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Destination Dining: Indian Fields Tavern

Indian Fields Tavern is on its way to becoming "that special, out of the way place."

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Erich von Gehren, who bought Indian Fields Tavern in August, understands this and is taking steps to rejuvenate his restaurant. I'm glad to hear it, and I feel fortunate to have spent some time there during its current state of flux. It made the successful aspects sweeter, the stumbles less abrasive and left me eagerly anticipating a return after all the changes to the menu are completed.

Von Gehren took over the management of Indian Fields about a year ago and subsequently bought the restaurant. He has 20 years of experience in the industry as a chef and consultant, most notably with Capitol Restaurant Concepts in D.C. He is now preparing to turn a familiar face into an out-of-the-way gem.

In addition to the savvy, he has the facilities. Housed in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse surrounded by gardens in the middle of the beautiful bottomland fields and forests of Charles City County, the restaurant is cozy and encourages one to linger. The staff is mature and welcoming. In warmer months, dining on the porch will be a must. Without von Gehren's foresight though, the place might have dried up. The menu was nearly snoring. Roast pork, rack of lamb, crab cakes, veal chop, shellfish pasta, yawn. Sure, you might want that type of food once in a while, but why would you drive 30 miles to get it? It's in abundance all over town.

Von Gehren recognized that and is revamping Indian Fields by taking the idea of fresh, regional ingredients to the extreme. He has contracted with numerous Virginia companies to provide him with his meats, cheeses, fish and fowl. His own gardens will soon produce his herbs, heirloom tomatoes and other produce. The menu will change seasonally, as it should, to reflect what is available fresh from his local vendors. Fiddlehead ferns will be featured during their short window of opportunity. Shiitakes will give way to morels. Rack of lamb will be replaced by braised venison shank. The menu will be a continual "showcase of Virginia products," according to von Gehren.

I tried some of the new products and can attest to their superiority. The appetizer of Surry and wild boar sausage over a black-eyed pea relish ($7.95) was excellent. The Surry was zesty and aromatic, while the link of boar had a blunt gaminess that was an excellent balance. The relish did a nice job of subduing my palate between samples of each. This offering far surpassed the ragged scallops and anemic asparagus appetizer ($8.95) that will soon be replaced by an Oysters Rockefeller ($8.50) using Surry bacon, wilted fieldcress, Old Bay and Pernod.

To avoid any mutinies, a few entrees will be held over. Among these is the Chesapeake Filet. This is a standard: an Angus filet paired with a crab cake and topped with béarnaise. Both the meat and crab were prepared well, but when compared to a sliced rare duck breast in blood orange sauce and confit duck leg ($23.95), the Chesapeake showed its age. Von Gehren's creativity and finesse are easily spotted when contrasted with the tired and true fare generally offered by rural restaurants.

I'd mark your calendars. Indian Fields Tavern's country charm and cosmopolitan cuisine will be worth the drive east. Von Gehren debuts his new dinner menu Feb. 18. My sampling suggests to me that Indian Fields will soon be highly regarded as a destination spot for Richmonders looking for "that special, out of the way place." S



Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and held every job from dishwasher to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.



Indian Fields Tavern ($$$)

9220 John Tyler Memorial Highway

Charles City, VA

829-5004

Sunday through Thursday: lunch 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday: brunch 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

The restaurant is closed Mondays in January and February.

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