The new Birch & Bloom farm-to-table steakhouse, set to open within the new Forum Hotel at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business this April, partnered with Michael Shaps Wineworks for an exclusive wine dinner and first taste of what the restaurant has to offer on Saturday.
“Our restaurants are meant to be chef-driven and loved by the local community a lot,” said Kelly Brown, general manager of the Forum. “It’s a much different concept than a normal hotel restaurant. We build out the menus, team and programming to stand out in the communities we’re in.”
The hotel is Kimpton’s latest addition to its IHG’s Luxury and Lifestyle Collection. It is also the brand’s first hotel on a college campus. With property slated to open in April 2023, the hotel has already proven popular and is booked solid through June 10, according Kimpton employees.
Out-of-town wine club members and Charlottesville foodies gathered at Michael Shaps Wineworks new tasing room 12 miles south of the city for the steakhouse’s introduction to the community. Shaps said the newly acquired space – what was previously Thatch Winery – has allowed the vineyard staff to invite more local chefs and restaurants to host private dinner events with Michael Shaps wine pairings.
Saturday’s dinner was the first time Birch & Bloom’s executive chef, Eric Brownlee, and the restaurant’s other chefs came together in the kitchen, presenting a “really impressive” experience, according to Shaps.
Shaps and Brownlee worked together to curate a three-course meal with sophisticated items including char-grilled oysters with crumb caviar, Virginia-raised wagyu beef tartare and filet mignon with shaved truffle.
While Saturday’s dinner was set in a more rustic and rural setting, at its future home at the Forum, Birch & Bloom’s 188-seat restaurant will feature a glass solarium which will provide space for private events and meals with a clear view of the adjacent 5-acre botanical garden.
Charlissa Dodge, the director of restaurant, bar and event operations at Kimpton Hotels, said she is eager to introduce an upscale steakhouse in a community that only has a handful at the moment.
Dodge said local connections with farmers, cidermakers and winemakers are important to the Kimpton team and the restaurant’s success.
In 2022 Dodge and Brownlee visited Michael Shaps Wineworks for a regular tasting without letting the staff know that they were wine shopping for the new restaurant.
“We went to a couple different places and when we got here – between the wine, the ambiance and the staff – we identified that this was what we thought should be the first partnership that we formed,” Dodge said.
Daniel Beedle, who serves as assistant food and beverage director as well as sommelier, educated dinner guests on Saturday on the unique wines that were precisely paired with each course.
Beedle previously served as the senior sommelier and director at Michelin-starred restaurants NoMad and Betony in New York. And he will continue working with the hotel’s opening team to curate wine and cocktail menus for Charlottesville’s newest eateries.
The Forum Hotel is also set to feature a second, more casual restaurant called The Good Sport that will open after Birch & Bloom.
“It’s going to be more cocktail-focused while pulling from the wine program as well,” said Erika Nelson, general manager of The Good Sport. “Think of it as a sports bar with a great cocktail program. The menu will be approachable for the average guest.”
For those who are not fond of raw beef or fish dishes, The Good Sport may be the perfect place for a weeknight dinner.
Some dinner guests on Saturday took a pause from their meals to tune into the UVa vs. Duke men’s basketball game on Saturday evening.
Nelson said that when The Good Sport opens, all they will have to do is walk from one restaurant to the next for flat-screen views of the sports they want to see.