Everything about the Old Mill Room spoke of a bygone era. The ceilings were held by heartwood pine pillars and beams, the broad plank floors still bore the scars from long ago rolling barrels, and old grain bins had contributed the distressed wall paneling that surrounded the dining room fireplace.
Wrought iron ceiling lights and hurricane lamp wall sconces that could in earlier times have accommodated flickering candles cast a soft glow on the generously spaced tables clad in crisp floor length linen. Gleaming silver and stemware complemented the fine china. With their broad burgundy lips and discrete gold trim, the dinner plates were a nod to presidential patterns of old. Thomas Jefferson would have approved. As he would doubtless have also approved of the polished staff who were the embodiment of Southern hospitality, gracious and ever attentive while remaining unobtrusive.
Then there was the meal itself, flawlessly prepared and elegantly presented classic dishes based on local fare with imaginative twists to intrigue the palate. All of which made for an outstanding dining experience.
In addition to his commitment to supporting local producers and delivering his guests the freshest possible farm to table experience, Chef Justus was especially proud of the Boar’s Head partnership with Morven Kitchen Garden. This long time organic parcel of land gifted to the University was cultivated by students as an educational opportunity to study food production and design sustainable agricultural technologies. The cooperative program complemented the Old Mill Room sourcing from local purveyors with daily deliveries of seasonal vegetable and herbs. Chef Justus delighted in pointing out that typically, produce from the Kitchen Garden found its way to guest plates within a few hours of being harvested. The Old Mill Room menu evolved periodically to spotlight the seasonal bounty of the region. “It’s a team effort between the kitchen and the restaurant management,” said Justus. “We strive to delight our guests with innovative and stylish dishes while preserving the classic quality of our cuisine and favorite dishes.”
Chef Francisco Ayala. Although recently promoted at head of the Banquets team, Chef Ayala still had not entirely relinquished his previous responsibility as chef de cuisine of the Old Mill Room, where he still enjoyed stepping back into his previous persona and working closely with Chef Justus during exceptionally busy times.
Executive Chef Bill Justus
Handicapped Access Yes
Location The Old Mill Room was located in the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, 115 miles (185 kilometers) southwest of Washington, D.C. and 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Richmond, Virginia.
Owned The University of Virginia Foundation owned and managed the property.
Pastry Chef Erinn Le Clair, a Johnson and Wales University graduate.
Size At full capacity, the dining room could seat 160 guests. It employed a staff of 57 including 17 kitchen personnel.
Type Of Restaurant Continental gourmet dining with Virginia flair
Year Opened-Renovated The Old Mill Room opened in 1963. It was last fully renovated in 2011 and 2012.
But it was at dinnertime that Chef Justus and his team gave the full measure of their talent. My meal started with an imaginative amuse bouche of chilled watermelon enhanced by a dollop of goat cheese mousse, a delicious palate cleanser. I followed with cocoa ancho crusted scallops. The mild, smoky flavor of the ancho chili peppers coupled with the slight bitterness of the cocoa were a delicious foil for the sweetness of scallops seared to perfection. The dish was served with a garnish of cauliflower puree, and a crisp fresh fennel salad. My dinning companion opted for a creamy sun choke vichyssoise that came with smoked trout and pickled leek and declared it excellent. While there were several tempting meat and poultry options on the menu, both of us opted for fish main courses. I had a blue cornmeal crusted sunburst trout fillet. It was served with lobster succotash, tiny roasted black Peruvian potatoes and a Pernod lobster sauce that added just a hint of anise to this unusual and colorful combination. My friend had pan seared halibut. The fish had a distinctly fresh out of the water taste (yes, I purloined a bite). It was accompanied with steamed clams in a light saffron sauce, sweet roasted onion and a crisp potato galette with pebbles of chorizo to spice it up.
Both of us happened to simultaneously order the raspberry creme brulee. That is a dessert that I order often and I must declare this particular one with its thick crust of perfectly caramelized sugar and smooth caramel custard beneath rated high on the brulee scale. It was garnished with a cluster of fresh raspberries and a lovely Linzer cookie. Throughout the meal we enjoyed a crisp, herbaceous Sancerre La Porte du Cailloux. And just when we thought things couldn’t get any better our server recommended a Slider as an after dinner drink. This one was a creamy cloud like rye concoction artfully layered with coffee brandy, and topped chocolate shavings. It tasted like the ultimate indulgence, a second dessert.
Reviewers Article and photos by Josette King
Service The service was excellent, friendly, attentive and professional.
Would You Dine There Again-Recommend It? Yes