Last night Big J and I went to Tavola, a new restaurant in the Belmont area of Charlottesville. I think I've said before that I generally don't like going out for Italian food with very few exceptions. As it turns out, Tavola is one of those exceptions.
Tavola is a small, rustic neighborhood restaurant with just 37 seats. The decor is light punctuated by dark wood and copper, with an open kitchen and a small bar. It feels intimate, like eating a good friend's home. Which, in our case, is sort of true, since we know the owner/head chef and his wife.
We arrived around 6:45 to discover a completely full house. But we weren't on a schedule and we sat at the bar and enjoyed a glass of Leo Hillinger Secco sparkling pinot noir until a table came available.
We started our meal with Cozze ai Ferri -- skillet roasted mussels with garlic butter and parsley. They were divine. I had not thought of roasting mussles, but the method brought out and slightly mellowed the flavor of the mussels.
We next had Insalata Caprese -- a salad of heirloom tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. The chef uses locally sourced items when possible, so the tomoatoes were incredibly flavorful.
Four our main entrees Big J chose Spalla di Maiale alla Griglia -- fennel pollen-crusted pork shoulder, rosemary pesto, apple-fennel salad. Oh my! I don't know that I have ever had better pork. It had been grilled over wood and was cooked to perfection. The apple-fennel salad was a nice foil-crunchy, tart, and fresh.
I chose the Spaghetti alla Carbonara -- sausage, pancetta, egg, onion, pecorino cheese, black papper. I measure good Italian by the quality of the carbonara and this dish did not disappoint. It was light and flavorful with a nice spice from the sausage and black pepper accentuating each bite. Some carbonara recipes call for cream, which I think is a travesty and masks the fresh flavors of egg and pancetta. Done well, the egg produces a light creamy sauce that compliments rather than coats the pasta. This carbonara was done exceedlingly well.
We paired our meal with a carafe of 2007 La Bastide St. Dominique Cotes du Rhone, a delightful blend of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre.
We finished the meal with a light lemon polenta cake topped with summer berries and ricotta-black pepper cream. The cake was simple and moist, the berries obviously local and incredibly fresh. The ricotta-bleack pepper cream was an inspired addition with the pepper cutting through the sweet-tart berries and adding a lovely dimension to the dish.
All in all, it was a terrific meal. We will definitely be returning with little j in tow. With no entree over $20, it is the type of place we can go as a family or for date night without worrying about spending too much and with the guarantee of a good meal. In a town where restaurants come and go with a sad frequency, Tavola is one restaurant that could make its mark and become a fixed feature.