Clifton Inn: Restaurant Review of Birthday Dinner

My parent’s treated me to dinner at the Clifton Inn for my birthday this month.  This was no average, celebratory dinner, though.  Not only was my dinner at one of the best restaurants in Charlottesville, but it was also at the chef’s table directly overlooking the Inn’s beautiful kitchen.  The Clifton Inn is a hotel in the rolling hills just beyond downtown Charlottesville, located right by the mountain where Jefferson built Monticello.  Although it’s technically a hotel, the Clifton Inn feels more like a cozy bed and breakfast tucked into the gorgeous countryside of Virginia.  It is a popular destination for weddings with its gorgeous scenery, fabulous catering, and wonderful hotel.  It is simply a haven of classic, Virginia charm.  When you roll up the gravel drive, it feels as though time has slowed and as though all the worries and problems and noise of the external world slip away.  It’s almost a magical experience, and you want to remain there forever.  While you must inevitably leave the Inn and the restaurant, you can bring the pictures and the flavors of foods and experiences back to reality with you.  So this blog post is about remembering and sharing all the wonderful dishes I got to sample for my birthday dinner.  I won’t try to describe them too thoroughly, however, because I don’t think I could possibly do them justice.

Our first plate was a charcuterie platter arranged on a tiny cutting board with such precision and care that the chef used tweezers to place or roll every element on the board.  It featured surryano ham and other cured meats, onion spread, pickled red onions, pickled watermelon rind, pimento cheese, and a fried sweet pepper.

I chose my first course from the fall apple tasting menu.  It was a lobster salad accompanied by sliced, local apples and a drizzle of oil.

My Dad had polenta cakes with clams and tomatoes.

My mom chose the assorted vegetable salad which was so beautiful, it was almost tragic to eat.  The picture below shows roasted squash, mushrooms, rose petals, pickled beets, and chocolate dust.

The coolest part of each dish was getting to see it prepared and having a chance to appreciate all of the work that went into the presentation.

These pictures show Anthony, one of the soux-chefs, working the cold, prepared, and appetizer station which was directly in front of the counter where we sat.

Here is Anthony prepping one of the many inter-course plates we had the pleasure of sampling.  He was amazingly attentive in making sure we got to sample just about every item and flavor from the kitchen, even if we hadn’t ordered it.  Here, he’s preparing a taste of beets and mushrooms atop a velvety house-made tofu.

Here’s the dish arranged on a tiny slate tile.  There’s a piece of lardo, which is cured pork fat, lying across the mushroom, and I likened it to the savory equivalent of fondant.  In the tiny cup made out of a turnip slice is house-made ricotta.

Sadly, I neglected to take a picture of our soup course because it was so warm and enticing that I dug in before I remembered to snap a picture.  I had a pumpkin soup served with duck confit sausage that was so delicious, I contemplated ordering a second bowl for dessert!

Below is my third course.  I apologize for the partially-eaten salmon.  Again, I had started eating when I remembered to take a picture, so it isn’t as pretty as the original presentation.  It was a pan-seared red snapper above a saffron broth with quinoa and Virginia peanuts.

My mom had a steak, and again I apologize for the picture of a partially-eaten dish!

Another sampler was fried sweet potato shoe strings with a rich, sweet, chili oil.

And the final taste the chef prepared for us (because neither I nor my dad had ever tried it) was veal sweat breads, which we learned is the thymus gland of the animal.  I was slightly intimidated by the new food but actually enjoyed it very much.  It had a delicate flavor of meat but with the texture of a tender scallop.  It was quite the delicacy!

As we were deciding on dessert, we were presented with this precious little pot of chestnuts.  I had never eaten a whole chestnut before, and the chef had made a chestnut soup for dessert, so I got to try a delicious, whole, smoked chestnut and then chestnuts in the form of soup.

For dessert, I ordered a sticky toffee pudding with butter pecan ice cream, and it came with a “Happy Birthday” sign!

As if one dessert wasn’t enough, the chef had prepared a dessert sampler for us with little truffles and brownies and other chocolaty goodies.  Here’s a picture of miniature blondies:

 And to top it all off, we were given tiny scones to take home as a treat for the next day.  It was an absolutely wonderful meal. Definitely one of, if not the best, dinner I’ve ever had.

I feel so grateful (but also spoiled!) to have been exposed to such incredible foods at such a relatively young age.  It’s fueled a passion in me that I continue to pursue in whatever form it happens to take.  At the moment, I enjoy frequenting restaurants around Charlottesville, cooking at home, blogging, gardening, and visiting farmer’s markets and specialty food stores.  I’m interested in going into publishing one day, perhaps in the form of a food writer or restaurateur or cookbook editor, but I’ve recently been offered an opportunity to get hands-on experience in a real restaurant kitchen.  At the end of our dinner at the Clifton Inn, the chef, Tucker Yoder, invited me to come back and help him in the kitchen.  I’ve since returned to help with prep for dinner service and am about to drive over this afternoon to help prep and hopefully stay for the full service.  I had so much fun the first time making pasta and shucking clams and making tasting spoons and using the deep fryer and making runs to the basement and to the walk-in fridge.  It was hard work, but it was so rewarding.  Perhaps I’ll have to blog soon about my new adventures on the other side of the counter in the Clifton Inn kitchen!

2 Responses to “Clifton Inn: Restaurant Review of Birthday Dinner”
  1. Mom says:

    love your writing – wanted to point out a typo ” one today,” should be ” one day,”

  2. Nana and Pop-Pop says:

    Erin, Looks like a great meal was had by all! The food looks amazing and I’m sure it tasted amazing as well. I think we’re seeing a future restauranteur or cook book writer, at least!

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