The owners of the idyllic, popular Powhatan wedding spot, The Mill at Fine Creek, offer Dinner at the Mill on the first Wednesday of every month. Fill up the car with gas, baby, because nights on the town are so overrated.
The ruins of a stone mill, the wide, rushing creek beyond, and a picturesque estate overlooking it all — The Mill at Fine Creek’s historical beauty has long been attractive to couples looking to tie the knot. But in recent months, the Benusas, who re-opened the property in 2004 after extensive renovations, decided to let the public discover the Mill’s talent for entertaining.
Once a month, the Mill serves a five-course, reservations-only, prix fixe menu, complete with paired wines, that will absolutely ruin your next few weeks of sub-par meals. I was there two weeks ago for the January edition, a modest little number that made me want to tear up with joy. Friends, I challenge you to find food like this anywhere within a 50-mile radius. It’s the stuff you read about in books on France — only this time, you get to taste it yourself.
For my particular meal (you get to choose between two entrées when you make your reservation), I lost my mind over pan-fried oysters with sautéed spinach, andouille sausage, and red beet horseradish sauce, paired with a fantastic French Sauvignon Blanc and followed by a bright-tasting salad of fennel and arugula with olives and pecorino cheese. Because sometimes life is completely awesome, a fresh-squeezed salty dog appeared before me — that is, the salt-rimmed version of my favorite drink, the greyhound (grapefruit juice and vodka). Next, I forgot all about those oysters when presented with an enormous, fluffy mound of sautéed sea bass with citrus beurre blanc sauce, accompanied by roasted Brussels sprouts and mushroom couscous. That bass, good lord, it felt like it was melting away as soon as I took a citrusy, buttery bite. And it did basically melt away as I ate it so quickly and so enthusiastically that I think I forgot to talk for about five minutes.**
Unluckily, I didn’t have much room left for the sky-high slice of Maui pie (think lemon meringue only with a pineapple custard and with what I’m pretty sure was a macadamia nut crust. Now think about it again, only blow it up in your head to about triple the size of what you could possibly consume if you’d been fasting all day).
There were other people there, and if I had been able to tear my attention away from my food, I would have taken a look around to see how they were enjoying the cuisine as well as the very smooth, very classy live musicians in the corner. I’m pretty sure I can guess, though. While the menu choices were innovative enough to be exciting, this isn’t the kind of fare that’s only accessible by a food snob. The flavors are complex, but not alienating, and if wine isn’t your thing, you’ve got a bartender and an accommodating staff who sincerely wants you to have a memorably excellent evening.
I imagine in the spring, the experience will be further enhanced by the stunning views I know the Mill affords, but in the dark winter months, fireplaces and stars are exactly what I’m looking for. And for a night in the country with food worthy of the world’s most sophisticated metropolises, the drive is absolutely worth it.
Make reservations online for the next dinner on February 2, and get a sneak peek at the menu. I witnessed, in action, their subtle willingness to fully accommodate any special dietary requests, and the venue is entirely handicapped accessible. Dinners are $60 per person, wine included. Call 804-379-8211 with questions.
Full disclosure: I do, slightly, know the owners of The Mill at Fine Creek (and I definitely knew the very smooth, very classy musicians). I was invited as a guest, but the only influence on my review of the evening was my genuine enthusiasm for a new and different dining experience. I would pay to go there again, and I may even go take care of those reservations right now. BRB.
*And significance! It was once occupied by Thomas Jefferson’s son and grandchildren, no big deal.
(Images courtesy of Blue Shutter Photography)