It’s nice to be noticed as 1 of the 12 Noteworthy Small Bites Restaurants in Virginia! We think ALL of our bites are delicious, but if they want to notice just the small ones, that’s OK too!
Selecting a restaurant’s name could be a challenge. But for Lydia and Louis Patierno, the setting inspired their choice: Girasole, Italian for “sunflower.” This cheerful restaurant in The Plains measures up to its name: bright and sunny, thanks to the expansive windows that wrap around the dining room, lush with outdoor foliage in warm weather and colorful with huge vases of vibrant flowers indoors – including, of course, sunflowers. The restaurant’s name, said Mr. Patierno, also connotes both “country” and Tuscany, where sunflowers grow abundantly.
Opening up Girasole nine years ago while still operating their now-sold Manassas restaurant, Panino, the Patiernos consider their finding this location a stroke of divine luck. “I used to come out between lunch and dinner from Manassas for trout fishing,” said Mr. Patierno. “I would drive around and see this corner building, and I would think that this is where I would like to be. If I were out here, I wouldn’t need to drive around looking for a place to fish.”
When the former owner put Girasole up for sale, the couple decided to make the move and to open a country place that features exquisite, from-scratch and traditional Italian cooking – that means breads, pastas, sauces, cured meats and pastries made on the premises by Mr. Patierno, the head chef. It helps, of course, that both grew up in Italian families, where honest home cooking prevailed – although Mrs. Patierno’s mother was Polish. “My uncle had an Italian provision import business,” she said. “I had a chance to work for him, and that sparked my interest in food.”
As for Mr. Patierno, as a college student he spent time in Ravena, in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. “That is a very culinary region,” he said. “So, without realizing it, I was absorbing a lot of food knowledge.”
It also helps that both Patiernos are dedicated foodies, having degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and having held assorted chef and management jobs in numerous restaurants, including one very prestigious D.C. restaurant. “I worked at the late Tiberio restaurant in Washington,” Mr. Patierno said about this very high-end destination. “I worked with a lot of great people, mostly Europeans who learned kitchen skills from the bottom up.”
His wife, on the other hand, interned for famed chef Hubert Schmeider after cooking school, then worked in kitchens in Iowa and Indianapolis before returning to D.C. In those days, she discovered, few women were hired to cook in the District, so she worked in hotel management, invaluable training for knowing how to run the couple’s future restaurants.
Now that they focus solely on Girasole, the Patiernos can concentrate full time on structuring a menu that includes such Italian entrée specialties as fritto misto (crisply fried squid, scallops, sole, shrimp, mussels and zucchini) and scaloppini di vitello saltimbocca (veal scaloppini with sautéed onions, roasted red peppers and light tomato sauce). Appetizers include mozzarella fritti (fried mozzarella with a light lemon anchovy sauce). And don’t bypass the pasta. Who could resist pappardella alla Bolognese (wide pasta ribbons with a classic meat sauce)? Delicate pastries and cups of espresso wind up the meal.
Northern Virginia Magazine
“No, no. Not the bunny,” says a woman to her server, responding to an early fall special of braised rabbit loin stuffed with Italian chestnuts, with a side of rabbit ravioli, in deeply meaty rabbit pan sauce. I smiled, having already ordered the dish, on special.
At Girasole it’s not necessary to open the menu. The printed version doesn’t change, which means you must listen to the long list of specials. (Thankfully, on busy weekends there is a print out.)
A salad (on special) has the balanced proportions of a Zac Posen dress: crisply American with of-the-season figs from Chantilly, mixed greens, house-cured pancetta and tangy chevre. Earlier in the year, pinky-purple-tinged octopus, (on special) colored from a braise in red wine, was draped in Italian oil with beautiful summer microgreens performing as edible art.
Scoop: Desserts don’t change as seasonally, but really, chocolate is never out. A slice of gianduia, dense as ganache, marries chocolate and hazelnut in such a pure fashion that it will make you rethink your devotion to store-bought Nutella.
DINING IN MIDDLEBURG?:
Todd – My husband and I are considering a mini staycation/babymoon out at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg. The resort looks wonderful, but I dont think we want to eat on premise (eek – terrible Post write up.. have you been out?).
So the question, is there anywhere wonderful in Middleburg or even nearby you would recommend? Have you heard anything about the latest with Ashby Inn’s chef?
What I’d do, if I were you, is book a table at Girasole, in the Plains.
It’s about an eight-mile drive south — take you about 15 minutes.
And then you’ll settle in to a cozy, soft-lit dining room for a good, relaxing meal of casual Italian cooking. It’s an enjoyable restaurant. Not a splurge of a meal kind of place, not a gastronomic getaway — but the kind of place you wish were closer to the city, because you could see yourself going once a month.
By Middleburg Eccentric
Everyone knows what makes a house a home. It’s cozy, inviting, filled with loved ones, good food, and everyone’s welcome, especially around the holidays. That’s also what makes a great restaurant your home away from home, and that’s what you’ll find At Girasole, in The Plains.
Not only will you enjoy fantastic regional Italian food by Chef Lou Patierno, but you will applaud the special dinner events they offer.
There are wine tastings and wine dinners every month; sponsor trips to Italy; an aperitivo bar; and, during the holiday season special food baskets; catering; party hosting, wine sales; and gift certificates.
Chef Patierno uses locally grown produce and meats in his recipes including mushrooms from North Cove Mushrooms, figs from Ticonderoga Farms, and organic beef and chicken from Ayrshire Farms.
“I was inspired by a trip to my aunt’s house in Ferrara in Northern Italy, when I was a teenager,” he explained.
“I fell in love with Italian cuisine.”
Trained at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, and later at the famed Tiberio in Washington, DC, Chef Patierno brings passion and expertise to his cooking.
“My approach is straightforward. I want the natural flavors to come through which requires the very best ingredients. Securing fresh products, especially locally sourced, is a requirement therefore to make a successful dish,” he emphasized.
Next month to celebrate truffle season, Chef Patierno and his wife, Lydia, who also trained at the Culinary Institute of America, will feature their annual Piedmont Truffle Dinner on Sunday, November 11 at 7 pm.
Hosted by their friend, Francesca Vaira of G.D. Vajra Wines, the seven courses will include tenderloin carpaccio with micro greens and shaved white truffles, Piedmontese carnaroli truffle risotto, proscuitto wrapped Ayshire Farm rose veal and sweetbread studded agnolotti with shaved white truffles.
Other upcoming events include a Thanksgiving wine tasting on November 18 at 3 pm where fifteen wines will be offered to taste and to purchase to ensure that your Thanksgiving meal has perfect wine pairings. But if you don’t want to cook on Thanksgiving, join the Patierno family for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from noon to five. For only $65 per person, you’ll enjoy a traditional meal with optional Italian-inspired side dishes.
Locals will enjoy Girasole’s new Apertivo Bar. Small plate pastas, pizzas and other delectable bites and specialty cocktails are available each Sunday through Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 in the lovely lounge area. For those who wish to learn from Chef Patierno, a cooking class, takes place periodically at the sister restaurant, Panino, in nearby Manassas, Virginia.
Lydia Patierno runs the dining area and she and her servers, that sometimes include her grown children and nephew, know how to ensure that everyone is treated exceptionally well and leaves happy.
Girasole is open everyday Monday through Saturday from 4:30 to 10 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm. They can be found on the web at www.girasoleva.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/girasoleva For more information or to make a reservation, call 540-253-5501.
by Daisy Ridgway Khalifa
There is a point, as I drive west on Route 66, away from the metropolitan counties of Arlington and Fairfax, where the last signs of urban development—the “big box” stores, strip malls and clusters of housing—disappear. As I cross Route 15 and leave Prince William County, quite suddenly, a mountain pass appears, sheathed in deep orange and brilliant yellow on this late Fall day, and the land goes from grey to green. There is nothing but the undisturbed foliage of distant mountains topped by a swath of blue sky, which triggers an unexpected sense of relief and pleasure, and I smile; at last, I am out of the big city.
In truth, the experience is, at best, a transitory one, for in every direction—north towards Leesburg, south to Warrenton and west to Front Royal—the parking lots, outlet malls and the grey expanse of concrete inevitably resume; a harbinger of what may well happen to this pristine land. But for the time being, this is the heart of Fauquier County where, at Exit 31, a visitor finds herself in an exquisite enclave of pure country in the small and unpretentious town center of The Plains, where no more than a dozen businesses—three delightful restaurants, a tea room, and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops and art galleries—welcome outsiders.
The Plains easily lives up to its name, not for its designation as a large area of flat land with few trees, which is breathtakingly true, but for its simplicity and charm in being so entirely unadorned. And it is a community that cares deeply about staying as it is, which has made it the poster child for a debate over land conservation. The Plains is a focal point of a crusade to protect Fauquier County’s remaining open spaces in the face of a surging population and the belief by many that land development is inevitable.
Unlike the more storied Northern Virginia towns, The Plains’ history is rather unremarkable; its way of life, understated. Population 400, the town comprises no more than a five-mile radius from the intersection of Main Street and Old Tavern Road.
“The Plains started out as nothing but a crossroads. Nobody said, ‘Let’s make a village,’” says Marci Markey, a resident of 38 years, and the author of War Without a Battle: The Plains, Virginia 1861-1965. “It was just going to be a farm outpost because the railroad stopped here,” adds Markey whose house in the center of town was once a blacksmith shop.
The whole area functioned as farmland as far back as the beginning of the 19th century. In 1831, there was just one house, and one store with a post office. The town was incorporated in 1910, yet remained sleepy well into the 1970s, aside from the regular rumbling of freight trains that still pass through the village several times a day and into the wee hours. It was occupied largely by laborers and farmhands, along with businesses that sold to the trade. It blossomed only relatively recently, in the past 25 years, into the friendly village it is today with tasteful shops and sumptuous, though few, eateries, as well as a glorious Farmers Market that visitors pass on the way into town off of Route 66.
But the unspoiled, open countryside also lent itself to fox hunting, thus drawing scores of riders and a generally wealthier set to the region. Prominent families, whose fortunes derived from banking, finance and the industrial boom at the turn of the 20th century, bought up large parcels of land within Fauquier County largely around The Plains and toward Upperville and Middleburg, nine miles north. Likewise, a contingent of wealthy New Yorkers would travel to Virginia’s hunting grounds by train on a regular basis. (The Orange County Hunt relocated to Fauquier from Orange County, New York, in the 1930s.) These families kept hunt boxes on their property then, which were small houses they would use for several days’ worth of foxhunting at a time.
The state of Virginia has the fifth largest horse population in the world, and Fauquier County, home to hundreds of the nation’s finest horse farms, has long been the heart of Virginia’s rich equestrian tradition, while serving as a premier training ground and destination for students and professional riders. The first fox hunts in America were hosted on the pastures of Fauquier County by Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord of Cameron, in 1747, and equestrian life has endured since then.
Of the foxhunters whose family called Fauquier County and The Plains home was the late Arthur W. “Nick” Arundel. His father, Russell, was a Pepsi Cola executive and an avid foxhunter. His mother, Marjorie Sale Arundel, who died in 2006 at the age of 104, was a conservationist renowned for her work with the World Wildlife Fund and as an environmentalist active in issues including the protection of forests, pesticide abuse and the nation’s energy policy.
The senior Arundels lived on Wildcat Mountain, which borders Warrenton and The Plains. Their son would add to the family’s considerable land holdings, eventually acquiring thousands of acres around the neighboring mountain to the north on Route 17 where he would bring up his own family of five children at Merry Oak Farm. Today, his widow, Margaret McElroy “Peggy” Arundel, lives at the farm she shared with her late husband for more than five decades. (Arundel passed away in February 2011 at the age of 83.)
In the late 1970s, Nick Arundel, then a retired U.S. Marine infantry paratroop officer in Korea and Vietnam, who had augmented the family fortune by building a media corporation, was concerned about the condition of the town, according to Mrs. Arundel. “He said, ‘I can’t have my hometown be like this. I want to be proud of my hometown,’” she explains.
The couple was inspired by the restoration going on in Charleston, South Carolina, at the time, and its business model in particular, which encouraged nonprofit corporations to acquire old buildings, fix them up and allow businesses to occupy the space rent-free for a time.
“We fixed up the sidewalks, we fixed up the roads,” says Mrs. Arundel. The plan ultimately worked, though it took some time for businesses to get on their feet, she says. Today, the Arundel family does not own anything in The Plains, having sold the restored property at cost back to the people who had started businesses.
Arundel’s commitment to the rebirth of The Plains is something of a small-scale legend in the town, having resurrected what was described in the late 1960s as “a ghost town, slowly blowing away in the winds of time and decay,” according to D’Anne Evans and John K. Gott’s account of the town’s restoration in Trains Whistles and Hunting Horns: The History of The Plains, Virginia. At one point in the mid-1970s, Arundel purchased—in the name of his non-profit, Village Trust—almost the entire center of The Plains, which then comprised mostly old abandoned buildings and vacant land.
In the center of town, there is a small grass commons—a “minipark” that was once a weed-covered parking lot. Today, it is known as Arundel Family Park, where a busy town bulletin board features village news. A painted sign that stands high in the park is among Nick Arundel’s signature touches. It is a tall wood totem of sorts with stacked arrows in every direction bearing the names of the world’s great cities and their distances from The Plains—among them, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Newmarket, England and Chantilly, France.
“That sign denotes our town’s progress,” says Markey, adding that it stands as a reminder that even though it is now a prosperous village, the town will always humbly serve as it once did, as a crossroads for travelers.
From the porch at Forlano’s Market & Restaurant right next door to the park, diners can study the engaging sign. Today, the mood is upbeat at Forlano’s, as the few bar stools on the narrow front porch fill up with 20- and 30-somethings, seemingly delighted visitors looking for a late afternoon respite in the country. Forlano’s serves much of its fare in plastic baskets lined with parchment (not too different than hot dog day at school, save for what is inside). My group, which included two children, shared everything from these heavenly baskets, including an Angus Steak Wrap and a B.L.T. with caramelized onions. The Kennett Square Mushroom Soup lingers in my memory and is easily worth a regular pilgrimage.
Just off of Main Street and near the railroad tracks sits upscale restaurant, Girasole. Owners Lydia and Louis Patierno were so taken by the simple elegance of The Plains that they have been making a rather lengthy commute from Mount Vernon since opening Girasole—the Italian word for sunflower—in 2004. The airy, elegant stone building is a renovated Victorian farmhouse which once served as a grocery store. “We feel The Plains is very similar to Piedmont in Italy,” says Lydia Patierno. The restaurant is open only for dinner, except on Sundays when brunch is also offered. Visitors are enamored of Chef Louis Patierno’s agnolotti, a housemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with a delicate cream sauce. Out-of-the-ordinary dinner specials include lamb ravioli in curry sauce with golden raisins, while brunch combines Italian fare, such as salmon paglia et fieno in tomato cream sauce, with the standards a Virginia Hunt crowd might expect, such as classic eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles with fresh berries.
In pursuit of good Italian?
Stop at Girasole, in Virginia’s hunt country
By Tom Sietsema
September 26, 2010
For the past five years, and always on my way to other restaurants, I’ve been driving past Girasole in Virginia’s hunt country. Such a handsome spread, I thought as my eyes took in a two-story dwelling in the tiny Fauquier County town of The Plains. Such happy-looking faces leaving the place, I mentally noted. Such rustic background music, I observed at least once, when a train rumbled by mere yards from the setting, near where I was idling.
Then off I’d go, to someplace I figured was more important.
Prompted by a fan of the Italian restaurant, I made Girasole my destination rather than my drive-by this summer. What I found was a place that reflects the family that cares for it, and breads, pastas and desserts with a personal touch (most are made in-house).
The menu doesn’t immediately register as anything special. White bean soup, linguine with clams and veal scalloppine aren’t exactly a siren call to book a table in the countryside. Girasole’s chef and owner, Louis Patierno, acknowledges as much when he says the choices are mostly “the generic things people expect to see” at an Italian restaurant.
They might sound simple on paper, but some of those dishes are alluring. Little did I know, for instance, that one of the best fritto mistos in recent memory is about 60 minutes from downtown Washington, at a place that takes its name from the Italian word for sunflower. Even a half-order of the entree delivers enough lightly fried scallops, shrimp, mussels and zucchini for two to share. Just squeeze on some lemon juice, and you have yourself a golden feast. Proof that not all fried mozzarella is created equal is Girasole’s lightly breaded appetizer, which breaks open to a rush of white lava. Fried parsley leaves and anchovy butter are just the jolts to kick-start the dish. Patierno smokes his own local trout, presented with minced onions and briny capers, and although it’s billed as a first course, it could stand in as a light (and winning) entree. If you trawled for your meal only from the fish and seafood choices, you could be happy; clams with linguine are pleasantly garlicky and zippy with red pepper flakes, while baby octopus is bright with lemon juice and heartier with chickpeas. But thin slices of sauteed veal, fragrant with sage and served on a nest of tasty spinach, provide a delicious reason to go aground. (Too bad there’s but a single dauphine potato gracing the entree.)
That said, what also endears Girasole to me is its many specials, which are described by the servers. Amazingly, none of the staff reads off notes — no small feat when there typically are a dozen specials to talk up.
Veering from the standing script might reward diners with floppy ravioli stuffed with chunks of tender lamb, cloaked in a dusky yellow curry sauce and sprinkled with golden raisins. Or tube-shaped, tomato-sauced cannelloni hiding soft ground veal in their centers. If trout is on the spoken menu, go fish. You might get lucky, as I did recently, with a skin-on sauteed trout splayed on its plate with crisp green beans and a bite of boiled potato. A dusting of crushed pistachios and splashes of lemon-butter sauce embellish the fish.
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