A bonus is that the discriminating diner knows that at the end of this rainbow is The Trellis, which for more than two decades has been one of Virginia's best and prettiest restaurants. If you haven't been there recently, you'll discover that it got even better about two years ago with a $750,000 remodeling that brightened its contemporary main dining room and made it flow better into my favorite section, the Garden Room, whose windows look out on tourist-laden Merchants Square. I've been known to suggest to tourists examining the menu posted outside that they skip one of Colonial Williamsburg's theme restaurants and come in for an unforgettable treat.
All this is available at a cost no more than you'll fork over at many mediocre restaurants back here in The Holy City. Entrees range from $16 to $28 at dinner, less at lunch, and you can always get a burger or salad in the café next to the bar or outside on the patio.
My favorite time to arrive is just before sundown, when soft lights cast mellow glows on the pale walls, and the crowds have thinned enough to see through the windows the trampled leaves on the brick walkways.
The secret of The Trellis' success is that its celebrity chef, co-owner Marcel Desaulniers, is behind the grill every night, except when he is writing yet another cookbook six by last count, including four about desserts or on a book tour or TV program. Continuity in the kitchen is guaranteed by senior assistant chef Steven Francisco, who has been there 17 years. Marcel's partner, John Curtis Jr., patrols the premises when he isn't around the corner in his rare-book shop.
What makes The Trellis stand out is that it is an authentic regional restaurant with contemporary touches. Marcel borrows ideas from as far back as Colonial times and as current as a Tribeca bistro, and then adds his own distinctive touch. He gets country hams and sausages from across the James in Surry, peanuts from local growers, rabbit from Dilwyn, shitake mushrooms from the Northern Neck, and oysters and crabs from Virginia watermen.
Our latest meal there began with a complimentary appetizer of anchovy fillets in a creamy garlic sauce and a basket of pepper flatbread, corn soda bread and spindly bread sticks.
The best deal is a changed daily three-course seasonal supper for $26 the fall menu will give way to winter fare in mid-December. Mine began with a robust chowder of chunky ham and black-eyed peas laced with onions, celery and tomatoes in a substantial chicken and tomato sauce. The entrée showed off Marcel's inventiveness perfectly flaked salmon fillets in a bowl of charred jalapeno fettuccini. The meal wound up with "Diamonds on Ice," bite-sized chunks of chocolate atop scoops of blueberry sorbet and white chocolate ice cream, by pastry chef Kelly Bailey.
My wife chose from the regular menu and began with an eye-appealing appetizer of grilled portobello mushrooms and wafer-thin GruyŠre cheese sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and a basil purée on a bed of spinach whose taste matched the presentation ($8). Her entrée had two generous crab cakes, filled with lump back-fin meat and held together by what Marcel admits only to being "magic," and covered by a perfectly crispy crust. Four stalks of thin grilled asparagus guarded the crab cakes like poles supporting a teepee, all of which was surrounded by pan-seared pearl onions and toasted black pepper brioche chewy enough to pass for sautéed mushrooms ($26).
Though we have in the past, neither of us was brave enough to tackle the famous seven-layer "Death by Chocolate" cake before going home via the interstate and wishing we lived closer to Williamsburg. S
Don Baker has been reviewing restaurants since he retired as Richmond bureau chief for the Washington Post in '99. He has worked as a waiter and maitre-d' and has a dining Web site, www.diningpro.com. He last reviewed restaurants for Style in the late '80s.
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