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Aster, Upscale in Middleburg - Owner Hump Astorga's Terrific Modern American in Middleburg - Closed


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Culpeper? Bah. The Virginia countryside has much more accessible delights. Situated in a renovated 1790 house in Middleburg, the Aster is a pleasant treat for those of us who are equi-distant from DC and the countryside. We finally made the stop.

In short... mushroom cream amuse, earthy yet balanced, a warm greeting card ona cold night, squash 4 ways: panna cotta, tart, "hash" and soup, the soup having an caramel-butterscotch note that will intrigue me until my next visit; Foie gras terrine, not usually my preference (I like my fat liquidfied) but pleasantly flavored, it was like spreading brie on toast, then Salmon ceviche intermezzo with little spikes of flavor from the radish yum, thinking of having salmon on my next dinner menu, Venison tenderloin and Kobe beef tenderlion, what's a meal without medium rare meat? Sticky demiglace on my lips melted away with poached fig and sorbet, another glass of red wine because here comes the unsmoked gouda, humbolt fog and forgot-the-name Wisconsin bleu cheese, the woman wanted 2 desserts so we went with the white chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate cup and bread pudding (not your mamma's, I assure you) and another dessert but all I remember then was drinking chocolate through a straw.

Rocks, daggit, get on your high horse strap on your chaps and get-r-out Route 50 now :)

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Rocks, daggit, get on your high horse strap on your chaps and get-r-out Route 50 now  :)

I went last night. :o Tried to slink in anonymously, but PonyPunch fingered me when I walked in the door.

Inn at Little Washington and Inn at Easton are two hours from DC, Foti's (great place) in Culpepper is ninety minutes, but Aster is only an hour, and that makes a big difference, especially during the week - it's a destination restaurant without the destination drive.

The White Yam and Roasted Parsnip Bisque, garnished with Spiced Apple Bread Pudding was one of the very best soups I've had in a long time. The small cylinder of bread pudding rests in the middle of the bowl, with the piping-hot bisque poured around it. Think of a hypothetical combination of the ginger-carrot bisque at Signatures (vegan, with some sweetness), the parsnip soup at Corduroy (the "other" great parsnip soup in the area), and the chestnut and foie gras soup at Marcel's (rich, piping hot, and bursting with flavor).

And if you're looking for the ultimate private table-for-two, call and ask for "table 35, with table 34 left empty" - they said they can often accomodate this request.

Cheers,

Rocks

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I'm sorry to say that one of the best area restaurants to open in a long time is falling casualty to an undiscerning dining public. This coming Sunday will be Aster's last day in business.

Owners Hump Astorga and Joanne Erico, Chef de Cuisine Aaron McLeod, and Maitre d' Craig Erion all put together a terrific restaurant which justifiably earned 2.5 stars from Tom Sietsema, and 3 stars from Washingtonian.

This is the last time I'm going to let a good, honest, restaurant with such great potential simply lay down and die without a fight from me first. It's a sad evening, and Aster deserves better than this.

I'm sorry.

Rocks.

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Don,

There may be more than meets the eye here. I tried to make reservations at this restaurant quite a few times. Granted they were all last minute (same day), but I was never able to get in. Two of these times I stopped at the restaurant to see if they had last minute cancellations, their restaurant was empty both times! Yet they still couldn't accomodate me! This was for a two top! What's up with that? I was willing to spend my money but for some reason they were either understaffed or unprepared. I don't think there is anything you could have done to help this place.

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Don,

There may be more than meets the eye here. I tried to make reservations at this restaurant quite a few times. Granted they were all last minute (same day), but I was never able to get in. Two of these times I stopped at the restaurant to see if they had last minute cancellations, their restaurant was empty both times! Yet they still couldn't accomodate me! This was for a two top! What's up with that? I was willing to spend my money but for some reason they were either understaffed or unprepared. I don't think there is anything you could have done to help this place.

raisa,

without knowing the full facts of the situation, i am not attempting to dispute your contention that they did not want your money. however, it is quite common for a restaurant to be empty and still not have a table available. it happens quite a bit at notti bianche, that a guest will walk in the door, see an empty dining room and find it completely incredulous that we are unable to seat them. if every table is reserved in the next 90 minutes, then we are unable to accomodate a walk-in without risking our ability to seat a guest with a reservation in a timely fashion.

just another perspective.

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I'm sorry to say that one of the best area restaurants to open in a long time is falling casualty to an undiscerning dining public.  This coming Sunday will be Aster's last day in business.

Owners Hump Astorga and Joanne Erico, Chef de Cuisine Aaron McLeod, and Maitre d' Craig Erion all put together a terrific restaurant which justifiably earned 2.5 stars from Tom Sietsema, and 3 stars from Washingtonian.

This is the last time I'm going to let a good, honest, restaurant with such great potential simply lay down and die without a fight from me first.  It's a sad evening, and Aster deserves better than this.

I'm sorry.

Rocks.

Well, that is too bad. I was looking forward to taking Twinsmommy to Aster for our anniversary in a few months.

I would like to know the real story here. While Aster got some very nice reviews, the food might have been a bit too out there for the Hunt Country crowd (the people that could afford to eat there).

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While Aster got some very nice reviews, the food might have been a bit too out there for the Hunt Country crowd (the people that could afford to eat there).

The second part of your post is key too. The menu was very expensive. I'd often consider going there and giving it a try, then realize that for the same money I could go to pretty much the best in town. If the entrees were $10 less a piece I probably would have been there when it first opened. For me it was priced into the "special occasion" category and there are a whole list of places I want to try in that category. And I'm not a tightwad when it comes to dining out by any means.

Not that the food at Aster wasn't on par with those places, I just don't know.

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Very sad to see this go. I was just thinking it's time to make the reservation for our anniversary dinner next month.

With our rehearsal dinner held at Nectar and first anniversary last year at Aster, I'm now soliciting recommendations for where we should go, and thereby have them close sometime in the next 5-10 months. <_<

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Very sad to see this go.  I was just thinking it's time to make the reservation for our anniversary dinner next month.

With our rehearsal dinner held at Nectar and first anniversary last year at Aster, I'm now soliciting recommendations for where we should go, and thereby have them close sometime in the next 5-10 months. <_<

How about the Olive Garden?
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raisa,

without knowing the full facts of the situation, i am not attempting to dispute your contention that they did not want your money.  however, it is quite common for a restaurant to be empty and still not have a table available.  it happens quite a bit at notti bianche, that a guest will walk in the door, see an empty dining room and find it completely incredulous that we are unable to seat them.  if every table is reserved in the next 90 minutes, then we are unable to accomodate a walk-in without risking our ability to seat a guest with a reservation in a timely fashion.

just another perspective.

Yes in any other restaurants' case this may have been a factor. But the truth is I ate across the street (don't remember the name of the place) and was able to see the restaurant from their patio, no one came, very few left. This restaurant was having a very hard time managing their kitchen and their dining room.

I also privately emailed them and was told they were having staffing problems and thanks for my understanding. Yet it did not improve.

As for the other post about the folks who can afford it not frequenting it, how could they when it was quite impossible to get a table. It is one kind of skill to be able to cook, it is another to be able to manage.

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My folks live there, encountered the same difficulty on two occasions, and decided that it wasn't worth any additional effort. They prefer the gracious familiarity of The Ashby Inn, even though the food is certainly not on a par with the Aster. That location, on West Federal, might also have been a factor-- it's not on the main drag. When the Black Coffee Bistro moved out of that spot and onto Washington Street, their business increased substantially.

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My folks live there, encountered the same difficulty on two occasions, and decided that it wasn't worth any additional effort. They prefer the gracious familiarity of The Ashby Inn, even though the food is certainly not on a par with the Aster. That location, on West Federal, might also have been a factor-- it's not on the main drag. When the Black Coffee Bistro moved out of that spot and onto Washington Street, their business increased substantially.

Isn't Black Coffee Bistro gone now too, replaced by an Italian joint? Also, BCB was a place you'd be far more likely to drop into on the spur of the moment than is Aster -- so it's no wonder they did better on Washington St.

One thing about the Aster/old BCB location: That's one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen a restaurant in.

This whole episode does bring up one interesting thing about Middleburg. Considering its reputation, its dining choices are, relatively speaking, surprisingly downmarket.

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Isn't Black Coffee Bistro gone now too, replaced by an Italian joint? Also, BCB was a place you'd be far more likely to drop into on the spur of the moment than is Aster -- so it's no wonder they did better on Washington St.

One thing about the Aster/old BCB location: That's one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen a restaurant in.

This whole episode does bring up one interesting thing about Middleburg. Considering its reputation, its dining choices are, relatively speaking, surprisingly downmarket.

You're right about the BCB being gone. I just drove past it, or its reincarnation, last Sunday and didn't notice. Not a great loss, but perhaps a symptom of what the town is becoming as Sheila Johnson becomes the moving force.

It's probably the tourist nature of Middleburg that keeps truly fine places like the Aster from being successful. What passes for good there is remarkably average, and the well-heeled denizens are just as likely to travel a bit to dine well.

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This whole episode does bring up one interesting thing about Middleburg. Considering its reputation, its dining choices are, relatively speaking, surprisingly downmarket.

Having lived and worked in the Burg for a year I can honestly say that the preconceived notion of the people who live out there is very wrong. Of course there is a contingent of fabulously wealthy living on manors and such, but the great bulk of the population are residents who have lived there for quite some time and do not have the noveau riche penchant for dining out. I was suprised at the number of "average"(not in a bad way) people in the population. Middleburg is noted for its touristy milleu and has a natural attractiveness for the visiting urbanite, but the people who would make up the base of any restaurants guest list are more likely to dine downscale. I really wish craig and hump ahd been able to make a longer run of things, but the high end diner is notriously absent from the demographic. The other problem being, the town is only 900 strong and the other poplulation centers are spread out across the two counties.

I'm sure these reasons played amuch larger role than the food or service. Hump and Craig are class all the way.

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Having lived and worked in the Burg for a year I can honestly say that the preconceived notion of the people who live out there is very wrong. Of course there is a contingent of fabulously wealthy living on manors and such, but the great bulk of the population are residents who have lived there for quite some time and do not have the noveau riche penchant for dining out. I was suprised at the number of "average"(not in a bad way) people in the population. Middleburg is noted for its touristy milleu and has a natural attractiveness for the visiting urbanite, but the people who would make up the base of any restaurants guest list are more likely to dine downscale.  I really wish craig and hump ahd been able to make a longer run of things, but the high end diner is notriously absent from the demographic. The other problem being, the town is only 900 strong and the other poplulation centers are spread out across the two counties.

I'm sure these reasons played amuch larger role than the food or service. Hump and Craig are class all the way.

I think they were probably counting -- to some degree -- on the folks who do "destination dining" at places like Inn at Little Washington, L'Auberge Provencale, Ashby Inn, etc. After all, the population of Paris, VA is around 50, yet the Ashby Inn does just fine.

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I think they were probably counting -- to some degree -- on the folks who do "destination dining" at places like Inn at Little Washington, L'Auberge Provencale, Ashby Inn, etc. After all, the population of Paris, VA is around 50, yet the Ashby Inn does just fine.

Could the demise of this place be because of a flawed business plan? After all, I don't believe any of us know the financial details of the initial start-up. This may be why such a high percentage of restaurants fail in their first year or two of operation; there are just so many aspects to consider, which are completely separate from cooking fine food. Not every great chef has the wherewithal to be able to handle the financial and staff issues. I'm having a hard time determining just what Rocks thinks he could have done. Talking up an expensive "destination--for many of us--restaurant" doesn't seem to me to have been the answer, at least as far as Rocks is concerned.

This is not to say that I don't regret the demise of any restaurant created by people who strive to do their best. Unfortunately, their name is legion.

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We can all sit here and wonder what the demise was, but it seems they were always looking for help. Were there internal problem? It certainly received great reviews as far as the food, so we know the quality was good if not "too precious" as one reviewer stated. People were willing to go out there. Four and Twenty does great, as does Ashby Inn, L'Auberge Provencale, The Rail Stop all out in Fauquier, Rappahannock and beyond. So why wern't they prepared for reservations?Why have only one third of the restaurant filled on a Saturday night and consistantly turn away walk-ins and call in reservations?

I spoke with the Chef on the phone a couple of times and he was not very helpful at all. I must have called at least 5 times for reservations. Could it have been a lack of experience on his part? Overly ambitious? The fault here does not lie with the customers but with the restaurant.

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We can all sit here and wonder what the demise was, but it seems they were always looking for help.

Possibly going off on a tangent here...

I remember reading somewhere last year that one of the challenges facing DC as a foodie city was the scarcity of good supporting players. That is to say, while we have some remarkably talented chefs, the pool of good supporting line cooks and service personnel is disproportionately smaller than in a big foodie city. And I have to admit, when I wander into even a common luncheonette in NYC, I'm often struck by the hustle and efficiency of everybody working in the kitchen, in contrast to the perfunctory indifference I often see at a comparable lowbrow place in the DC area. I can't imagine these (training) conditions make it easy to promote people up to fine dining kitchens. Are we suffering from being, as Kennedy put it, a town of Northern charm and Southern efficiency?

As someone who has never worked in the business, I look forward to reading what the insiders have to say.

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Could the demise of this place be because of a flawed business plan?  After all, I don't believe any of us know the financial details of the initial start-up.  This may be why such a high percentage of restaurants fail in their first year or two of operation; there are just so many aspects to consider, which are completely separate from cooking fine food.  Not every great chef has the wherewithal to be able to handle the financial and staff issues.  I'm having a hard time determining just what Rocks thinks he could have done.  Talking up an expensive "destination--for many of us--restaurant" doesn't seem to me to have been the answer, at least as far as Rocks is concerned.

This is not to say that I don't regret the demise of any restaurant created by people who  strive to do their best.  Unfortunately, their name is legion.

this is a topic that i have been loathe to approach, and against the advice of my better angels i wade in anyway...

one of the problems with the trend toward chef-driven/owned restaurants is that talent in the kitchen has little relation to business acumen. many chefs that function in a dual role of owner are obviously quite successful at it. however, too often the role of the management is given short shrift. the primary reason that restaurants fail is bad management be it a poorly crafted business model, or operational misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.

as barbara noted, not many chefs have the wherewithal to handle the financial and staff issues of a restaurant. i would go one step further and suggest that not many people, regardless of profession, have the self-awareness and self-confidence to acknowledge that a task is beyond their abilities.

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I too am sorry to see the Aster go.

I predict that with some time and the growth of the RT 50/Rt15 population more $$ will venture westtward in search of better food, its too bad that the Aster could not hold on. We'll see what happens with Tira Misu (in the old Black Coffee Bistro spot).

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I'm sorry to say that one of the best area restaurants to open in a long time is falling casualty to an undiscerning dining public.  This coming Sunday will be Aster's last day in business.

Owners Hump Astorga and Joanne Erico, Chef de Cuisine Aaron McLeod, and Maitre d' Craig Erion all put together a terrific restaurant which justifiably earned 2.5 stars from Tom Sietsema, and 3 stars from Washingtonian.

This is the last time I'm going to let a good, honest, restaurant with such great potential simply lay down and die without a fight from me first.  It's a sad evening, and Aster deserves better than this.

I'm sorry.

Rocks.

Don

Thanks for the kind words. I value your opinion...you were there, you got it...so it means alot!

H

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And the beat goes on....or at least the building. The building which formerly housed Aster, has been reincarnated into a new restaurant. It is called "The French Hound". I glanced at the menu and it is a French bistro style, Anyone tried it yet? If not I will check it out soon. I tried on Sunday but it was closed (for lunch at least).

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And the beat goes on....or at least the building. The building which formerly housed Aster, has been reincarnated into a new restaurant. It is called "The French Hound". I glanced at the menu and it is a French bistro style, Anyone tried it yet? If not I will check it out soon. I tried on Sunday but it was closed (for lunch at least).

Well the name is certainly promising (Twinsmommy and I are owned by two petits bassets griffons vendeens, which are indeed French Hounds).

I hope they make a go of it -- another failure in what is truly a beautiful building could lead to another "Location of Death" designation. :)

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On 4/5/2006 at 10:47 PM, DonRocks said:

I'm sorry to say that one of the best area restaurants to open in a long time is falling casualty to an undiscerning dining public. This coming Sunday will be Aster's last day in business.

Owners Hump Astorga and Joanne Erico, Chef de Cuisine Aaron McCloud, and Maitre d' Craig Erion all put together a terrific restaurant which justifiably earned 2.5 stars from Tom Sietsema, and 3 stars from Washingtonian.

This is the last time I'm going to let a good, honest, restaurant with such great potential simply lay down and die without a fight from me first. It's a sad evening, and Aster deserves better than this.

I'm sorry.

Rocks.

Oof. I had forgotten Aaron was Chef de Cuisine here before eventually moving to Cedar.

Mar 6, 2017 - "Devastatingly Sad News - Chef Aaron McCloud Passes Away at Age 38" on donrockwell.com

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