Straight story: Keswick goes the tapas route
Misconceptions die hard. For years, Dish thought an exposed belly was called a mid-drift and that the chorus of Glen Campbell's song from Rhinestone Cowboy was "Country boy, you've got your feet in a lake."
Now it's time to confess yet another misconception: only club members or rich people eat at Keswick Hall. Maybe it's that imposing iron gate. Maybe its Keswick's own fault for marketing itself as such an exclusive club.
"Yeah, there's definitely a misconception about Keswick," says Dean Maupin, Keswick's chef de cusine, "...but it's wide open."
Maupin is talking about "The Bar" which opened about a year ago and now offers a tapas menu to accompany its impressive wine selection.
"We just have a lot of fun with it," Maupin says. "Nothing is planned, we just kind of 'cook off the cuff' with the ingredients we have available that week." Some of the off-the-cuff offerings include grilled shrimp in garlic aioli, lamb loin in a roasted red-pepper sauce, dates wrapped in bacon, bocadillas and other Spanish-themed treats.
While The Bar can't compete with the traffic at the hip late-night scene at Mas, an in-town tapas bar, Maupin's menu sure can. Dish was impressed with the fresh ingredients and Maupin's presentation. According to Keswick's wine man, Richard Hewitt, The Bar also boasts an extensive selection of sherries that are traditionally served with tapas.
Of course, Dish still wondered if Keswick Hall's highbrow sensibilities might be a little off-putting, despite Maupin's everyman approach. So Dish put the place to a test in the form of four-year-old Cole.
While Hewitt talked wine, and dining room supervisor Scott Meynig served as host, Cole blew bubbles in his Sprite and did a kind of monkey dance on the bar floor. When a delicious and architecturally impressive chocolate gateau arrived, complete with gold-leaf topping, Cole took a few bites and then smashed the dessert creation into a pudding with his spoon.
"Aren't children wonderful," Meynig declared with a tired smile.
All in all, Dish thinks that Keswick passed the Cole test, and therefore cured our misconceptions, thanks in large part to Romanian bartender Daniel Borteanu, who treated the little man just like everyone else.
Last week, Dish tried to get hold of Cathy & Haden Berry at Three Notch'd Grill, with no luck. Finally, we managed to catch Haden Berry for a quick update.
"It was pretty crazy the first couple of weeks," says Berry. That fast start is a testament to the couple's reputation as Duner's long-time kitchen aces. In fact, the Three-Notch'd got off to such a fast start that the restaurant didn't even have a proper sign, just a banner nailed to the side of the building that the wind had twisted backwards.
"We got a sign yesterday," says Berry. "We just put it up." So how is the Three-Notch'd different from Duner's?
"Well, it's more moderately priced," says Berry, "and we have a larger variety of sandwiches..." Suddenly, Berry says he's too busy to talk and asks us to call back later. Obviously, Berry cares more about making dishes than talking about them– a good sign.
Back in Charlottesville, word on the street has it that Cam McNair, the burley former Mas cook (but no relation to Dish) is planning to open a Cajun-style restaurant on Second Street called Bayou. According to Mas's Tomas Rahul, McNair's Creole food is the real deal. If you like authentic Cajun cooking– gumbo, jambalaya and the rest– then Dish suggests you tune in next week for an update on this little taste of New Orleans in Virginia.
The Bar at Keswick, surprisingly affordable
PHOTOS BY DAVE MCNAIR