College life is about learning, of course, and post-college life is about the furious consumption of luxury goods. It’s only proper, then, that gazillions of newly minted UVA grads and their mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, cousins and nannies will celebrate the great rite of passage that is commencement, scheduled for May 19 and 20, by descending in great hordes on every restaurant in town.
It’s gonna be crazy.
First of all, if you don’t have a reservation by the time you’re reading this paper, start picturing a commencement dinner that involves the parking lot of Wendy’s, a keepsake mug and a fistful of sporks. “Saturday has been booked for a month,” says Luke Stewart-Silver, a shift manager at Hamiltons’. That Downtown landmark started taking commencement reservations for its $55 fixed-price meals at the beginning of the year, he says, and even after adding 15 seats to its usual capacity for a total of 75, Hamiltons’ has been turning people away for prime-time tables.
Stock up on cans of beans and stay home: Every new UVA grad and their mothers will descend on the Downtown restaurant scene en masse May 19-20.
This might be the one time you’d be glad your parents got divorced, since smaller tables—for parties of four or less—are the one variety Stewart-Silver still had available when we spoke.
Perhaps a less-established eatery is the way to go. Charles Roumeliotes, a partner in Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar, told us he still had some room in his book as of May 3. This being the restaurant’s first commencement, Roumeliotes wasn’t making many special plans to add seating or staffing. He did, however, promise a couple of special entrees: sea bass with caponata, or braised local pork butt with pasta, wild mushrooms and asparagus. (By the way, even if you have a fancy degree from a flagship university, it’s still O.K. to giggle at the term “pork butt.”)
Tom Walker says he’s worked numerous graduation weekends at restaurants around town; his current gig, Mono Loco, is taking reservations this year for the first time. (And, basically, they’re full.) Though they’re adding seating and beefing up staff, he still expects a wave of hungry celebrants that would test the mettle of any restaurant crew. “We can always tell it’s coming because at first there’s very little foot traffic and road traffic, and we see that swell, and we’re like ‘Here it goes, battle stations!’” he says, describing the scene this way: “It’s like Charlottesville goes to Foxfield and doesn’t drink; everyone’s dressed up and on their best behavior.”
Best behavior or no, it’s times like these that we, personally, are glad we don’t wait tables anymore. And you won’t find us battling the crowds that weekend, either; we consider the week or two after graduation to be the perfect time to rediscover local eats, especially on the Corner.
Rocky Mountain high
Reed Anderson, executive chef at Blue Light Grill, will take a break from his usual fishy endeavors June 15-17, when he’ll travel to Aspen, Colorado, for the 25th Food and Wine Classic—essentially, an orgy of top-flight chefs and to-die-for wines and, we’re guessing, a whole lot of really great haircuts. Anderson’s friend, Gavin Kaysen, is a chef at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo Inn and one of 10 “Best New Chefs,” each of whom will contribute one course to a Saturday night for 1,000 very lucky people.
Anderson will act as Kaysen’s sous-chef, which means he’ll spend three and a half days cooking like crazy (they’ll have just 20 minutes to plate their as-yet-unassigned course) while rubbing elbows with the likes of Emeril Lagasse and the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, says Anderson: “It’s not something that I probably will ever go to again.”
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