I often find myself searching for just about any excuse to go out to a nice restaurant and escape the monotonous cycle of dining hall food and microwavable meals. Thus, when my parents told me they were making a pit stop in Charlottesville on their way to visit my grandpa in North Carolina, I immediately began to wade through countless Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews in hopes of finding the perfect restaurant to celebrate the reunion — with my parents and with “real” food. After an excessive amount of research, I landed on The Pink Grouse — the restaurant inside of The Quirk Hotel.
We began our meal with the charred octopus — which our waitress told us was a fan favorite and one of the few items to make the transition from the summer menu. A common theme amongst our entire order was aesthetic presentation. The dish came with two tentacles and was complimented with melted leeks, sour chili paste and little drops of preserved lime. As for flavor, the dish was a hit amongst all of us. Fair warning, however, the octopus itself had a bit of a kick to it, but one that was toned down by the other flavors on the plate.
Then, came time for the main event — the entrees. I had done a fair amount of “menu-stalking” before coming to the restaurant and therefore knew exactly what I wanted to order. I selected the five grain risotto, while my mom and dad opted for the potato gnocchi with chicken and Autumn Olive Farms pork loin, respectively.
Risotto is one of my favorite meals and the Pink Grouse’s version definitely satisfied my cravings. The dish was an elevated rendition of my favored dish — a blend of quinoa, barley, rye, wild rice and farro topped with celery root, black truffle and a parmesan crisp. It was, simply put, amazing and I ate every last bite. However, my only complaint would be that some of the grains, particularly the wild rice, were slightly harder in texture in comparison to the creamy, classic risotto arborio rice that I was used to. My mom was also happy with her order, stating that the gnocchi was super soft and the chicken was perfectly cooked. She, too, only had one suggestion for improvement — the dish was served in a salty broth, which she enjoyed, but felt as though it would have been better served with a sauce of some sorts. My dad concurred with us in the quality of his dish’s presentation, portion and flavor. He noted that the pork was perfectly cooked and very flavorful, specifically the underlying bloody butcher grits and okra stew. We all agreed that we would definitely order our dishes again.
My parents and I also selected a few side dishes — the shisito peppers with candied walnuts and the fingerling potatoes with sunchoke. Both were good, but underwhelming. The peppers were tasty and the candied nuts added a sweet contrast to the spice of the peppers. However, we all agreed that the peppers were a bit too hard and could’ve been cooked more. My mom was the chief critic of the other dish, being that she is an avid fan of sunchoke. She felt that the dish itself was satisfactory, but also noted that she wasn’t blown away and that the main reason she ordered it was because she rarely sees sunchokes featured on menus.
For a special occasion, as my parent’s visit was, this meal was reasonably priced. The appetizers all fell within a range of $12 to $16. The entrees lied between the low twenties and upper thirties. As for the sides, they sat at an appropriate price of $6 or $7. The food itself was made with the finest ingredients — and one must also factor the ambience, service and overall experience into the price of such a meal. Again, it certainly is a tab one would not be apt to pick up often, but one that perfectly suited the celebration of seeing my parents for the first time in months.
I, for one, have never thought the downtown mall to be that hard to access. But, The Pink Grouse lies even closer to Grounds, situating itself upon the upper portion of West Main Street. Some might not call this walking distance, but my parents and I felt it to be a comfortable, easily-navigable walk from my dorm and their hotel. For those who don’t agree, a trip on the Trolley would get you there even quicker.
One of the most pleasant parts of our experiences was the design and setup of the restaurant itself. We sat inside of the restaurant, which was decorated in a minimalistic, modern fashion with pops of color in ways of yellow and pink chairs and a blue velvet accent wall. The main dining room featured an open view into the kitchen. Outside, a patio with simple white tables, pink umbrellas and string lights.
I would add that we were one of only a few parties dining at the restaurant. But, our reservation time was during the earlier part of the evening, 6:00 p.m. and on a Thursday. Nevertheless, our experience was made even more intimate and personable by the fabulous wait staff who were able to pay even more attention to us.
Overall, we were blown away by our dining experience at the Pink Grouse. Unfortunately, my parents and I found ourselves to be too full to explore any of the dessert options. But, no fear, we have every intention of returning to this restaurant very soon and are excited to try more of their beautiful, delicious dishes.