C&O offers a historic and pleasing dining experience

Where you need to ask your parents to take you when they visit Charlottesville

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My first and highest recommendation goes to C&O, a restaurant named after the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway station sitting across the street. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Common experiences among all college students are few, but one of them is certainly a visit from the parents. Some students miss their parents deeply and can’t wait to spend time away from classes and with family. Others are mostly in it for the trip to Bed Bath and Beyond or a free grocery outing. Regardless, everyone can agree a visit brings one good thing to the table — a dinner that doesn’t include dining halls or frozen meals.

Parents have figured out spending money on a nice meal is a surefire way to have their kids begging for more visits, but it’s up to us to make the most of these visits. If your parents are visiting soon and you’re desperately craving something that hasn’t been blasted by a microwave, here are a few of the places I suggest.

My first and highest recommendation goes to C&O, a restaurant named after the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway station sitting across the street. Housed in a building that once served the traveling railway workers, the interior remains intimate and authentic. C&O sports rough wooden walls and stretches of exposed brick from the original building. Entering involves ducking past low doorways and adjusting to sparse lighting that feels like candlelight. Upstairs, the restaurant is simpler, with plain cream walls and country French parlor furniture and is filled with natural light. All the decor is simple and relaxed, from wooden beams as bar shelves to oil paintings of Charlottesville on the walls. Wait staff in plain black and white dress walk and speak softly, and the entire experience feels like eating in a homely French café.

The food, however, tells a different story. The menu shows more diversity, with rustic dishes like piping hot vegetable soup and slow-cooked duck confit. Other items include roasted sea scallops with salsa and cilantro, seared fish and summer vegetables and even Italian offerings. Most of the menu stays true to French country dining, with hearty tomato broths and savory slow roasted meats, but C&O also manages to fit in enough twists to keep its food fresh and interesting. I found myself stalling to order because almost everything sounded equally good. Everything I ate was satisfying, including two separate dishes with gnocchi straight out of a fine Italian restaurant and vegetable soup, a C&O favorite, that reminded me of a hot, home-cooked meal. I had the roasted farm chicken with a savory mushroom sauce over cheesy gratin. I finished with the chocolate mousse with caramel sauce and peanut nougat ice cream I will hopefully be ordering again very soon.

C&O has been serving up fine dining, French and otherwise, in Charlottesville since 1976, and I think it’s here to stay. It had a great atmosphere without being overly complicated or pretentious, making it a great place to take the family without feeling like a date night. It doesn’t require a suit and tie to feel at place here, and C&O excels at serving great experiences without taking itself too seriously. It maintained upscale casual in food that was skillfully cooked while still being authentic and enjoyable. They even offered a wine menu full enough to warrant a small book, a nice perk for the travel-worn parents. Historic, beautiful and tasty, C&O was a dining experience with my parents I would recommend to anyone.

However, there’s more than one great restaurant in Charlottesville. C&O took the main spot on this list, but others deserve mention too. For a similar experience just barely inside our city limits, try out the Ivy Inn Restaurant on Old Ivy Road. Ivy Inn sports a history of its own —  sitting on an estate once owned by the university itself and named after former writer-in-residence William Faulkner, Ivy Inn’s colonial architecture and navy shutters will look familiar to University students and parents alike. Ivy Inn reminds me more of a bed and breakfast or a model colonial household than a restaurant, and yet it serves some of the best food in Charlottesville. Run by a Greek family serving French amuse-bouche in an old American house, Ivy Inn is the perfect eclectic mix of classic fine American dining with French and Italian influence. Choose Ivy Inn to enjoy upscale steaks, chicken and seafood like the colonial forefathers would have wanted.

However, if classical dining isn’t what you’re looking for and your parents are a little more adventurous, I’d suggest TEN on the Downtown Mall. TEN serves authentic Japanese sushi and modern takes on classic ingredients like wagyu beef and miso and fish. TEN is a modern sushi bar in every sense, with sleek decor and a bar dotted with LED lights like little square stars, a contrast to the rustic walkway of the downtown mall below. It combines old and new in food as well, providing exciting combinations and twists on traditional and high quality sushi ingredients. What truly sets TEN apart, however, is Omakase, a Japanese word meaning “I’ll leave it up to you.” Choose a six, ten or twenty piece omakase and let the chefs create for you as they prepare your selected number of unique sushi pieces. These dishes can be solo plates or shared with parents. Ordering a roll or two on your own is also fine, but you miss out on hearing a sushi master speak about his work, explaining his choices to you before serving the omakase.

Hopefully these suggestions will come in handy, but luckily for university students, Charlottesville’s restaurant scene offers something for every taste in every place. Eat, enjoy, explore and make sure to take your parents along for the ride. Wherever you go, time with family while breaking bread together is a recipe for a weekend worth remembering.

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