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Restaurant review: Elmwood at Sparks

Readers and friends have raved about Elmwood at Sparks for years, so My Dining Partner and I decided to visit this downtown Orange restaurant with a few friends who are regulars there.

First impressions were promising. The café bustled with activity despite a recent storm violent enough to delay our arrival.

The quaint restaurant is located in a building dating from about 1830 and features limited seating and an open kitchen where chef Randy Cooper and his team prepare French and American cuisine. Cooper updates the menu weekly, which can be viewed on the restaurant’s website. We discovered that Thursday nights feature a $35 fixed-price menu that includes any appetizer, entrée and dessert. It’s quite a deal, as typical appetizers range from $7 to $9.50, and entrées can go from anywhere between $19 and $31. We all took the $35 option.

Three at the table, including MDP, started with sautéed escargot ($9.50), a dish about as French as it gets. The luxurious, creamy, blue cheese sauce with mushrooms, shallots and red pepper coulis bathed the tender snails. It was almost enough to make me wish I had followed suit.

Instead, I ordered a plate of local (Richmond) salami, two varieties—Norcino and Calabrese—served with brie toast, a wink of cornichons, dimples of mustard each holding a caper, and a smile of apricot jam ($9.50). The presentation was lovely, like a happy clown face, with each taste complementing the last.

I ordered the pecan-dusted “Rag Mountain” trout ($27) served with rice pilaf. The  beautiful fish was perfection in flavor and texture, heightened by the colorful vegetable bits on top. The rice pilaf was also excellent.

Both men ordered the day’s special of lamb chops with mashed potatoes ($31). MDP was disappointed that his lamb was chewy and more well-done than requested. It was one of only a couple of stumbles during our meal. We were also surprised that the server did not return to the table to check on the meal, although water glasses were refilled.

The server knew that our other friend would want her usual—the pan-fried filet mignon ($31). The flavorful beef sat on a pillow of savory garlic potato gratin and was served with a special whole-grain mustard-horseradish cream. A happy combination!

Because the desserts were included in the price, we quickly bowed to temptation when the options were presented at the table. MDP and I both selected a strawberry–rhubarb crisp with a choice of ice cream. The delicate tart was fruity, but not too sweet.

One friend raved about his hazelnut napoleon, and the other enjoyed her piece of chocolate cake topped and filled with strawberries and served with double-chocolate ice cream.

It was a memorable evening, and a place we’d like to try again, perhaps during lunch, to sample the soup and sandwiches.

What: Elmwood at Sparks

Address: 124. W. Main St., Orange

Info: 540/672-0060; elmwoodcatering.com

Hours: Lunch, Tuesday though Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers: $7–$9.50; Soups and salads: $7–$8; Dinners: $19–$31; Desserts: $7; Beer, wine and mixed drinks available.

The Scoop: Small café with burgundy walls, fresh flowers on the tables and friendly service. Fine dining. Reservations for dinner suggested.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted.

Linda Salisbury is the author of the   Bailey Fish books, an award-winning   adventure series for kids.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/entertainment/2014/07/02/fine-dining-on-few-dollars/