The Clifton Inn: Wanna Get Away?

I got married this past July. My job prevented us from taking a full honeymoon, so we decided to take one later this year and just take a couple of days off after the wedding. Upon returning to National Airport from our wedding in Nashville, my new wife and I drove to Charlottesville. She had made reservations at the Clifton Inn. The goals: get away for a couple of days, relax, eat some good food, drink some good wine, and just get used to being married.

The Clifton Inn is minutes from Downtown Charlottesville, Monticello, and the University of Virginia. It is also within reach of a number of Virginia’s great wineries – some of whose wines will likely be the subject of future reviews. While this entry will focus on the Inn’s restaurant, more information on the Inn’s other amenities can be found on its website. Suffice it to say, there is plenty to do both at and around Clifton, but the beauty of the grounds and the comfort of the rooms will leave you wondering if you really want to do anything other than be lazy.

In addition to its scenery and other attractions, the Clifton Inn offers a free breakfast every day, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Our strategy was to grab dinner at the Inn once we arrived and make reservations in Charlottesville for dinner the next day. The second part of that plan proved unnecessary.

After dropping our bags in our room on the second floor of the main house, my wife and I came back down to the ground floor for dinner. Being a bit early, we stopped at the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. Clifton’s Verandah Bar is adjacent to the dining area on the verandah. The Inn’s bar is fully stocked, but its specialties are its “champagne cocktails” and martinis. We were particularly impressed with their “Breathe” cocktail, featuring absolut kurant, pomegranate juice, and rosa regale.

Our table was ready on time and we brought our drinks out onto the Verandah. The staff is friendly and willing to offer advice on the offerings of the day. The dinning tables on the Verandah overlook the crest of a gradually sloping hill descending into the woods. During the summer, early evening sunlight shines through the windows separating the dinning room from the back deck, where the Inn occasionally screens movies for its guests after dinner.

Clifton’s Executive Chef is Dean Maupin, a Native of Albemarle County, Virginia. Those of you who love sweets will be happy to hear that he served a two-year Artisan baking and pastry apprenticeship at the Albemarle Baking Company. He is also a graduate of Greenbrier Hotel’s four-year Culinary Apprenticeship and has studied under acclaimed chefs in Napa Valley and New York. He is the former Chef at Metropolitan restaurant in Charlottesvilleand was Chef de Cuisine of Fossett’s Restaurant, which was featured as “One of America’s Best New Restaurants” of 2004 in Esquire Magazine. (If the Food Network reads my e-mail, he might be able to add challenger on Iron Chef America to his curriculum vitae.)

As we reviewed Chef Maupin’s menu, we chatted with the waitress about the offerings. She told that the cheeses and produce available from local farmers’ often encourage Chef Maupin to add specials to the menu only hours before dinner is served. After much hemming and hawing, I ordered the Sheep’s Milk Ricotta and Spinach Gnudi. My wife chose the Roasted Rack of Lamb and risotto. Given the honor, I selected what will likely be the subject of this blog’s next entry, Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2004 Estate Pinot Noir.

After a small salad compliments of the chef and the delicious appetizers that we had ordered, we realized that we were in for a treat. The Gnudi was beautifully plated with fava beans, a sage butter sauce, and pea tendrils. It was perfectly cooked: soft, but with a nice texture that provided a contrast to the creaminess of the sauce. The flavors were subtle, but it still went well with the pinot that I had selected. My wife offered me a taste of her Roasted Rack of Lamb. While I enjoyed my gnudi, the lamb was something special. Even two weeks later, I remember it so vividly that I can close my eyes and taste it. The meat was a perfect medium-rare and the inner and outer portions of the slices provided unique textures with each bite. The deep purple sweet onion relish accompanying the lamb was tangy but did not overpower the meat. Both dinners were wonderfully prepared and served.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about this meal was how satisfied I was at the end of it. I am a big eater, and when I eat at nicer restaurants I sometimes leave feeling . . . unfulfilled. I did not feel that way after finishing dinner at the Clifton Inn. The food was so good that it forced me to slow down and savor the experience. I actually closed my eyes and concentrated on every bite. If only all meals were that powerful.

After tasting what the chef had to offer, I could not resist when the waitress placed the dessert menus on our table. Ignoring the waitress’ advice, I ordered the Vanilla Bean/Key Lime Cheesecake. My wife, on the other hand, listened and ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding and vanilla ice cream. The cheesecake was perhaps the most interesting I have ever had. The sweetness of the vanilla and cream cheese were cut by the tongue-tickling key lime. After I tried the cheesecake, my wife gave me a taste of her dessert.

By the time we had ordered an after-dinner port and blackberry martini, we had forgotten about having dinner in Charlottesville the next night. We made reservations at Clifton. I had the Roasted Rack of Lamb and the Sticky Toffee Pudding.

5 Stars
Entrees Appx. $30/person.

Published in: on August 8, 2006 at 2:29 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well DONE, sir! You’re a really good writer, and now I am STARVING to go to Clifton. 🙂

  2. Hello,

    Very nice write up on the Clifton Inn and congrats to you and the new wife! Sounds like you all had a wonderful time and what better way to spend it.

    I visit Charlottesville often and did not know the Clifton Inn was so close to where we usually stay. We will have to give it a try after reading your review.

    Like Karen, I ‘m literally starving to go!

    Nice and helpful entry!

    Happy Sipping!


  3. Nice article! Keep up the great work buddy. Too bad I live in New York and not in the D.C./Virginia Area, or else I would have checked the place out!

  4. […] the cheesecake was, it is clear that I still have never learned the lesson I recited at the end of my very first post on this blog. I should have had the sticky toffee […]

  5. […] the cheesecake was, it is clear that I still have never learned the lesson I recited at the end of my very first post on this blog. I should have had the sticky toffee […]

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