Food & Drink

Dinner at Virginia’s Maude & the Bear Is a Culinary Journey

Eight delicious courses—and eight interesting things to know about Ian Boden’s new dining destination in Staunton

Morels with scallop and ramp sauce.

Photo: ian boden

Morels with scallop and ramp sauce.

When I heard that Maude & the Bear, chef Ian Boden’s new restaurant and boutique inn in Staunton, Virginia, had opened, I knew I had to eat dinner there. I also knew that even though the four-course tasting menu should satisfy, I was committing to the seven-course lineup, plus an optional eighth course, because (rationalization alert) even a part-time food writer should get the full story. As those courses started arriving, I had an inkling that I wanted to alternate between my impressions of the food and telling the eatery’s larger story.

photo: courtesy of maude & the bear
A guest room at the inn.

First course: Local asparagus with yuzu, miso, and fried breadcrumbs—and a dream

The dressing lends a pop of citrus and umami, but not so much that it hides the fresh, green flavor of asparagus so welcome in spring. If such thoughtful execution reminds foodies of a lauded restaurant on the other side of Staunton’s charming downtown, that’s because both Maude & the Bear and the Shack are Boden’s creations. Opened in a tiny former doughnut shop in 2014, the Shack melded local Appalachian ingredients to Boden’s Russian-Jewish heritage (his Instagram handle is “cornbreadschmaltz”) in artful, gourmet platings, never mind the concrete floor and mismatched chairs. Raves spread beyond the Shenandoah Valley, drawing big-city food writers and a James Beard “Best Chef” nomination. But as the Shack’s milestone tenth anniversary approached, Boden and his wife, Leslie, realized their dream of opening a culinary inn couldn’t be deferred forever, especially when a promising property became available. So by this April, to the shock of some, the Shack was refocused on wood-fired pizzas and pastas under longtime sous chef Michael Skipper, and Boden’s ongoing explorations were channeled into a tasting-menu format at comparatively luxe Maude & the Bear.

photo: ian boden
Asparagus, yuzu miso butter, and preserved citrus.

Supplemental course: Hamachi and chanterelles—and a big tree

I couldn’t resist the optional yellowtail slices with chanterelle pieces, porcini oil, and spruce-tip needles. Those bright green needles, though tiny, help tell of the overall setting. They were gathered from the gorgeous, towering spruce in the backyard, the boughs of which also shelter the 1926 Montgomery Ward kit-house-turned-inn’s three rooms—all handsome, amenity-rich suites decorated by Leslie and named after her favorite Aesop’s Fables. (Leather couches? Check. Espresso machines? Check.) Adorably, the name Maude & the Bear is derived from the middle name and nickname of the couple’s two children. 

Second course: Fresh and pickled spring vegetables—and a new leaf

I use the raw radishes and hakurei turnips to dab up every smear of the accompanying garlicky sauce, appreciating how the pickled beans and okra zing the other direction with unapologetic vinegar. The contrast provides a convenient segue to Boden’s explanation of how Maude & the Bear’s culinary approach is more than just a replication of the Shack. “I have a voice and style of cooking at this point in my career that is unique and identifiable,” he says. “That being said, we’re going out of our way not to repeat what we’ve done in the past.”

Third course: Tzimmes—and a nice table

Boden’s take on the traditional Ashkenazi Jewish stew of carrots and dried fruit is a creamy puree of carrot and red miso studded with chunks of toasted date and slivers of charred Meyer lemon. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and consider storming the kitchen for every last ounce. I’ll miss making such a discovery amid the Shack’s rough-around-the-edges charm, but I admit the dish feels perfectly at home in Maude & the Bear’s airy sunroom, at a window table with plenty of elbow room. Plus, it’s not like there aren’t discoveries still to be made at the Shack, as was the case with a potato-topped pizza I enjoyed there just a couple of weeks ago.

photo: ian boden

Fourth course: Morels with scallop and ramp sauce—and a ramping up

Earthy morels and ramps epitomize the spring bounty of Appalachian woodlands. The real surprise is finding that the scallop has been liquified and piped into the poached-and-roasted morels, making each bite even more complex. I realize that the courses have been advancing from light and bright to deep and rich. This sequencing is, of course, intentional. “When you’re building a tasting menu, you have to focus on the progression of the meal,” Boden says. “Every course needs to be balanced and in harmony.”

Fifth course: Sourdough pelmini filled with potatoes, ramps, and sour cream—and new flavors

Dumplings are global comfort food, and these petite, Russian-style pelminis don’t disappoint, especially accompanied by an inventive, lightly caramelized sour cream. Boden’s Eastern European inspirations rightly receive much recognition, but I perceive an undercurrent of Japanese influence running from the yuzu through the hamachi to the meticulous sprinkling of flower petals on these dumplings. “I think some of the aesthetic may be Japanese, but it isn’t something that’s in the front of my mind when cooking,” Boden says. “Our pantry has expanded as the world shrinks, which has opened us up to new ways to accomplish flavors that reflect our location and heritage. For instance, when I use soy, it’s not to taste soy, it’s umami and salt, which otherwise I might add with cured pork or maybe tomato paste. But soy allows me to make a cleaner flavor without adding something to a dish that may not be needed.”

Sixth course: Pheasant with sour cherries and hickory nuts—and a revelation

I’m thinking this is the only course I could maybe cook at home, until I get a taste of all three elements arranged onto one forkful and instantly surrender that fantasy. It dawns on me that this is the first meat I’ve been served, and that when a meal is orchestrated with such command of ingredients and flavors, the centrality of meat is beside the point. Not that I wouldn’t eat more pheasant. I definitely would.

Seventh course: Strawberries with yogurt and cherry blossoms—and all the little things done right

Dessert is superfluous at this point, though there’s little doubt I’ll happily finish it. In the brief lull before it arrives, I again consider the open kitchen. Though not huge, it’s palatial compared to the Shack’s cubbyhole of a kitchen, encompassing several cooks and a domed, wood-burning oven. More telling, however, may be the overhead brass lamp on a retractable cord that Boden frequently tugs lower to scrutinize every plate before it goes out. It takes a lot of things to create a meal as delicious and memorable as this one, not the least of which is attention to detail.