By Stefanie Gans and Rina Rapuano
The Ashby Inn & Restaurant
Paris | Modern American | $$$$
If sitting outside on the enchanting patio is an option, don’t even think about stepping inside for any reason other than the bathroom. Not that the dining room is lacking in any way—in fact, the modern and funky equestrian art gracing the walls manages to update the normally stuffy genre. And the coziness of the space is probably perfect on a bleak winter’s day. The garden, however, just happens to be a magical, peaceful space full of butterflies, flowers and rolling hills. It’s just the kind of place where fairies were dreamed up—or live.
Wherever you sit, a meal will likely start with an amuse-bouche, such as a chilled asparagus soup shooter accented with creme fraiche, fennel and smoked olive oil. Late-summer starters included a lovely panzanella salad, given a caprese-like treatment with basil, burrata and balsamic, and a comforting pea and ham soup made richer with an egg yolk. A medium-rare filet mignon is made more decadent with its demi-glace sauce and buttery mashed potatoes, while the crab cakes with mustard sauce benefit from lighter accompaniments like chow-chow and a fennel salad.
Servers have just the right touch for making even no-occasion dining feel special, and the sommelier knows his stuff—although, it wouldn’t hurt to add more Virginia wines by the glass to the list. And despite being served in the rural hills of Virginia, the whimsical and delicate blood orange panna cotta with granola and beet candy would not have been out of place in any trendy downtown spot. // 692 Federal St., Paris