This is the second review in the Life desk’s 2024 Charlottesville Restaurant Week series. Food writers also dined at Tonic, Belle and The Melting Pot.
Birch & Bloom — the new Forum Hotel’s feature steakhouse — boasts a sophisticated atmosphere and an extensive menu. My date and I dined at Birch & Bloom during Charlottesville Restaurant Week, where we each ate four courses for a flat rate of $45 total. During our dinner, I found that the restaurant delivered class and quality service but fell short on taste.
Birch & Bloom is located inside the Forum Hotel on Massie Road, just in front of the Darden School of Business. They are open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Diners can make reservations online with OpenTable.
We strolled through the newly renovated hotel lobby on our way to Birch & Bloom. A massive white chandelier dangled from the ceiling in front of the lobby’s balcony. We passed Birch & Bloom’s wine bar that emanated lively chatter, giving the impression that the hotel is one that never sleeps. When we arrived at the restaurant, our host — although overwhelmed by the number of customers — greeted us and quickly sat us at a table.
Birch & Bloom was grand, featuring high ceilings that echoed the abundant conversation that filled the room. The space was dim, and the only lighting around was a tiny candle on our table. But I appreciated the darkened mood — it helped sequester me and my date and made our dinner feel more private.
Our waiter explained the menu to us and bustled off. I noticed that all the waitstaff seemed especially hurried — there must have been more customers than usual because of the Restaurant Week deal. Nevertheless, our waiter visited our table often to check in. We ordered all of our dishes at once and waited relatively little time for each dish to arrive.
I began my meal with the shaved brussels sprouts. They came sprinkled with sunflower seeds and pomegranate seeds and were drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The vinegar brought the whole dish together with a rich flavor, but the pomegranate seeds were my favorite element and a unique addition to the dish. I did feel, however, that there was not enough dressing. Some of the sprouts were especially dry, and there was not enough vinegar to offset that dryness.
Next came the second course — the shrimp cocktail. We dipped the frozen shrimp in a tomatillo sauce and spritzed them with lime juice. The dish was simply delicious. The tomatillo sauce had all the right flavors to complement the shrimp, and we quickly finished our cocktails. It might have just been the highlight of our night.
We tasted the chicken roulade for our third course. The chicken was accompanied by mushrooms with a cognac sauce underneath. I had high hopes for the dish but did not end up feeling very satisfied. Although the chicken was cooked perfectly, we found the dish to be incredibly salty. It paired well with the cognac sauce, but it became a little difficult to enjoy the dish because of the sheer amount of salt. Furthermore, I felt really let down by the chicken’s seasoning despite the nice pairing with the cognac sauce and the plate’s elegant presentation.
We ended the night with dessert. I ordered the chocolate chunk skillet, while my boyfriend got the huckleberry bread pudding. My dish came as a large cookie in a skillet with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. I was excited to eat my sweet treat but quickly realized that the entire cookie was hardened. My spoon could not penetrate the cookie at all. I had to scoop the treat out and break it apart with my hands as it crumbled into dry, hard pieces. I was even more disappointed at the taste — it was, again, unreasonably salty. I felt like I could taste the individual grains of salt that went into baking the cookie. I was disappointed that the last dish was so difficult to enjoy.
I had higher expectations for Birch & Bloom. I commend them for their lovely customer service and elegant atmosphere. But ultimately, I felt like the food could have been more impressive in terms of texture, seasoning and cookery. The restaurant has great potential to be the type of spot for special occasions and fancy dates, but right now, I would not recommend Birch & Bloom if you’re looking for a satisfying meal that fits the prestige of the location.