I must admit, I’ve passed Chardonnay’s many times and never stopped, though the always-full parking lot seemed like a good sign. My expectations rose as soon as I left the nondescript strip of highway for the spacious, tasteful interior. Though it was early on a Tuesday night, it vibrated with a good mood and almost every table was full; dim lighting fostered intimacy and comfort.
We started with the Fig Jam and Arugula Pizza ($13.75). The thin but pliant crust was spread with fig jam and topped with plenty of tender arugula. Sliced red onion, dried yellow tomatoes and spoonfuls of goat cheese added bursts of flavor. The acclaimed pizza of this region sets the bar high, so I was surprised how impressed I was by this one.
Visiting on a Tuesday, we were able to take advantage of the $22 three-course special.
This menu includes a choice of appetizer, salad and entrée, most of which are available on the regular menu. For my appetizer, I chose the Grilled Clams (normally $13.25). Five plump, buttery clams were sprinkled with parsley and served on a stylish triangular rack with a wedge of lemon. They were nicely cooked and the portion was just right. My husband had the Stuffed Pepper (normally $7.25). A large bell pepper was split and stuffed with sausage risotto, topped with mozzarella and baked in a ramekin of marinara sauce.
Despite the name, Chardonnay’s doesn’t have the pages-long wine list of a large-cellared restaurant, but the list is unintimidating and nicely organized. Over 20 wines available by the glass can be ordered in three-, six- or eight-ounce pours. I asked if many people created their own flights, but surprisingly, the answer was no – the three ounce pours are more often brought to the table when a diner wants a few more sips to finish with a dish. Still, wine adventurers should relish this chance to pair each course with a different wine without getting too tipsy. I started with a medium pour of the Principessa Gavia Gavi ($7.25/six oz.), a fresh and crisp choice for my pizza. My husband had the Cecchi Chianti ($6/six oz.), a nice balance of light fruit and tannins. While the wine selection was adequate, I think Chardonnay’s could pay homage to its name by serving wines in glasses appropriate to the varietal, but this is admittedly a touch that many diners won’t expect or appreciate.Two salad options are available with the Tuesday menu. The Caesar was well dressed with ample shavings of Parmesan, and the House salad was fresh and full of color. Despite the busy night, our waitress was incredibly attentive and friendly. We had a good view of the wait staff filing in and out of the kitchen, and it was easy to tell that this was a well organized and tightly run operation.
For my entrée, I chose the Pork Medallions Gratinée (normally $21). The pork medallions were topped with a Port dijon sauce and crumbled Gorgonzola. This entrée was served with a generous portion of garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. A side of vegetables is a good test of a restaurant; at many with similarly traditional menus, they are the soggy, bland stepchildren of the plate. To my surprise, my mix of carrots, squash, green beans and peppers was correctly cooked and firm to the bite. The pork’s sauce was a bit sweet for my taste, but the meat was very tender. A glass of the Cline Zin ($6 /six oz.) paired well with the dish’s sweet richness. My husband had the Braised Beef and Pork Rigatoni (normally $18.75). The meaty red sauce had nicely cooked mushrooms and carrots.
If we hadn’t started with a pizza, I would have insisted on the dessert pizza, topped with mascarpone, fresh fruit, melba sauce and crème anglaise. Our waitress emphatically recommended the PB&C ($7). It was a chocolate cake layered with whipped peanut butter, then each slice was completely coated in ganache and drizzled with white chocolate. It was delicious to share for chocolate and peanut butter lovers like us.
If you, like me, have driven by Chardonnay’s and never managed to stop, step on the brakes next time. It’s worth a visit.