Entry room We thought we knew all the top restaurants in Charlottesville and vicinity. Clifton Inn, Duner’s, Mas, Tavola. Maybe Palladio and Ventana, too. Whenever someone asked for a fine dining recommendation, we pulled something off this list. How silly we were. How naive! One of the best restaurants in Charlottesville has been right under our noses for years, tucked away above an antique store on Court Square.

A walk up the stone and brick steps leads you into a romantically lit lobby, with the dining room beyond. Both are lushly furnished with fine antiques and pristine white linen. The atmosphere is hushed, maybe even to a fault, depending on the kind of evening you’re looking for. When the fine wine started flowing, I felt I had to modulate my laughter so as not to disrupt the natural peacefulness of the room, which included two other diners whispering over their plates in the corner.

Without a doubt the best crab cake I've eaten -- good and chunky lump meatThe “Southern chic” food was mostly spectacular. You choose from one of three appetizers, three entrées, and three desserts. A “Southwestern” chicken amuse bouche got us started with its delicately tart, smoky spiciness. The sting on our tongues was promptly evened out, however, by the best crab cake this reviewer has ever eaten – large chunks of fresh lump crab meat poking through a crispy bread crust, with hints of mustard, lemon, garlic, and molasses. The zesty “Creole Remoulade” on the side was a dollop of perfection. The filet of beef was expertly cooked, and the mushroom-manchego dish, oozing impossibly beefy savoriness, was one of the best vegetarian dishes we’ve had in town.

With virtually no one else to serve, our waitress was very helpful and attentive. It takes a while for the food to arrive, but this won’t surprise you when you taste and see how carefully everything is put together, and when you see how impossibly small the kitchen is, staffed by a single chef. At the end of the meal, the charmingly quirky Chef Karl Bock himself sent us some free port wine before emerging for a chat and entertaining our questions about his food and background.

If you’re like we were, you passed by The Inn at Court Square a number of times and thought it looked quaint – a place to investigate as on option for out-of-town guests – but not worth a visit for its restaurant. Maybe you saw the sign advertising lunch specials and imagined it to be homestyle utility fare geared towards guests. It’s true that the Inn is an excellent place to stay, but we in-towners should give it a lot more credit for being an excellent place to eat.

Erin says: “An undiscovered gem for a romantic night out on the town.”

award_star_gold_3 16Rating: Erin: Jed:

thumb_up 16 iconPros: Excellent food, antique furnishings, good service and personable chef, no wait.

thumb_down 16 iconCons: Very quiet, not much of a scene, which otherwise makes for a perfect intimate night out. Some dishes may not be available because of limited stock.

money_dollar 16 iconPrice: Entrées $20-35.

car famfam 16 iconParking: Limited, though there is often street parking within a couple of blocks, and the Market Street garage is a block-and-a-half away.

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