I tend to be overly critical of my dining experiences. Unfortunately, this penchant for tough criticism makes it hard to come away from a meal feeling positive. Such was not the case, however, after my most recent dinner at the Ivy Inn. The entire evening was first-rate and one of the most pleasurable Charlottesville restaurant experiences in memory.
My only other visit to Ivy Inn took place nearly 5 years ago and I remember being thoroughly unimpressed. All I can say is that I painfully regret having stayed away so long. They may well be producing food that is both more interesting and better executed than any of their local competitors.
The arrival of an elegant amuse-bouche of impeccably seasoned green tomato gazpacho with mini croutons and basil oil set the tone right away. After perusing the menu selections and feeling tempted by all of them, it was clear the chef meant business.
The appetizers shined. A crispy pork belly with vegetable slaw and red chili vinegar had an old southern heart with modern nuance. Elegant pate de champagne with pickled vegetables, cornichon and crostini was a tip of the hat to standard French fare, but the artful presentation made the dish feel original. The delicate creaminess and mild liver flavor were balanced perfectly by the crunchy, briny bite of the pickled vegetables.
Entrees elevated local protein to a new level. One stand-out was the Double H Farms pork rib chop with bourbon-bacon jus. Bourbon-bacon jus. Need I say more? A duet of Border Springs Farm lamb – grilled lamb chops and sausage-wrapped lamb loin – was served with tzatziki-dressed roasted garlic potatoes and a squash and eggplant caponata with feta. It was nice to see a touch of Mediterranean influence. My only complaint was that the homemade pita bread arrived burnt.
To our surprise, the menu showcased four seafood entrees. The grilled red drum fillet with Israeli couscous and slow-roasted tomatoes received a tableside bath of luscious basil pesto butter. Let’s be honest, who among us wouldn’t want to be bathed in flavored butter every once in a while?
Ivy Inn’s exceedingly user-friendly wine list represented a range of price levels and styles. As a whole, the selection heavily favored the West Coast, which others may find too limiting, but they also have a number of well-chosen Virginia selections, which was refreshing to see. Too many local establishments trumpet the use of local ingredients and then fail to incorporate a wide range of local wine. Ivy Inn puts its money where its mouth is and does both.
The place was absolutely packed (on a Wednesday night, no less) and there was ample concern the service would suffer. Thankfully that was not the case. The hostess picked up slack all evening and ultimately took over as our server. She did an expert job tagging in and our party received top-notch service.
I look forward to my next meal at Ivy Inn – I can promise you it will not be another 5 years before I return.
Jed says: “It has been five years for me too, but I remember thinking it was an undiscovered gem even then. Long past time to put them back in the mix!”
Pros: Wide selection of Virginia wines, inventive entrees, attentive service.
Cons: Less exciting desserts, wine list California heavy, pricey, ambiance differs considerably among
multiple dining rooms.
Price: Entrées $26-$36.
Parking: Plenty in the lot at the Inn.