Staunton, a Civil War town in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains, is an unexpectedly funky, friendly, liberal-minded, smart little city, and Aioli is a gem which should not be missed. Our dinner was wonderful. We began with the butternut squash soup which was superb. And the turnout was impressive, as was each dish. My wife ordered the three kinds of bruschetta and gave it an A rating. My creamy risotto was A+ -- large kernels, not the small dry pebbles so often encountered -- and yes, it was truly creamy. The winter beets were fresh and the accompanying goat cheese was so warm and fresh that I wondered whether the restaurant had a kid tied up outside in back. A warning about service, however: it was slow. With pre-theater reservations, we were one of the first two couples to arrive at the restaurant. Yet, it was almost half an hour before our soup course was served. And our next courses kept us waiting, too. I suspect this was because each dish was hand-prepared largely from scratch. It certainly looked and tasted that way. When we ordered the apple tart for dessert, our waitress warned us it would take 12 minutes to prepare -- which I took as confirmation of a hands-on kitchen. Just be prepared to take the time to enjoy a great meal, and because we arrived early, we were able to do so. The decor is eclectic and adds to the ambience. The restaurant had filled up by the time we left for the theatre--and many of the diners seemed to be local, another point in Aioli's favor. But if you're from out-of-town as we were, here's a tip: Aioli is about three blocks away from the Blackfriars Theatre and not all that easy to find. Two blocks east on Beverly St., then turn north. You won't spot it easily because there is no obvious awning, but keep walking toward the end of that block. Like the service wait, the walk is well worth it.
--James Polk, Marietta, Ga.
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