Charlottesville has a Restaurant Week every six months, with several area restaurants offering special three-course prix fixe menus for $26 a person, with a dollar of every meal going to a local charity (this time around the money is going to the Charlottesville area’s Meals on Wheels). Last July was the first time we tried out Restaurant Week, choosing two restaurants we’d never been to before, Ristorante al Dente and Ten. We weren’t blown away by either, which is even more apparent now considering that six months later, we’ve never gone back to either restaurant for a single meal. So, this time, we took a different approach: we looked at all the menus and picked the one that looked the most exciting to us, regardless of whether we’d been to the restaurant before or not. We ended up choosing the Horse & Hound, one of our favorite spots in Cville, because of the interesting menu and the beer pairings they offered with each course for just $14 more per person (total, for all three pairings). We were not disappointed by our choice.
For the curious, who want to know exactly what I’m talking about, here’s a link to this Restaurant Week menu for H&H. The reasons we liked this better than the other menus: 1) Nothing here is on their regular menu. It was all developed specifically for this Restaurant Week, so even though we go to H&H fairly often, this was a chance to have something we’d never tried before and would never get to try again. 2) The beer pairing option made it more expensive, sure, but $14 for three 5-oz. pours of expensive beer is really not too shabby, and all the food was all cooked with the beer that it was served with. 3) I’ll be perfectly honest that the fact that I wanted to try all of the desserts and had no idea which one to choose was a big factor for my mega-sweet-tooth. As we’d done before, we made a plan that neither of us would get anything the same in any of the courses so that we could try each other’s and benefit from tasting six courses instead of three.
Everything started off very well. We arrived and drove around the tiny parking lot looking for a space, and we completely lucked out when we saw another car backing out right by the entrance. We were able to snag the spot before anyone else came along. When we went in, we waited about a minute for the hostess, and we were seated immediately in a lovely little corner where we could both look out the big windows up front – it was pretty and cozy and intimate. We had a few minutes to look at and discuss the menu before our waiter came along, but not too long, and he took our orders for the first two courses, telling us he’d take our orders for the third course after we’d eaten the first two. Let me just say that the service and timing of food and beverage delivery throughout this meal was impeccable – nothing was too quick or too slow – a real treat after last July’s experience at Ristorante al Dente.
For the first course, I ordered the butternut squash salad with the Leffe Blonde Ale, and David had the jumbo scallop with the Ommegang Hennepin. I loved the salad – nicely roasted butternut squash mixed with goat cheese, lentils coating the outside almost like a breading, and arugula on top. Hearty and delicious, with the goat cheese and squash really complimenting each other. The ale went with it very well. David made a noise when he first bit into the scallop that could only be interpreted as “yummmmm.” Scallops are not his first choice in seafood – he rarely orders them – but he really enjoyed this one. As I do not like seafood, I refrained from trying the scallop, but I tasted the green beans, scallion pancake and hollandaise that accompanied, and those were delicious. We didn’t quite pinpoint where the Ommegang came into play in that dish – perhaps the scallop was cooked in it? It was very good nonetheless.
For the second course, I chose the lamb with the Troubadour Obscura Mild Stout. David picked the white bean-filled phyllo purse with Old Speckled Hen Ale. My lamb seemed to melt in my mouth. It was so tender and juicy! It could have had a bit stronger herb seasoning, but that could be just me – I really like rosemary. It came with gratin potatoes and green beans, both of which were quite tasty. The beer was exactly as described – a mild stout. I’m not usually a stout drinker, but I could have had more of this. It wasn’t filling the way stout usually is. David’s phyllo purse, though, won the prize for us. Yes, it was a vegetarian dish (and he is not a vegetarian; I was honestly surprised he didn’t choose the Fuller’s Porter braised beef instead), but it was not a half-assed vegetarian dish, which we appreciated. Too often the veg dishes are cop-outs like pasta or something heavy on mushrooms – both of which I like, but are not terribly creative. This was very creative, very different, and very tasty. The ale was clearly used to make the sauce here, which was tasty, and the asparagus was good. The polenta was the one less-than-impressive part of this dish. It was rather bland on its own, but pretty good when eaten with the sauce.
Finally, we got to the dessert course. I could not resist the lure of the dark chocolate Guinness pie (with Guinness, duh), and to balance that with something fruity, David got the apricot creme brulee with Legend Brewery Barley Wine. When it came to the beer pairings, this was the course that completely blew us away. We both kept taking a bite and then sipping the beer, marveling at how well the dessert paired with the beer. And the desserts themselves were amazing. I think I could have eaten a whole Guinness pie by myself, it was so perfectly dark and sweet and chocolatey, and gone back to finish up with two or three dishes of the creme brulee, which had the exact right balance between sweet and tart.
So in summary, this was BY FAR the best Restaurant Week experience we’ve had to date. My love for Horse & Hound is now just even further cemented. I want to be a regular there. Maybe we will make it so.