The windows along the side of the Commonwealth Restaurant in Charlottesville.
Last week I posted a review of the Skybar which sits atop the Commonwealth Restaurant in Charlottesville. I was less than bowled over noting that if the restaurant could not do the little things well then they probably would fail at the bigger things. (To see review click here)
Like any responsible reviewer, I sent a link to the post to the restaurant owners. The next day, Executive Chef, Alex George responded with a nice apology and an invitation to the main dining room so he could show me how good they can be. Always up for a good meal and a chance to sing praises for a local business, I accepted and Thursday night went with my same friend (who will be called Joe) who treated me to the Skybar (felt like a full circle sort of thing to do) to see what they could do in their major arena.
Being a critic is fun because it is the lowest form of celebrity possible on the face of the earth. Most people don’t know you or care who you are and you are rarely recognized anywhere unless you tell someone your name and they just happen to read your what you write. But in those rare instances when you are expected, people tend to be really nice and accommodating which is a true guilty pleasure. I am feared because I am fair and unafraid to offer my true opinion yet adored because my heart is in the right place – I really want to inspire people to be the best they can be. I truly respect that these guys at the Commonwealth Restaurant want to show off their stuff – I would if it were my business-and the honest approach they made in doing so was refreshing. This wasn’t a “we want to kiss your ass” deal- they wanted an honest assessment.
So Joe and I arrived and the hostess who was ready with a big smile and friendly greeting, directed us to a lovely table by the wall of windows along the left side of the restaurant. Water swiftly arrived and our waitperson appeared with menus in an instant. She was personable and friendly without being in our faces and the service was very good but perhaps a bit too attentive. There were a few times throughout the evening that Joe and I were engaged in meaningful conversation and were interrupted to our dismay. He made a comment about it towards the end of our visit. I chalk it up to eagerness to get everything right for the critic rather than a terminal issue with the restaurant. Chef George, stopped by the table to welcome us and introduce himself. He is handsome with a down-to-earth charm and a genuine pride in what he does for a living. He chatted for a only a few minutes.
Executive Chef, Alex George
Then our culinary experience began…
The summer months always induce a longing for Spain in me so I started with a refreshing glass of Cava from a Bodega by the name of Signat, Brut Nature, NV. All I can say is it was everything a good Cava should be flavorful, light, bubbly and casually festive. Joe opted for a glass of Sassetto,Sagiovese di Romagna, Emilea Romagna ’09 which I tasted and really liked. In fact the wines selected by General Manager and Sommelier, Stephen Dowd were all fantasico!
An amuse bouche of sundried tomatoes and peppers was brought to tease our palates. Simple yet tasty.
For Appetizers we ordered Ale Braised Rabbit Crepe, ‘Appalachian’ Cheese & Figs and Ginger Braised Pulled Pork Yam Croquettes the latter on our servers recommendation. The Croquettes were wonderful melt-in-your-mouth globs of juicy pork perfectly cooked and stuffed in savory fried yam blobs of yumminess. The sweet tang of the ginger sauce melded with the earthiness of the yam in a concoction with the sensuality of an Argentine Tango. The Crepe was OK but far less stellar. The delicate flavor of the rabbit was overpowered by mucho mas salt – a shame since rabbit is one of my favorite meats and unusual to find on American menus. The crepe itself was slightly thick and spongey – an excellent constancy for the savory nature of the dish.
Having never tried Boar before, Joe opted for the Grilled Wild Boar Chops with Gooseberries, Horseradish mashed potatoes and Yam Croques for a main course. I decided on one of the evenings specials, Brazilian Moqueca featuring grouper, mussels, crawfish and shrimp sautéed in palm oil and coconut sauce served over basmati rice. I fail to recall eating Boar before, personally, but I have eaten all manner of food and since my memory capacity is equivalent to that of a goldfish, unless something really stands out for its rarity, taste (good or bad) or is marked by the event at which it was eaten (fish on the beach in Barbados for example) I will forget about it. Although I was less than thrilled by the slightly rubbery texture of the meat (could be normal for Boar, I don’t know), the flavor and juiciness were commendable. Joe and I both thought the gooseberry topping was exceptional and we sort of fought over the rights to consume the most horseradish potatoes they were sooooo good.
The Moqueca was fine. I failed to even taste the coconut sauce which makes me wonder if it made it onto my dish but I had forgotten about it until I re-read the description of the dish provided by Chef George. But the grouper was spectacular, hands down the best tasting and prepared piece of fish I have consumed in years (actually since that aforementioned fish on the shore in Barbados say, oh, 11 years ago)! Grilled to flakey, succulent perfection and seasoned to the grain with the right amount of salt and fresh black pepper with perhaps a hint of lemon. I would be a slave to the person who would prepare that fish for me on a daily basis- seriously.
Then Stephan brought out some cheeses with some specialty crackers, thin apple slices and a tiny pot of honey.
Here is a list of the cheeses:
Classica Reserva, 12 mo. aged, goat milk, Bend Oregon
Stracchino, unpasterized cows milk, 6 mo. aged, Lombardy, Italy
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, 9 months aged, Wisconsin
They were all spectacular, flavorful and exciting with a little drop of honey – a high light.
Then came dessert.
We settled on a Chocolate & Peanut Butter Tart (server recommended) and a Pot de Creme because it is one of my personal favorites. The Tart is a three layered event of chocolate cake like bottom, two inches of dense peanut butter flourless stuff and a thin layer of chocolate, drizzled with a sweet caramel sauce. It was good, perhaps a little sweet for me and super rich. I could only eat about three spoons of it. The Pot de Creme on the other hand, was lighter than I expected and quite tasty with maybe a dash of mocha(?), (forgive me for any inaccuracy- I was a bit tipsy by this point in the evening following a glass or two more of Cava and several sips of Joe’s red wine selections). I think I actually stuck my finger in the pot to smear out the last remnants of it. I will have to ask Joe if he remembers me doing that but he was pretty lit as well, I imagine. Anyway.. I really liked it.
These are the other two wines Joe enjoyed during the evening:
Calmel-Joseph, Syrah, Granache, Carignane, Faugeres ’10,
Ciacci, Piccolomini d’Argona, Tuscana ’08
Overall the experience was pleasurable with the Croquettes, the wines, cheeses, horseradish potatoes, grouper (ahhh, yes the grouper) and Pot de Creme representing the outstanding elements of our visit. What Commonwealth Restaurant did well they did very well. Everything else was perfectly acceptable. I would definitely return to try other items on the menu and will certainly be seen there on a regular basis for late night wine and cheese ventures.