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Smyrna is a new Charlottesville dining gem

The Mediterranean-Aegean restaurant serves exquisite dishes with charming hospitality

Smyrna is one of the few dining locales in the city where I have felt both well fed and well cared-for.
Smyrna is one of the few dining locales in the city where I have felt both well fed and well cared-for.

Smyrna is one of Charlottesville’s hottest new restaurants, and for good reason. They serve artfully simple Mediterranean-Aegean dishes in a relaxed, upscale atmosphere. I dined at Smyrna with my mom and dad over Parent’s Weekend. Though Smyrna is pricey, it’s a great spot to visit if your parents are in town to help foot the bill.

Smyrna is located in Charlottesville’s Starr Hill neighborhood on West Main Street — about a 20-minute walk from Central Grounds.

Smyrna is the ancient name of the modern city of Izmir, Turkey, the city where Smyrna’s General Manager Orhun Bartu Dikmen is from. Dikmen saw similarities between Izmir and Charlottesville, two cities known for their food and hospitality. Smyrna seeks to manifest this likeness, delivering locally-sourced Mediterranean-Aegean dishes with excellent service. The restaurant concept has been successful, receiving seemingly unanimous acclaim from local food publications and online reviews.

The restaurant was at capacity when we arrived Sunday evening. Sound-proof panels on the walls quieted the chatter to a conversational murmur, making the dining room feel more intimate. The older structural elements of the space clashed with modern decor — a patterned tin ceiling embellished the fifth wall, while colorful abstract panels adorned the bar. When I took a seat at our table, I had a difficult time concentrating on the menu — my eyes flitted between the food preparation in the open kitchen, the drink-mixing behind the bar and the foot traffic on Main Street through the glass storefront.

Our waiter was friendly, attentive and very knowledgeable. He gave us a tour of the menu, from the shareable “Munchies” to the individual “Mains.” He also explained that many of Smyrna’s dishes are vegetarian, and the menu indicates dishes that may be prepared gluten-free or vegan.

We started the meal with the Meze Trio, a sampler of seasonal hummus, charred eggplant and yogurt-goat cheese dip. The hummus was silky smooth with a hint of bitter tahini, garnished with whole chickpeas for an added crunch. The eggplant was beautifully balanced — it was at once smoky from the grill char and sweet from a pomegranate reduction. The creamy yogurt-goat cheese was served with a golden compote of golden beers and apricot, which cut the tang of the yogurt with a touch of sweetness.

Next, we shared the lamb meatball skewer. Ground lamb, pickled fennel and yogurt were sandwiched between two pieces of toasted lavash bread. The dish was a harmony of spice, acid, and crunch, and the yogurt seeped into the crevices of the lavash to tie it all together.

For dinner, I tasted the “Manti” dumplings and the Smyrna burger. The star-shaped dumplings were tiny — about the size of shirt buttons — and filled with local Sharondale mushrooms. The dish was sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes and baby sage leaves, and the bottom of the plate was covered in a garlic yogurt sauce. Each bite was earthy, fresh and tangy, a flavor profile that could only be likened to a forest floor.

The burger was made from a house-made beef and lamb grind, a blend that was rich and tender. The juice from the burger oozed together with the Urfa pepper aioli on the pillowy brioche bun. With the lemony sumac onions, each bite of the burger was lucious and bright. Next to the burger was a pile of shoestring fries, which I used to clean up the remnants from the meze and dumpling dishes — I didn’t want that goodness to go to waste.

For dessert, we tried the baklava cheesecake. The dish featured cheesecake layered between two triangular pieces of baklava, a dessert made of honey-soaked phyllo pastry filled with pistachio. The creamy cheesecake was a surprising complement to the delicate, nutty baklava, making for a fun conclusion to our meal.

I was delighted by the flavor and texture of Smyrna’s menu. But it was Smyrna’s thoughtful service that elevated the dining experience to the next level, from our waiter’s thorough explanation of the menu to the silky in-house triple-filtered water. Smyrna is one of the few dining locales in the city where I have felt both well fed and well cared-for.

Smyrna is certainly an expense — these five dishes ranged from $13 to $28. Though Smyrna is out of budget for the average student, the restaurant is a great option for a special dinner with your parents or some fancy bites split between friends.

Smyrna serves dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Monday. Diners can book reservations online with Resy.