Duner’s is without a doubt one of the finest restaurants in central Virginia. Its menu, which changes almost daily, features rich game meats, excellent seafood, and farm-fresh produce. The food arrives artfully arranged on plates in a candlelit atmosphere that feels like a gussied up farmhouse dining room. The masterful service is always both friendly and formal, prompt but not hovering. If it weren’t for our most recent dining experience there I would definitely be giving it five stars.
It was a weekday night and Erin and I decided that work had kept us too late to cook. We went through the usual rigamarole of asking each other, back and forth again and again, where the other felt like going for dinner, eliminating options, until she said, “How about Duner’s?” It had been a while and it seemed like a crazy thing to do on a regular weeknight, so we sped out Ivy Road in the darkness to the glowing beacon in the woods that is Duner’s restaurant.
The main room overflowed with tanned and handsome, mostly older diners in colored and striped polo shirts, speaking animatedly over balloon wine glasses about the best and worst putts of the day. We nodded to the owner behind the copper-hooded bar who we don’t really know but have just seen so many times that it seemed like nodding was the right thing to do, and grabbed a booth in the corner.
The tomato, cucumber, and melon gazpacho sprinkled with cilantro was delicious and quickly reminded us of an important point about Duner’s: the appetizers are often better than the entrees. On the other hand, the lemon pepper shrimp and bacon panzanella was just wrong. It was creamy with no acid for relief, feeling like lotion in the mouth. And the shrimp, though abundant, were gray and lifeless. I had high hopes for the blackened tuna carpaccio, but it tasted a little old as well, requiring a heap of capers and egg and cream to provide the flavor.
It was clearly an off night, and maybe we chose the wrong dishes. The crab cakes and filet, which are never absent from the ever-changing menu, looked scrumptious as usual, and a couple of our dishes were on par with what we had come to expect. If you’re looking for the best of what’s around, you’ll usually find it at Duner’s. Just be prepared for some inconsistency as the two chefs rotate in and out throughout the week and the menu changes accordingly.
Erin says: “The outside looks like an old Denny’s, the inside looks like a country club, but the food is pure deliciousness.”
Rating: Erin: Jed:
Pros: Menu that changes seasonally and daily, appetizers, first-class service, romantic.
Cons: Outside of town on a road that demands you drive it with less than your fill of wine, expensive, no reservations and busy on weekends.
Price: Dinner for two with drinks $75-$100.
Parking: There is almost always a spot available in the lot around the restaurant.