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Town House Chilhowie VA - Just Gets Better

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After my third visit to Town House over the last two years a couple of weeks ago, I find I can’t adequately convey how special dining there is. I’ve never been to El Bulli, Mugaritz, Per Se, Alinea, French Laundry, Pierre Gagnaire, or any other of the world’s top restaurants, so I don’t have a point of reference in my enthusiasm for the food and the entire experience at Town House. All I can say is that from now on at least once a year on our visits to Durham, NC I will carve out part of a day to make the six hour round trip drive to eat there, even if I have to go alone (which I did this time). My latest 10 course dinner from Chefs John and Karen was a masterpiece.

After an amuse of the updated olive cookie sandwich(this time, a thin black olive and chocolate cookie sandwich filled with olive jam, parmesan cream, and Meyer lemon confit), the 10 courses in my dinner were cherry soup with Maine shrimp, blackberries, almonds, and almond “sponge bread”; “Valencia orange” (nitrogen frozen orange puree “peel” filled with perfectly flavored, tender mussels, mussel mayo and herbs); “corn on the cob” (corn cob stock gelee, popcorn polenta, buttermilk, corn silk, intensely sweet corn kernels, fried pig tail, tuile of pig tail stock, a draping of milk skin); scrambled egg mousse infused with birch syrup on top of a wafer of crisp rye bread over char roe and preserved ramps; blue crab with caramelized onion and banana ice cream (including delicately fried onion skin from between onion layers); squid "risotto” (made entirely of squid cut to look like Arborio grains and squid broth); foie gras royale (a layer of foie gras under a layer of beet puree with delicate little beet slices garnished with morel caps, pine nuts, berries, crispy fried chicken skin and herbs); ribeye cap slow cooked in ash (with salsify “paper”, elephant garlic, bacon fat “ash” and mustard sauce); yuzu sponge cake with chocolate ice cream, earl grey tea ice cream, and “cleansing” herbs; and finally, parsnip ice cream with candied parsnip, a stripe of banana custard, macarons (and other ingredients I can’t remember). I asked Charlie to do just a partial wine pairing, and, once again, his choices were spot on (including a perfectly matched Madeira with the scrambled egg mousse).

Each dish was as beautiful to look at as it was to slowly savor the wonderful flavors and textures. No ingredient was superfluous, and often an unexpected nugget of flavor in a bite would register a quick and fleeting sense of pleasant recognition and then disappear (Karen told me later that they encourage guests not to share their dishes, because everything contributes to a dish’s taste). At the end, Charlie asked me what my favorite course was, and, reluctantly, I said the corn, because I love corn and fried pig. In retrospect, though, I loved every dish equally, but differently. John said that he feels the kitchen is much more confident as time has passed, and it really showed in this truly harmonious dinner. He was also just named a 2010 F&W Best New Chef, and Town House made OAD’s 2010 list of 30 most important American restaurants, so people with far more informed opinions than mine have taken notice. For me the restaurant feels as homey and warm as it did on my first visit in 2008 (at the end of this dinner Karen gave me a little bag of delightful garlic and poppy brioche to take home for breakfast), but each experience gets better (the Bishops’s creation is really taking shape). I just wish I lived closer, so I could drop in for an occasional Valencia orange or corn on the cob or foie gras royale or yuzu sponge cake with ice cream when I felt the urge. Pics attached:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/33398586...

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Town House
132 E Main St, Chilhowie, VA 24319

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  1. Town House has been on my list for a long time and I will admit that I am curious. I have eaten at many of the resturants you mention, several of them many times.. Some of them have challenging preparations, some are stunning in the actual simplicity of of classic preparation of brilliant ingredients. As I read your review and description (and thanks for posting it), I really question if stunning ingredients need such complex preparation. It almost sounds like a gimmick. I also think perhaps because I have definite likes and dislikes, and that some of the ingredients I don't like show up in your description, that perhaps a leap of faith might be required for me to enjoy the menu at Town House. I am going to have to give it a try and decide for myself. Thanks agian for the review. Your enthusiasm is appreciated.

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    Town House
    132 E Main St, Chilhowie, VA 24319

    1 Reply
    1. re: bimmertimmer

      The chefs are very flexible about accommodating diners' desires as long as they have some advance notice. You've no doubt seen their blog, where they regularly post photos of current and past menu items and works in progress. What I like about the preparations is discovering how seemingly incongruous ingredients in some dishes create absolutely sensational flavors and textures that make me wonder "how did they come up with that?", and make me think "I want to eat this again tomorrow."

      What I've loved about this place from the beginning is the pervasive warm and casual small town hospitality that extends from ownership to kitchen to service. I'd like to read about your thoughts after you make it over there.

    2. Thanks for the great review. Town House must be a really outstanding restaurant. It has certainly received a lot of glowing reviews. I went to Per Se and French Laundry and I was not impressed at all. I think Daniel, Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges in NYC are a notch above both. Maybe not in the press but IMO they are.

      I have been to a lot of wonderful restaurants in the US, Canada, Mexico and Italy but I must go to Town House if it's as good as you say. It's probably better than Per Se. Thank you for your great review.

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      Town House
      132 E Main St, Chilhowie, VA 24319

      1 Reply
      1. re: Littleman

        Thanks for your kind words. I hope you get a chance to go to Town House in the near future, just as I hope I can get to all the restaurants you mentioned in the not too distant future. By the way, the voters in the 2010 Pellegrino survey agree with you on Daniel, because they liked Daniel better than both Per Se and French Laundry.

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        Town House
        132 E Main St, Chilhowie, VA 24319

      2. I am dying to go there. What is the closest lodging?

        3 Replies
        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          The owners of Town House have opened an inn called Riverstead not far from the restaurant. It has two guest rooms and provides round trip transportation to Town House for guests. The next closest lodging that I know of is the General Francis Marion Hotel in Marion, about 10 miles northeast of Chilhowie on I-81.

          http://www.townhouseva.com/lodging.html

          http://www.gfmhotel.com/

          The first time I ate at Town House I stayed at a motel in Wytheville.

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          General Francis Marion Hotel
          107 E Main St, Marion, VA

          Town House
          Chilhowie, Chilhowie, VA

            1. re: beantowntitletown

              I would also recommend the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, which is not far: http://www.marthawashingtoninn.com/

              There are other chain hotels there as well, and probably B&Bs -- it's a lovely, historic old town.

          1. Just an update - they have closed.