Ahh, Paris in springtime…if Virginia is for lovers, then Paris, Virginia is for food lovers — I suppose so is Paris, France, but I haven’t eaten there recently (alas) so we will stick to the Commonwealth’s Parisian culinary vanguard for now. And why not: we had one of the best meals we have ever had at the restaurant at the Ashby Inn.
I have never been overwhelmed by risotto before, but the farro risotto with oyster butter was the highlight of the meal and one of the best dishes I have ever had. Mrs. Me joked about licking her bowl — at least I thought she was kidding, but she didn’t leave a drip, so who knows? And who could blame her? Oyster butter! Buttery, oystery, tangy, creamy. Perfectly cooked risotto. Plus a garnish of lardons (pork!), spicy greens, and a solitary oyster, not at all lonely astride his little risotto hill, just happy to be there, luxuriating in the richness of it all. A brilliant, coherent mix of flavors and textures; we luxuriated too, though which of us was the walrus and which the carpenter, I cannot say.
Backing up: we started with a quartet of “snacks”: (L-R) quail rillette on toast; puffed dashi cracker; calabrese rioja on crispy potato; carbonara gougere. All good. I think the savory potato-calabrese (sausage bits, basically) was my favorite, but hard to choose.
Halibut with broccoli rabe and rice croquettes would have been a top entree anywhere else, but here it was probably my least favorite — I still happily ate every crumb. Smoked beef loin, on the other hand, was wonderful; nearly fork-tender beef, lovely pink inside, with potato puree and collards and bits of ham and mushroom. Another plate-licker, nearly.
Dessert was the big eye-opener, aside from the risotto. As if a decadent chocolate torte with toffee cream and rich, crystalized peanut butter shards weren’t enough, the plate also included a daub of “popcorn sherbet”: ice cream that tasted like popcorn. Fresh, not-burned, delicious popcorn. Ice cream. We were all like OMG reduced to giggling schoolgirls, giddy over popcorn ice cream, such a distinctive, unexpected taste. And really, really, really delicious. All this was paired with a 1985 Vouvray chenin blanc, a deep gold wine with a strong nose (in a good way) that I couldn’t quite pin down, but it absolutely matched the dessert.
All the wine pairings were great, not surprisingly, since Asbhy prides itself on food-wine complementation. Service was perfect, professional, smooth, well-timed, knowledgable. Loved our servers, loved the sommelier. Almost all the food is sourced from local farms. The atmosphere is sort of country elegant. We even loved the stylish tableware. I feel like I’m doing a commercial, and I don’t want to be that guy, but it was simply a wonderful experience that, even at a much higher price point than we usually go for, we already are looking forward to repeating, perhaps in the fall, when the ever-changing menu will be totally different, featuring whatever is fresh and seasonal at the time. Thanks for a great meal and experience, Ashby folks.