Showcasing Virginia’s bounty at The Clifton’s 1799

It’s been about 20 years since I’ve enjoyed a meal prepared by chef Matthew Bousquet.  

At the time, I was working in the Bay Area of Northern California, and a friend, who is a food writer, recommended I checkout a French bistro called Mirepoix the next time I visited Sonoma.

Executive chef Matthew Bousquet in the dining room of 1799, The Clifton’s Michelin-starred signature restaurant. Photography by Sera Petras

The chef, Matthew Bousquet, was making noise in the local culinary scene with his contemporary takes on classic French dishes. 

A few weeks later I made my way to the heart of Sonoma County for dinner at Mirepoix. My friend was right—the food was exceptional, every dish perfectly executed. And the service was impeccable. 

I enjoyed several more memorable meals at Mirepoix over the next year before coming back to Virginia.   

Moving East

Bousquet, along with his wife, Bryan, who ran the front of the house, would soon earn a Michelin star for Mirepoix. However, the economic realities of the restaurant business coupled with a desire for a change were behind their move.

After working in the Shenandoah Valley and serving as executive chef Keswick Hall, Bousquet was hired to helm the kitchen at The Clifton in 2018. “We needed a change and a new challenge,” Bousquet told me on a recent visit. “And we wanted to live in a region with four seasons so we chose central Virginia.”

Situated on a 100-acre historic property in the picturesque Charlottesville countryside, The
Clifton opened in 1985. The centerpiece of the estate is the classic colonial-style manor house built in 1799 by Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, and her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., a Virginia governor.   

The property was sold in 2017 and the new owners rebranded it—Clifton Inn is now The Clifton—bringing in the design team behind Tennessee’s spectacular Blackberry Farm to refresh the property.  

Enjoying 1799

On my visit, the evening began with a cocktail at the Copper Bar, a cozy space with a speakeasy vibe featuring a quartz bar and plush velvet banquettes. I went with the 1799 Signature Cocktail, a mix of cucumber vodka and St. Germaine with a splash of fresh squeezed lime juice, which I enjoyed while I considered the dinner menu.

The 1799 menu pulls you in—tempting guests to order one of everything. A server delivers a sizzling burger to the gentleman at the end of the bar. Topped with bacon, pickles, caramelized onions, and black garlic aioli running over the sides of the beef patty from underneath the house-made mustard seed bun, the burger looks amazing. I’m tempted to abandon my plan for oysters, bone marrow, and short ribs for the burger and another cocktail.  

Fortunately for me, the maître d’ intervened with an invitation to visit the downstairs wine cellar. Set for intimate private dinners from two to 20, the wine cellar walls are lined with dark oak shelves filled with First Growths, grand cru champagne, and many vintages of Virginia gems like Barboursville Octagon.

I wanted to linger and explore their wine collection but our table in the library room was ready. With walls painted an inviting, rich blue and a ceiling in a few shades lighter, the room was accented by art and walnut bookshelves lined with hundreds of titles.

Dinner started with a dozen plump oysters on the half shell, pulled fresh from the salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The zingy cilantro-jalapeño mignonette elevated the oyster’s briny flavor. A delectable peanut mousse with Meyer lemon jam arrived next, followed by decadent bone marrow and escargot with pernod butter. Pillowy-soft rolls served with salted butter in a Staub mini cast-iron cocotte helped mop up the escargot’s rich sauce. A delicious Kunz short rib entrée with celery root puree and horseradish-dijon cream featured creamy mashed potatoes like my grandma used to make.  

The Library, a comfortable yet sophisticated dining space at 1799, is saturated in rich hues with book-lined and art-filled walls.

Present & Friendly

Chef Bousquet emerged from the kitchen as I was taking the last bite of the tender short rib, dripping with mashed potatoes. He stopped to say hello to a couple at an adjacent table who were celebrating an anniversary before coming over to introduce himself. 

Even after a busy night in the kitchen, he was present and friendly and gracious with his time. He beamed when I mentioned that I have fond memories of several meals at Mirepoix.

He told me he grew up in Ohio and then moved to San Francisco when he was young and worked in restaurants as a young adult. He attended the California Culinary Academy and worked in notable kitchens in San Francisco, Denver, and St. Louis before opening Mirepoix in Sonoma. 

He has most definitely brought experience, new energy, and a focus on seasonality to 1799.
“Seasonality is really strong in my cooking,” Bousquet tells me. “The menu is determined by what’s available in the garden, on the property, and from local farmers.” Sourcing vegetables from the garden and foraging around the property gives him the creative boost that motivates him, even though “foraging is the luck of the draw,” he says. “Sometimes I go out looking for mushrooms and come back with wild chives, red buds, and bronze fennel.”

The morning after my visit, Bousquet picked red bud, bronze fennel, pea sprouts, red mustard, red sorrel, and hen and chicks from around the property for a foraged salad dressed with wild green garlic emulsion, preserved meyer lemon, and sumac Rosette.

Diners at The Clifton’s signature restaurant, 1799, enjoy a wild herb tart by Chef Matthew Bousquet and a refreshing summer cocktail by restaurant manager Benny Slay.

Cultivating Community

He has cultivated relationships with local farmers to ensure access to the freshest ingredients throughout the year, allowing guests to savor the nuances of Virginia’s seasonal bounty. Combined with his classical French training, his frequent foraging expeditions around The Clifton’s 100 acres, and harvesting from the property’s cultivated garden, 1799’s menu is a constantly evolving work of culinary art.  

Few properties mean as much to Charlottesville as The Clifton, and Chef Bousquet is helping write the next chapter of the historic estate as a culinary landmark.

Before heading back to the kitchen to close up for the evening, he told me he wants “people to appreciate this experience enough to come back again and again.”

A great meal pervades your soul and leaves one wanting more. A meal at 1799 will leave you wanting another. 

Historic Charm & Southern Hospitality

The Clifton offers 20 newly refurbished rooms and suites spanning five late 18th- and early-19th-century buildings—in the property’s Manor House, Garden Cottages, Livery Stables, and Collina Farmhouse. Luxury accommodations are tastefully appointed and decorated with art and antiques.  

Just minutes from Monticello and UVA, the classic countryside property spans 100 idyllic acres. Charlottesville,  named Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year, is home to the Monticello Wine Trail, where nearly 40 wineries are ripe for exploring and where tastings and events are always on the menu.

The Clifton offers guests a plethora of options to unwind and relax—from lounging under shaded cabanas by the infinity pool, complete with a cascading waterfall, to a leisurely evening soak in the stone hot tub. The property’s walking trails, nestled among the rolling Blue Ridge foothills, are perfect for strolling or a more rigorous workout—with unbeatable views. A dock along the banks of a 19-acre lake is the ideal spot for morning coffee. Or cozy up for cocktails by one of the four fireplaces in the Manor House.

Chef Bousquet strolls by the Manor House in search of fresh ingredients. Built in 1799, the Manor House features seven newly renovated and luxurious bedrooms and suites.

Click here for a selection of Chef Bousquet’s summer recipes!

This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue.

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