After our stay at Primland Resort in the rural Meadows of Dan, our visit to Virginia took us to Charlottesville and Richmond. There, the food scenes are gaining more traction and national attention of late. Here are four restaurants we enjoyed in the college town and the capital city.
The last time I was in downtown Charlottesville, I was drawn to an old brick building with a weathered façade and vintage Pepsi-Cola sign out front. The word “Restaurant” was painted on the outside, but it looked as if hadn’t been open for years. Recently, I found myself standing in front of the building once again, because The Clifton had recommended the restaurant for a fine-dining experience. In 1989, The Washington Post called C&O “the least prepossessing fine restaurant in America.” Others now call it legendary. Since 2014, Dean Maupin — formerly a chef at both The Clifton and Keswick Hall — has been its chef-owner, and upon his takeover he promised not to change a thing. We’re glad he didn’t, as this former Chesapeake and Ohio Railway building wears its history on its sleeves. The cozy timber-and-brick interior offers four compact dining spaces in a meandering layout dotted with white-tablecloth seating. My pan-seared trout with capers, lemon-butter sauce and toasted almonds was a delight, but it was my appetizer — hand-rolled tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, pea shoots and copious amounts of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano — that I couldn’t get enough of. Closed Sunday and Monday.
515 East Water Street, Charlottesville. Tel. (434) 971-7044
The Clifton also recommended that we spend an afternoon browsing the Charlottesville pedestrian mall, an eight-block stretch of downtown that offers clothing stores, bookshops, galleries, cafés and restaurants. On a weekday, it was much quieter than it had been on a previous weekend visit. Tilman’s is a wine bar and specialty shop offering prepared foods, coffee, an array of unusual wines and made-to-order items. The space is bright and clean with a bistro vibe. We had a delicious lunch there, ordering a roasted heirloom tomato crostini, and a prosciutto and fig panini with fresh mozzarella and a side of French carrot salad. Most impressive may have been the wine selection, which focuses on more-esoteric wine grapes. The co-owner, who has been in the wine business since her teens, says her goal is accessibility — to choose inexpensive mostly Old World wines “for everyone and everybody.” The day we were there, Tilman’s was featuring a flight of Spanish wines: a Hondarrabi Zuri from the Getariako Txakolina appellation in Basque Country, a Bobal rosé from Valencia and a Grenache from León. I wish I could transport this place closer to home. Closed Tuesday.
Tilman’s Cheese & Wine
406 East Main Street, Charlottesville. Tel. (434) 566-0777
After Longoven opened in the up-and-coming Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond in 2018, it was named one of Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants in America and hailed as an important milestone in the local restaurant scene. Accolades aside, I was unsure what to expect. The restaurant’s website said it was unable to accommodate vegan, keto and Whole30 dietary restrictions; reservations were pre-paid ($110 a person); and there was even a weather policy listed. Despite my worry that this might be a holier-than-thou experience, the welcome we received could not have been warmer. We were promptly seated in the dining room where service was informative and patient all evening. The Zen-like room, with its minimalist raw-concrete floors, black walls and wood ceilings, set the tone. Longoven’s menu is a seasonal six-course affair that blends a New Nordic reverence for ingredients with a Japanese sensibility. Our dinner began with a beef tartare “snack,” after which the tasting menu was dominated by seafood. Each dish was innovative and beautifully presented: scallop with Ibérico lardo; shrimp with avocado, tomato and daikon; eggplant with chanterelle, quinoa and mozzarella; maitake with cured egg and miso; and halibut with dashi butter and amaranth. We could have stopped at the chocolate cake dessert, but a plate of mignardises was irresistible. Next time, we’ll choose to eat in the inviting garden and have the $85-per-person wine pairing. Note that on-street parking can be difficult. Closed Sunday and Monday.
2939 West Clay Street, Richmond. Tel. (804) 308-3497
Set inside a century-old former elementary school that has been transformed into apartments and creative-use spaces, Blue Atlas provides breakfast and lunch counter service, plus full-service dinner four nights a week. The day we were there, we ordered from the market menu, which offers an array of soups, salads and sandwiches that promise something for everyone. Between four of us, we tried a fried shrimp po’boy, marinated tofu banh mi, vegan falafel and crispy fried chicken. Each dish was satisfying, and the setting, outside on the elevated patio, offered a breeze and view of the surrounding Fulton Hill neighborhood. The dinner menu, divided into four regions — Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia and the Americas — is also globally inspired. Choose from potato-and-leek pierogi, a Japanese cabbage pancake, lamb arayes, hearts of palm ceviche and more. Husband-and-wife chefs Rachel Best and Ben Watters bring formal training and impressive résumés to this informal space, which opened just last year. There is a full bar with local beers on tap, several wines by the glass and bottle, along with tempting cocktails. For those who don’t want to imbibe, the “Bebidas” menu is unique, offering nitro cherry hibiscus tea and Iranian soda! Closed Monday and Tuesday, and Sunday dinner.
1000 Carlisle Avenue, Suite 200, Richmond. Tel. (804) 554-0258