dining room, we asked if we could take our wine outside and finish it, which we did. The rain had subsided and it was pleasant enough, in a soupy kind of way, to sit out back and peer through the mist.

The Ashby Grounds are Beautiful
The grounds certainly are beautiful and there are many times when I wish my restaurant were situated in such a lovely setting, but then I think about the upkeep and shudder. Annie and I had a great time and truly enjoyed the Barbaresco: that part of our mission was a great success. My mission to meet the new chef and understand his food was pretty much an utter failure. I still really don't know any more about him and his food than I knew before we ate there.

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