We didn’t intend to drive 60 miles for gruel, but boy, are we glad we did. Our pursuit: destination dining in Paris, Va., pop. 71.
The Ashby Inn and Restaurant’s a charmer, with 10 rooms, situated in a shallow valley with views of gentle slopes and modest residences. The innkeepers of this house, built in 1829, are Neal and Star Wavra, both alums of the tasteful, elegant Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.
We were drawn first to the front room, a library. Brass fireplace fenders, a smooshy caramel-leather couch and wing chairs you can sink into make for one cozy space.
Now, we think that a fine meal and an underrated wine cellar are reward enough. On this night, the promise of a comfy bed meant that we could linger, and keep sipping.
The Victorian Room, one of six in the main house (there are four more rooms on the grounds), turns out to be blessedly doily-free. The inn’s low-key elegance carries through in the room’s warm tones of coral and moss green, the muted cabbage-rose of the drapes and the sedate plaid of the bed canopy. Small touches weren’t lost on us: the gracious owners’ note in the guest book; two snuggly robes; stemware for sampling a port-style wine made for the Ashby by the Vint Hill Craft Winery not far away; just the right amount of creak in the wood floors.
We fell asleep to rain patting the tin roof, which worked better than Ambien. Breakfast (included) was served on the Ashby’s sunny enclosed porch. Any of the five dishes would beat anything we’ve ever had at any other inn. Exhibit A: the small apple croissant where, say, a mega-muffin might have sat. I ordered a pretty plate of poached eggs with rye bread pudding, kale, turkey, mustard hollandaise and pickled okra. My Earl Grey stayed suitably hot, thanks to a thoughtful tea service tray.
I wouldn’t deprive you of a dinner recap; just saving the best for last. Tarver King has run the kitchen at the Ashby for the past three years. He’s the kind of chef whom other chefs make it their business to watch. Seventeen local farmers and purveyors were listed on the evening’s menu, and Neal Wavra, in his capacity as sommelier, paired wines with the four courses. About one-quarter of the cellar’s 400 selections, or 2,000 bottles, is from Virginia.
A 2009 Jermann Ribolla Gialla complemented my snack of salsify puree and toasted baguette. A seemingly simple entree of poached chicken breast and broccoli puree highlighted the quality of those ingredients. Dessert was a cocoa pound cake with stout gelato, barley honey, creme fraiche and espresso crumble.
You’re wondering about that gruel, aren’t you? Not the thin stuff of Dickens. The chef created the first-course dish by cooking oats, bulgur wheat and flaxseed in a mixture of apple cider, milk and butter. He finished it with pecorino-Romano cheese and chestnut puree and served it in a rustic bowl with crisps of chicken skin, sour apple butter, sage leaves, marigold petals and red mustard greens.
It had balance and beauty. Yes, we asked for more.
• The Ashby Inn and Restaurant, 692 Federal St., Paris, Va.; 540-592-3900; www.ashbyinn.com. Rooms from $155 to $275, breakfast and WiFi included.