Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover
It is my belief that a if a restaurant fails at the simple things it is impossible for it to excel at the more complicated ones. So when my friend raved about the bison burger at the Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar, I was delighted to try it as a sort of taste test before dropping significant change to delve into the main menu.
We arrived last night at the two level establishment on the Southeast side of Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall. The downstairs section is a supposedly upscale restaurant decorated in an earthy urban chic with a line of blocky wooden tables along one wall and a bank of booths featuring circular tables running down the middle of a rectangular space. As it was a gorgeous evening, my dinner date and I decided to head up the non-temperature controlled stairs (I am guessing because it was a hot humid climb though it was only warm outside at this point.) to the Skybar, the rooftop hangout half of the establishment. It is not really designed for eating with a bar for a focal point, a few padded sofa like benches and cocktail tables combined with a smattering of tall small rounds with tall chairs but it seemed like more fun.
We sat in the corner situated on the mall side of the establishment in oder to both people watch the two stories down on the mall and have a full view of the lounge. Please note we were in plain full sight of the bar because this is important later.
There were about 25 patrons at this point in a space that might seat about 75 and three servers to handle them. Someone came to distribute menus in about two minutes and chatted about the probability o f rain (we were seated under one of the bright blood orange colored umbrellas as I thought it might pour while we were there, my companion bet me a beer wager otherwise.
Drink orders were taken about ten minutes later by a different server. The drinks were delivered promptly. Then we made the critical error of asking for a minute to look at the menu.
Twenty-five minutes passed and even though there was little activity in the place, and another wait person joined the staff, no one came to take our order while they chatted amongst themselves or watched the Olympics on the TV screens mounted behind the bar. After another 12 minutes and service to the table next to us, I walked over to the bar to alert anyone who would listen that we were ready to order. Someone was sent immediately and we both ordered a Bison Burger, mine with no bread and salad instead of fries.
I also ordered a Mojito to stave off the wait.
My drink came in a short plastic glass. The mint barely touched much less crushed, swam amongst a mostly melted few chunks of ice. The drink was sour-ish but mostly watery – it tasted more like Country Time Lemonade with a few drops of rum in it than anything else. I resorted to chewing soggy mint leaves to derive some sort of flavor from this concoction.
After about 25 more minutes the burgers came. My companion’s set in a nest of fries and oozing some yummy looking orange sauce under the slices of marbleized cheese slices and bun. Mine was completely naked, forlornly situated next to the ordered salad.
“I want some of that yummy looking sauce,” I pouted to my friend. So we flagged down a waiter and requested accoutrement. It came quickly with a nice apology and I happily doused my medium rare burger with roasted red pepper aioli sauce and covered it with the provided square slices of cranberry chipotle cheddar cheese. I have eaten bison burgers before and this one was OK but far from exceptional. It was adequitly moist but not perfectly cooked and after dinner it sat in my stomach like had eaten a rock. It is easy to overcook bison as it is less fat than ground beef. But really, there was not much flavor to it. The sauce was pretty, orange with bright red specs implying heat but in actuality it barely had flavor. The cheese was the most interesting thing on the plate, the darker colored cranberry threads offered a slightly harder texture.
Naturally, I sampled the fries and they were nothing to write home about. Ordinary, thin and salty not particularly greasy, crisp or flacid. Just normal with normal execution.
The salad was good. Fairly fresh mixed greens, big moist slabs of sun dried tomato and a light creamy-ish local goat feta cheese pleasantly moistened with light olive oil dressing.
Overall, I was disappointed. I had heard the food was good here but I had a different experience. Based on this trip, I would not recommend it and I am wary to spend the money to prove myself wrong in the main dining area.
BTW: My friend won the bet – no rain. So on top of everything else I owe him a beer. But I won’t blame the Skybar for that misfortune only my mediocre dinner and unimpressive service.
photos from google images