The original article can be read here»
Tired of looking at the same four walls of your kitchen or dining room in what’s become a great age of takeout and delivery? You have plenty of company. Which is why, now and then, you owe it to yourself to plot a getaway for dinner.
A lot of us didn’t go on vacation this year, not in the usual sense. Driving an hour or so for a meal by a good chef in an attractive setting is one way to feel normal again. Trust these two dining destinations to make that happen.
I rediscovered a chill pill this summer that doesn’t involve a prescription. It’s dinner alfresco at Girasole in The Plains. The first few moments alone compensate you for having made the trek to Virginia hunt country and the patio of the family-run restaurant, where the background music is spun by a fountain, a handsome stone chimney rises nearby, and the surrounding trees and bushes hint at the possibility of lemon, figs, kumquats and more on the Italian menu.
Let’s meet the couple responsible for the fun. Lydia Patierno is the welcoming mistress of ceremonies outside and in. Her husband and co-owner, Louis, is responsible for the brio on the plate. Scarlet folds of house-cured bresaola ring a fluff of ricotta striped with local honey, and agnolotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta are positioned just so on their pool of cream sauce. Calamari fritti capture the ideal: greaseless, crisp, garnished with fried parsley and sunny with lemon.
One reason to order chicken here is to taste how good the products are from nearby Upperville and Warrenton. Another is their preparation. Generous grinds of cracked pepper and a brick to press the chicken super-close to the heat reward the recipient with a blast of spice and an entree that crackles when you bite down.
Given the pandemic, Girasole’s long list of specials is a curiosity. “If I were to open another restaurant,” says the chef, “this would be my menu.” While Patierno feels obliged to retain crowd-pleasers, specials are a way to keep his cooks interested. Their engagement is likely to grab your attention, too. Consider veal Milanese, which the chef cuts thicker than usual so customers can taste the meat. And so we do, along with the sharp arugula and bright lemon that dress the entree. Risotto, another special, benefits from nearly 30 minutes of stirring, aged Parmesan and a flourish of sweet-smoky balsamic vinegar from Modena, which requires that the grapes be from Trebbiano and the vinegar be aged in wooden casks for no fewer than a dozen years.
The big dessert tray that used to force tough decisions when it was presented tableside is, like three-deep crowds at a bar, a thing of the past. For now, diners will have to settle for verbal descriptions. I miss the display, but the quality lives on. Olive oil cake with basil gelato is among the kitchen’s sweet send-offs. Anything with fruit — peach Melba, cherry cobbler, passion fruit anything — should be your focus.
Now and then, the outdoor fountain gets some competition. Meals are inevitably punctuated by a whistle from the trains that run less than a block from where you’re seated.
In Italian, Girasole translates to both “sunflower” and “surrounded by the sun.” Anyone who has been to the Patiernos’ restaurant might also know it as tranquil and tempting.