Fall = Family, Food and…Football?

For me, autumn is the season of Thanksgiving, time spent with loved ones, the pleasures of rich warm foods, and the vibrant colors of the foliage before the leaves fall, leaving the trees bare for winter. I know for many though, fall means only one thing – FOOTBALL (Jim, Dad – I’m talking to you). If you have seen the craziness inspired by Fantasy Football Leagues or tried to pry a loved one away from a game, you know that football is taken very seriously by its devoted fans. It’s not my thing, but I know not everyone appreciates my passions – yoga, cooking, reading, TV and film.

You might wonder then how I ended up on a weekend trip that was dedicated primarily to football. Waking up at 6AM to ensure our arrival at 10AM tailgating would not be my first choice for a Saturday activity. I was lured down to Charlottesville, VA to attend a game at my Alma Mater with my football fan father. Attending a game seemed a small price for me to pay in order to enjoy the other aspects of fall – visits with my aunts and grandmother, fall foliage on Route 29 and a spectacular meal at one of Charlottesville’s best restaurants (on Dad’s dime of course). As it turned out, the unexpected happened, the football far outshone the meal.

During most of my time in Charlottesville, my meals were on a student’s budget – with occasional highlights when a parent or relative would visit. So I was excited to revisit this charming college town with knowledge that we would be dining at The Boars Head Inn. While the Old Mill Restaurant at the Boars Head boasts a reputation for fine dining and customer service, we were summarily disappointed. As part of my blog I usually highlight restaurants that have gone out of their way to insure a safe and delicious gluten-free dining experience. Sadly there are plenty of so-so meals that never make it to the “Gluten-Free Guide.”
The dining experience at the Boars Head merits highlighting because the restaurant managers and employees were emphatic about their ability to create a safe gluten-free dining experience for me before we ever arrived in Charlottesville. Also the rendezvous with disappointment was severe after so many college years of imagining how exquisite the dining experience must be at the Boars Head. It was shocking to see mistakes in their gluten-free annotated menu, including cous-cous labedled as gluten-free. Rather than suggest alternate gluten-free sauces for dishes, I was given the option of having most of the main courses dry. While this might be acceptable at a less expensive restaurant, I would expect more from a restaurant of this supposed caliber.

After the initial mistakes on the menu, the service continued to be unimpressive. Before receiving our first course, I was casually served a pastry amuse bouche - definitely not a gluten-free item. When I pointed out the mistake, there was no apology merely an “OK” as they took the plate away.

My spinach salad was served dry with one cipollini onion and 4 pecans. How did that warrant a $10 price tag?

The menu's description of my main course did a great job of whetting my appetite: “Day Boat Scallop - Braised Short Rib Pavé - Caramelized Root Vegetables served with a sherry vinagrette” Sounds great doesn’t it? Well the execution was less than stellar – there was WAY too much salt on my scallops (this is coming from someone who generally uses LOTS of salt) and the short ribs were dry and without flavor.

The gluten-filled dishes my father ordered were equally disappointing – his dressed greens with marinated tomatoes merited a “C” on his rating scale and his salmon was not prepared as requested.

When our server returned with a dessert menu, I was given four gluten free options: A Duo of Chocolate – a flourless cake and chocolate panna cotta, crème brulee, a cheese plate, or assorted homemade ice creams and sorbets. My father ordered the Duo of Chocolate, saving me from potential ‘glutening’ as he ate the gluten-filled cookies and pretzels that were part of the cake.

We shared the crème brulee and ice creams. They were average but not remarkable. If I hadn’t been photographing them and taking notes for the blog, I would not have remembered either one. (We didn’t even consider the cheese plate as it only offered three rather unremarkable options – Brie, Smoked Gouda and Stilton – you don’t need a full-time Fromager to come up with more inspired alternatives.)

The one bright spot of our evening was a member of the waitstaff - Ana from El Salvador, a charming woman who seemed genuinely happy to help; she provided a stark contrast from the rest of the lackadaisical service we received. Perhaps we hit the Old Mill Restaurant on an off night, but they seem to be relying on a long reputation as "best in Charlottesville" rather than proving it. The preparation of the food we were served appeared to lack any real thought or effort, yet the prices were higher than many fine dining restaurants in Manhattan. Hopefully, my next trip down to C'ville will provide more exciting gluten-free dining experiences for me to share. Now to the good part - Virginia won an exciting football game over a tough Wake Forest squad.

(Following the football theme - for anyone looking for quality television – I would like to take this opportunity to say PLEASE watch Friday Night Lights. It’s one of the best shows on TV. Whether you’re a football fan or not, it surely won’t disappoint.)

Boars Head Inn: 200 Ednam Drive in Charlottesville, Virginia 22903 Phone: (434) 972-2230

1 comment:

Cassandra said...

What an awful dinner. It definitely needed to be in the guide for where not to go.
Maybe we can get Madelyn down there to check this place out.