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For special times, Ivy Inn serves best

Partings often are filled with sweet sorrow. Endings can be bittersweet. And signing bonuses... well...they are simply sweet.

Graduation is a time of ends and beginnings. But most importantly, whether it is a farewell expression or a celebratory dinner, it is a time of food. So enjoy your fill and eat your heart out. Whether your college performance was rare, medium or well-done, graduation merits a feast.

One place in Charlottesville that is ideal for graduation dinners - or special occasions of any kind - is the Ivy Inn restaurant. Located just past the railroad bridge on Old Ivy Road, the Ivy Inn is a quaint, rustic house adorned with small gardens and an aura of the past. Reservations are a must at the Inn because seating is limited and in demand.

In choosing to eat at the Ivy Inn, you also have a choice in where you would like to enjoy your meal. You can choose the outside patio with the delicate white holiday lights or a cozy interior that exudes warmth in both the colors used and the atmosphere achieved. Either is a pleasing experience.

On a warm evening, the patio makes for a particularly pleasant experience. This, in part can be attributed to an exceptionally considerate and helpful wait staff that makes diners' comfort and enjoyment its top priority.

Understanding that its patrons usually come on special occasions, the Ivy Inn paces its meal service, allowing guests to linger, visit and savor the meals they are presented. The meals are wonderful.

The menu changes daily at the Ivy Inn, but on all days you can expect to find a range of meat and fish entrees along with a vegetarian option. All dishes reflect what is fresh and in season.

For starters, the Ivy Inn offers a variety of soups from the typical leek and potato to the more eclectic sweet red pepper with herbed local goat cheese and the chilled English pea with smoked trout and sour cream. All of these are $6.

Additional appetizer options include the grilled quail breast ($9), which comes with confit leg, radish, aged sherry and spinach. The fricassee of veal sweetbreads ($9) uses a balance of a crispy potato galette, asparagus, cipollis and parsley. Not only is the food exquisitely prepared, but the presentation is artful and appealing as well.

Of particular note is the roast saddle of local farm-raised rabbit ($9). This appetizer incorporates tender and rich morsels of rabbit with flavorful, sponge-like morel mushrooms and delicate, mouth-watering baby artichokes under the light curtain of a sherry cream sauce. The filling appetizer should be shared, especially if you want to save room for the following courses.

Like the appetizers, the entrees at the Ivy Inn succeed in both flavor and flair. Particularly delicious is the mustard-herb crusted rack of lamb ($27) served with natural jus. A staple of spring dining, the lamb is prepared excellently. Flavorful and flanked by lightly cooked fingerling potatoes and baby vegetables, the lamb melds sweet with bitter by bringing together the tang of the mustard with lightly toasted almonds in its crust.

The pan-seared Alaskan halibut fillet ($24) is equally palate pleasing. Flaky and so tender that it melts in your mouth, the halibut comes with a cluster of grilled asparagus, an artfully composed chick pea fritter, black olives and a garnish of parsley. Lighter than the lamb, the halibut fills the senses without being too filling.

Also worth trying is the certified angus beef tenderloin ($27), which comes with grilled crostini, wild mushrooms and garlic cream and is topped with a cabernet sauce. And if you see red at red meat and shy away from fish, the Ivy Inn offers an excellent vegetarian dish, homemade vegetable ravioli ($18). This entree melds the traditional little pockets of ravioli with mascarpone cheese, parmigiano, wild mushrooms and tomato sauce. Hearty and rich, it is generous in portion and is quite filling.

For dessert, the Ivy Inn balances seasonal options with dessert staples and then adds in some of its own delicious concoctions. On the seasonal side of things, the strawberry and rhubarb crumble ($8) is worth the trip alone. Served in an individual tart dish, the crumble presents a blend of sweet and tart and warm and cold. The fruit is cooked to perfection and the topping is a sugary, crumbly treat. Completed with two dollops of homemade vanilla ice cream, the crumble is worth its price.

On the traditional side of things, the Ivy Inn offers a chocolate hazelnut parfait ($8). The parfait is as engaging to the eye as it is to the tongue. Composed beautifully on the plate, it is a veritable palace of chocolate surrounded by rich creams, chocolate spires and cookies. Made out of chocolate mousse and gianduia ganache, the parfait is a rich but delectable choice for any true chocolate lover.

Chocolate also is featured in the Ivy Inn's most inventive creation, "a cup of java" ($8). This dessert looks like a coffee cup and coffee, but is composed entirely out of edible and delicious materials. At its heart is mascarpone mousse, lady fingers and espresso.

Whether or not you graduate with honors, honor yourself with a dining experience that truly celebrates your achievement. For education itself is an honor, and we are honored to have spent the last four years with you. Happy graduation, fourth years! And, wherever your paths may take you, always keep that hunger.

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