105 S. Coalter St.
Staunton, VA 24401
American | $$$
On a recent Saturday morning I was checking out StarChefs.com’s 2014 list of D.C.’s rising star chefs when I came across a restaurant I did not know, Chef Ian Boden of The Shack. A quick search found the restaurant in Staunton, VA and several stellar reviews. Most notably Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post and Josh Ozersky of Esquire. The Shack was also named one of the 2014 top 100 Best Restaurants in the South by Southern Living Magazine. Their web page allowed me to make a reservation for that evening so we set off on the 2 hour drive down Rt. 81 to Staunton.
The Shack is small, 7 tables seat 26. Only one table is a 2 top so couples must share a table. When we arrived for the first seating they had us at the 2 top in the back with dim lighting. When we asked if we could switch to the first table with better lighting the staff was more than accommodating but warned us we would have to share a table. I needed better light for pictures so all I could do was hope I wouldn’t have to struggle through dinner with some bloviating fool.
As luck would have it a fellow foodie named Rafe sat down with his mother and we had a great time. In town from Florida to see 2 shows at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse. He is one of the most amazing 10 year olds I have met. He ate everything and was excited about the food. When I mentioned I like Indian food he rattled off a complete Indian meal as though he were reading a menu. We had a great time especially when we got squid ink on our napkins.
For my 1st starter I chose the Grilled Octopus with Rye Berries and Green Onion on Yellow Mustard Aioli. I am not a huge fan of octopus but this was cooked flawlessly. It had great texture and was not tough or rubbery. Octopus is a mild seafood so the mustard aioli was the perfect choice to create more body in the dish.
My wife had the Warm Butter Lettuce Salad with Watermelon Radish, Cracklins, Cilantro, and a Kimchi Vinaigrette as her 1st starter. My wife ate most of this but I had to try the combination of a pork rind with kimchi vinaigrette. The crunch, spice, and salt mixture was interesting and tasty.
For my 2nd starter I had the Black Truffle Spaccatelli with Roasted Crones, Beach Mushrooms, and Hazelnuts. This was by far the most fascinating dish of the night. I have not had roasted crones. After about five minutes of tasting and discussion we finally asked the waiter to explain them. They are a crunchy small tuber about half an inch long. They look like miniature charred grub worms that have a sweet slightly nutty flavor. Native to Asia they are locally grown on a farm near Charlottesville.
My wife’s 2nd starter was the Taylor Bay Scallops with Cider Braised Delicata, Chorizo, and Squid Ink. Scallops cooked and served in their shells was another first for us. The presentation was delightful and the blend of scallops and chorizo was scrumptious.
For her main course my wife chose the Roast Quail with Chestnut Cornbread Stuffing, Pumpkin, Brussel Sprouts, and Cranberries. I am not a big fan of Brussel sprouts so I steered clear of this dish. She said it was wonderful and would order it again.
I selected the Wagyu Oyster Steak with Marrow Cauliflower Purée, Kale, Braised Shallots, and a Madeira Sauce for my main course. As expected my steak was very flavorful. Wagyu beef has 30 to 40 percent more marbling than most American Choice beef found in grocery stores. The braised shallots were excellent with the purée and Madeira sauce. Made from a beef stock roux with the sweet Portuguese Madeira wine, the complex flavor of the Madeira sauce was a great choice for the Wagyu beef.
My dessert was an easy choice, Chocolate Cinnamon Pot de Crème with 2 Orange Sugar Cookies. The silky smooth pudding had just a hint of cinnamon and was delectable.
My wife ordered the Buttermilk Ricotta with a Honey Comb, Orange, Olive Oil, and Vanilla Toast. Many restaurants offer a cheese plate as dessert these days. Let’s be clear, cheese is not a dessert. It’s European to have cheese after dinner but in many American restaurants because it is being offered after the main course it is mistakenly labeled dessert. Chocolate is dessert, ice cream is dessert, cheese is NOT dessert. What drew our attention to this dish is the honey comb and vanilla toast. The honey comb was enchanting. When you bite into it you get the immediate sweet honey burst of flavor while the comb melts in your mouth.
It was a pleasure meeting Chef Boden and I know fellow foodie Rafe was super excited about having his picture taken with the chef. It’s fun to go to a restaurant and try something new but on this trip we had our first tries of crones, scallops in their shells, and honey comb which qualifies as an inventive menu. The staff is professional and attentive. The noise level is minimal because of the restaurant size and if you want to take pictures ask for a table near the front for the best lighting.
You don’t have to come to Virginia to enjoy a Chef Boden meal. On February 2, 2015 Chef Boden will create a special dinner at New York’s famed James Beard House. Reservations are still available.
Dinner was phenomenal and worth the 2 hour drive.