Purcellville; Stephen's City; Winchester
Heading out into the country for a well earned break from life, we stopped by Magnolia at the Mill at the end of the WO&D trail in Purcellville. The restaurant is aptly named as it occupies a former mill and still has many of the workings attached to the beautiful old lumber (or at least representations of them – to my completely untrained eye they looked real but who knows). But we were not there for the scenery, we came for food. The beer list is far more adventurous than I would have expected, I believe this is a nod to the (sub)urban bikers that are looking for a break after finishing the long trail, the glass of Straub’s Premium Lager would have been great after a 45 mile bike ride.
Our lunch started out strong with Buttermilk Onion Rings, about as perfect an example of rings as I have ever had. The breading was crispy, and flavorful, and the onions cut to just the right size to allow them to be cooked through without burning the coating. We had hoped this was a harbinger of things to come, but… my wife’s Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad was poorly dressed monstrosity, in some places there were large glops of dressing, others were bare. The toppings were generous, but this was definitely the case of quantity over quality. The first impression upon seeing the Tre Carni pizza was that it looked like a pie from American Flatbread, this impression lasted after the first bite, but there was something wrong, what was it? It took me a minute, and then I realized that there was no chew to the crust, it was more like a dinner roll that had been baked in a stone oven – if they took care of the crust, this would be an outstanding pizza.
Our journey continued onto Stephen’s City and the charming little Inn at Vaucluse Spring. If you are looking for a romantic excursion I would certainly keep this little gem in mind. As noted before, they only serve dinner on Friday and Saturday, and it is surprisingly good. The previous chef has left and gone to work with her husband full time at Glen Manor Winery, she was replaced by a young ambitious graduate of Johnson and Wales who came to the Inn by way of a now closed spa in Winchester (sorry I forgot to jot down his name).
The Friday meal is referred to as supper and is a less formal event than the Saturday meal, but it was well executed. The star being a cider braised pork loin on pearl barley with an apple cucumber slaw, the generous serving of locally raised pork was cooked to medium rare retaining the moisture that this cut usually loses, the barely gave the dish a delightful chew and earthiness while the slaw brought a snappy flavor and a crisp texture. Saturday’s dinner, is a little more involved, and started with a gorgonzola terrine that was beautifully paired with roasted beets and a curry cashew brittle. The one thing I believe would have significantly improved this dish were to either grind the brittle or cut it into much smaller pieces – it was too hard to cut, and the flavor really worked well. The biggest stretch of the evening was also the biggest stumble, and that was an agnolotti stuffed with chicken confit, the pasta was fine, but the stuffing was a bit too stiff, the potential was there, it just has not found it. The entrée was a beautiful piece of wild caught Scottish Salmon that had been seared, and served with a light sauce and locally grown asparagus. I would have liked my salmon to have been cooked a little less done, but the flavor was fantastic, but the simply prepared and impeccably fresh asparagus stole the show.
Vaucluse has gotten quite a bit of press for their breakfast, and it is well deserved. Our first breakfast started with a very moist carrot cake muffin with cinnamon butter, which was followed with a bowl of local strawberries, and finally an asparagus quiche with a side of locally produced bacon. Sunday’s breakfast could have ended with the delicious coffee cake and I would have been happy, but I would have missed out on the bananas foster French toast, and local sausage which would have been a shame. The French toast was made with fresh egg rolls, and topped with fresh bananas and caramel syrup (no not quite a real bananas foster, but still damn good).
Not only was the food remarkably good, but the service was both relaxed and attentive.
Saturday we were on our own for lunch, I took the advice mentioned up-thread and gave One Block West a try. The room was a little darker and fussier than I was expecting, but was certainly not a distraction. I was quite happy with the selections of wine available by the glass; I started off with a Tavel that was refreshing and delicious. After ordering it, I noticed that they also served the Glen Manor Sauvignon Blanc that has been raved about, but they were out of it at the time so I went with the glass of the Viognier, and I was treated to a wine every bit as good as what I have had out of the Languedoc (I later found a bottle of the SB at a Winchester wine store, I look forward to giving it a try).
I started with a cup of Cream of Crab Soup; I was expecting the typical flour thickened sherry spiked soup that usually comes with the name, but what I was presented was more like Half and Half of Crab Soup – a thin yet deceivingly rich broth with healthy amounts of crab and leeks. The only thing that would have improved this soup was a little freshly cracked pepper. My wife’s Spinach Salad could not have been any less unlike the monstrosity she was served the day before; this was a classic salad with blue cheese and walnuts with a simple yet effective vinaigrette. For mains, I had the Shrimp and Grits, which were eight well cooked shrimp around a stone ground grit cake and a scattering of Surry sausage; unfortunately it was bathing in too much lemon juice that added an unpleasant amount of acidity to the dish. My wife had a similar issue with her grilled chicken pasta (called Ed’s Pasta), which was overpowered by the astringent combination of artichokes, brined capers, tomatoes, and white wine – the poor pasta never stood a chance. My father’s Smoked Surry Sausage was a star, it several large pieces of delicious sausage matched with a warm mélange of apple, celery, walnuts, and dried fruit. This dish was a balance of flavors and textures. The soup and the sausage assures me that great things can come out of the kitchen so I would be more than happy to give them another try.