THE ASHBY INN REVISITED
Anyone who has read this blog with any frequency or has talked to me in the last few years knows that I have been a huge fan of The Ashby Inn, the historic little restaurant in tiny Paris, Virginia. The combination of gracious and warm hospitality, great food, an excellent wine list and a sommelier with great talent in pairing food and wine won me over like no other restaurant has done. General manager and sommelier Neal Wavra was a big part of that. So I was disappointed to learn recently that Neal and Ashby have parted ways. Not surprisingly, Neal's wife, Star, also left. I got the news via a rather stilted, scripted phone call from the restaurant the same day someone sent me a column that included the news. While it was not part of the news, Sylvie, the gracious blonde hostess with a charming accent from "the other Paris" has also departed. I have heard some suggestions of the cause of the change, but none were official or authoritative. So I will only say that it's a considerable loss. Last night, we went to a wine dinner that Neal had planned before he departed. Jim Law presented some of the top wines from Linden Vineyard. And it was a very nice evening. We shared it with some friends we had not seen in ~six months. The wines were good and the food was outstanding. The staff did a good job. In terms of my admiration for Virginia wine, Jim Law and Linden are at the top of the list. He's been at this for 30 years. It doesn't take 30 years to figure out that Virginia, with its variable climate, can be a challenging place to grow great wine grapes. But it can take almost that long to figure out what to plant where and how to optimize them. Jim has put in the hard work--and has ripped out and replanted a lot of vines as a result. His Hardscrabble Vineyard Chardonnay--perhaps my favorite of the Linden wines--can be poured proudly with wines from anywhere. Additionally, Jim Law has won the respect of the Virginia wine community for the graciousness with which he has mentored others seeking to learn how to make good wine here. Look at many of Virginia's top wines and you'll find tracks leading back to Jim Law. So it was a very nice night. And yet it was also a bit of a sad night. Neal and Sylvie had made every visit to The Ashby Inn special. Her warm smile and hug when we arrived…his thoughtful seating of us in places where Gayle wouldn't have to walk far…the new wines he wanted me to try…the skillful way he tied the food and wine together as he described them. We missed those. I should be clear. This is still a very good restaurant. David Dunlap is a suburb chef. Kevin and the other staff members who serve guests are professionals in the best sense of the word. We will continue to think of The Ashby Inn as we seek restaurants to entertain friends and family. And I recommend you consider it. That's not what I would have said a month or two ago. I would have said you must go. It was a very special place. Now it's a very good restaurant. There is a difference.