The now expanded bar areaIt started many moons ago, when Ventana was just a cozy little bar, with the seafoam margarita. As a devoted margarita supporter, I fell a little in love. Who knows what crazy sorcery or scientific prowess happens to mimic delicate ocean bubbles in delicious and alcoholic form, but I was sold. Add in the shockingly spicy jalapeño and cool cucumber margaritas and Ventana became one of our favorite bars in town.

When we heard the news that Ventana was expanding beyond its primary bar identity to full-fledged restaurant with a larger French-influenced Mexican menu, we were excited but apprehensive. Sometimes fusion just becomes funny, and we wondered how the cozy but swank vibe would translate into a bigger space. No need to wonder anymore: it’s awesome on every front, and Ventana has segued from one of our favorite bars to one of our favorite restaurants in town.

I love you, bacon wrapped lamb.First, the lovely redesigned space, which has floor-to-ceiling retractable windows looking out onto Water Street for an open air experience in nicer weather. The original bar space sits apart from the main seating area and now includes a genius double-sided bar that is ideal for groups. There’s also a cozy couch nook and great mood lighting throughout the restaurant. Too few restaurants in Charlottesville really understand the value of great lighting, and Ventana does it masterfully.

Now on to the food. This is one of the most ambitious menus in town and it consistently delivers. The Hamachi Ceviche comes with grapefruit, pink peppercorns, and habanero whipped cream. The Tuna Taco is served up with wasabi sour cream and daikon radish salsa; instead of being wrapped in a standard tortilla, it’s artfully balanced on a crispy red chip that looks more like a Beetlejuice sculpture than taco vehicle.

The menu is full of interesting flavor combos that work well together. Our lobster and chipotle bisque was sinfully rich, the ceviche is my favorite in town, and oh, the Bacon Wrapped Lamb. I’m not usually a huge lamb fan but this was cooked to perfection and served with avocado sauce and crispy salsify (I don’t know what salsify is but I like it). It’s now one of my favorite dishes in Charlottesville. The only miss for us was the Lobster and Chorizo burrito, which was too heavy on the chorizo and too light on sauce, but everything else was excellent.

Jed says: “Only some kind of mad genius could succeed in making a place simultaneously so comfortable and so chic, with chips and guacamole right at home next to bacon-wrapped lamb, cheap beer next to watermelon sea foam margaritas. A new genre of Charlottesville restaurant, and more than anything, delicious.”

award_star_gold_3 16Rating: Erin: Jed:

thumb_up 16 iconPros: Excellent inventive food, good ambience for groups or special dates, great bar and drink menu.

thumb_down 16 iconCons: Pricey.

money_dollar 16 iconPrice: Apps $7-15, Main dishes $11-28.

car famfam 16 iconParking: The usual limited downtown options.

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