How do you follow up a dinner at Inn at Little Washington, where food and service reign supreme? My husband and I have a splendid meal there as part of our 30th anniversary celebration. We head to the stunning Keswick Hall in Charlottesville for the remainder of the weekend.
We decide to dine at the Glass Haus Kitchen for “inspired American cuisine.” I don’t immediately think of Charlottesville as a destination for creative cooking. A recent Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema has deemed the restaurant worthy of “plugging Charlottesville into your GPS.” I’m prepared to be open-minded and shed my long-held image of C’ville as a stodgy sort of town.
When it comes time for our reservation, we consider cancelling. This is a day where we’ve already had breakfast twice (see my previous blog post for details). I am not ready for another full out meal. But who knows when another opportunity to dine here will arise. I assure my husband that we will eat lighter than usual, perhaps sharing an appetizer and ordering light entrees.
Once we arrive, I’m glad we’ve stuck to the plan. The setting is contemporary, cool, and creative.
Our server arrives promptly. He has a French accent and an attitude. He appears annoyed when we decline drinks. We explain that we’re heading out for a drink after dinner, and we’ve already indulged at local wineries earlier in the day. Enough is enough.
We tell him we want to share an appetizer of sunchokes, sunflower seeds and brussels sprouts. This doesn’t go over very well. “The menu is meant to be enjoyed as a three course dining experience. The appetizers are not intended for sharing,” he says. I shrink into my seat and consider my options. A small voice in my head is saying “don’t listen to him” while another says “do it for the blog.” I think about Hannah on the HBO show “Girls.” She forces herself into all kinds of toxic situations for the sake of her writing. Should I eat an entire appetizer for mine?
In the end, my capitulation pays off. I order a first course of scallop and squid ink tortellini with ham dashi, miso, scallions, and ham chips. It is sublime. The unique balance of flavors works perfectly, and the broth is absolutely heavenly. It’s light and not too filling, and actually whets my appetite for the next course.
My husband has the sunchokes starter for himself. In truth the portion would have been fine to share between two diners who aren’t particularly hungry. On the other hand, it’s not exactly a chore for him to finish this delightful dish.
My plan for a light entree dissipates. Piedmontese ribeye with purple cape peas, dried scallops, scallion kimchi, and harissa bernaise seems like an odd combination but the flavors meld beautifully. The scallion kimchi in particular wows me. I would eagerly imbibe a few more drops of the harissa bernaise if I could. The purple cape peas are reminiscent of baked beans in texture and taste, which may not sound appealing, but they add a subtle sweetness to the dish. Damn if I don’t eat nearly every bite.
My husband has seared tuna resting on a bed of lovely fingerling potatoes. The tuna is bright and fresh, and tastes as beautiful as it appears.
In theory we could have done without this meal, but the enjoyment of the food makes it a worthwhile venture. We peruse the dessert menu but decline the offer, deciding instead to hold out for a Charlottesville delicacy- the Grillswith.* Our server is not amused. I can’t decide if this is the response of an individual who is generally reserved, or if I have truly failed him as a diner. Whichever the case, my perception of his disapproval doesn’t sit well. I can’t help but think back to my previous night’s meal at the Inn at Little Washington, where satisfying the customer is of prime importance. This is a stark contrast.
Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Glass Haus Kitchen, particularly since I didn’t have a full experience. Clearly Chef Ian Boden’s innovation and competence in the kitchen is worthy of the trip. And, ultimately the Glass Haus Kitchen succeeds in shattering my misguided impression of Charlottesville.
*Krispy Kreme donuts, lightly grilled and topped with vanilla ice cream. This is seriously one of my favorite desserts on earth.