Landmark hospitality at Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel and Lemaire Restaurant - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Landmark hospitality at Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel and Lemaire Restaurant

From the moment my car approached the impressive 19th century Jefferson Hotel, pulled into the cobblestoned drive lined with well-manicured topiary, greenery and flowers, I knew then that a luxury stay was eminent. Weary and road tired from a week long culinary road trip through the Carolinas, we were looking forward to our stay at the historic, AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. This stay would be the cherry-on-the-top, the icing-on-the-cake, and the crème-de-la-crème in sumptuous creature comforts especially in contrast to our trip’s previous Air BnB and Comfort Inn accommodations.

One cannot but be gobsmacked by the beauty of the Jefferson’s Palm Court lobby with its centerpiece, a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the focal point under the skylight of stained glass, with a selection of 1907 Tiffany side windows. The beaux arts continue as we peered down the 36 step grand staircase to the rotunda level from the mezzanine with its 70 foot decorative pillars. It surely feels like a step back in time, stunning – one can almost feel the exuberance of past guests and revelers.

The Jefferson Hotel recently completed their 3 year reconstruction, 262 guest rooms were transformed into 181 spacious new rooms and 15 suites. Our room was a Grand Premiere Room, which had its own entry foyer, a dressing room walk-in closet, a separate work space and a Carrara marbled bath including a soaking tub, walk-in shower and television screen in the double vanity mirror. We grabbed the Hotel History and Walking Tour pamphlet and proceeded to learn more about this landmark hotel from the alligators who swam in the Palm Court pool to the legend of the Gone with the Wind’s staircase. On our tour we took sneak peeks at the indoor pool/patio, fitness center, ballrooms, florist, spa, and gift shops.

Before dinner at the Jefferson’s award winning Lemaire Restaurant, I ran a tub – threw in bath salts, turned on the in-mirror television and soaked the six hour drive from Charleston to Richmond off my weary personage, then popped into the shower for a shampoo. Wrapped in the lush, thick Jefferson robe which had been laid out, along with slippers for an early bed turn down, I allowed myself a cat nap.

Refreshed and looking forward to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel’s award-winning restaurant Lemaire we headed down to the Palm Court. We entered through Lemaire’s open rod iron gates and reception area with its marble floors and columns to a full visual of the bar with the recessed domed wood liquor cabinet. We were seated in the main dining room, whose hardwood floors were a nice contrast to the decorative white crown molding and light peach tones of the leathered chairs and draperies. At both the top and bottom of the dining room were mirrors that continued to infinity a reflection of the room’s chandeliers. What a luxury now-a-days to eat in a dining room with table linens — like an endangered species, they have been disappearing from the dining scene.

This dinner at Lemaire was part and parcel of a culinary road trip. My traveling companion was a chef friend from Oregon who I’ve roomed with at numerous Women Chefs and Restaurateurs conferences. We were both excited to reunite at this dinner with a WCR member, a local Richmond chef. Drink orders placed; a glass of wine and two mocktails, the Monument Avenue – white cranberry juice, garden mint, lime and soda and on to our dining choices. Manakintowne Specialty Growers of Virginia, who were asked to take part of the Slow Food European gathering, had their lettuces in the cold appetizer section of the menu as were the oysters from Big Island Aquaculture. Lemaire is all about local and the bounty that comes from the land and sea in Virginia. Our starter choices were as diverse as we were; the Manakintown Specialty Growers fresh cut lettuce salad, the Hanover tomato gaspacho with blue crab and cantaloupe, and the hand rolled mushroom tortellini with sweetbreads.

Entrée choices again were diverse, the Lemaire Barnyard Burger with thick bacon, sunny side egg, cheddar cheese and a foie gras emulsion was a behemoth and was partnered with their macaroni and cheese – the burger is a signature dish. Seared scallops with black-eyed pea cakes and tomato chow-chow arrived with a nice crust on the scallops with tender interior. The Aleppo pepper roasted pork chop with mascarpone rice grits, peach salsa and cherry jus was thick, juicy – pink in the center as I requested and possibly the best pork chop I’ve had dining out.

Even though we were full, we just had to order dessert and our selections; chocolate caramel brownie with chocolate sorbet and caramel corn, hazelnut mille feuille and a pecan pie bread pudding with butterscotch ice cream that my friend exclaimed was the best bread pudding she has eaten. The dessert plates rotated, like a Lazy Susan, as we garnished bites from each plate until we cried “uncle” being so full that moving from the table was an effort of monumental proportions.

Service was on point, knowledgeable, pleasant and helped round out the dining experience. Lemaire’s Executive Chef Patrick Willis understands we also eat with our eyes, so plating throughout our meal was picture worthy. When you dine with chefs, you taste everything everyone ordered and there were no disappointments in our menu choices. What one might think Lemaire is special occasion dining I found more than reasonable – my choices for the appetizer, entrée and dessert came to $48 before beverage, tax and gratuity. Lemaire is ranked as one of the top restaurants in Richmond and worthy of that designation.

Our Richmond friend came to our room to see the Jefferson renovations, looked at our view and said our fond farewells. After an indulgent dinner of fine cuisine and plump, wrap-you-in-luxury bedding – sleep was only seconds away.

The sad part of this story is we couldn’t remain another night we needed to be at the airport in Baltimore for my companion’s flight home. Being refreshed and well rested, we left early the next morning. A fond farewell to the Jefferson Hotel as the valet helped us load our car and gave us bottled waters for remaining road trip.

There is a lot to be said for the grandeur of historic buildings and once torn down, we lose so much. When in Richmond, do make a stop at the Jefferson Hotel, and spend the night, dine at Lemaire if at all possible. This is a place where turning back time to the glamour and richness of the past is worth partaking.

Jefferson Hotel – www.jeffersonhotel.com/ 804-649-4750

Lemaire Restaurant – www.lemairerestaurant.com/ 804-649-4629

101 West Franklin Street

Richmond Virginia 23220

 


About the author

Dara Bunjon

For Dara Bunjon if it is food, Dara Does It, in fact that is the name of her company which offers creative solutions for the food industry the likes of public relations, marketing, social media, cookbook compilations, food styling, culinary events, networking and freelance writing. She even works as a kitchen slave part-time for the continuing culinary education and most important, the leftovers. Dara Bunjon lives, eats, dreams and writes about food and isn’t hesitant to share her views and experiences about restaurants, culinary trends, recipes, cookbooks or even her childhood food memories. She has been on the food scene for too many years to mention. Known both in Baltimore and nationally, Dara Bunjon is on Women Chefs and Restaurateurs’ national public relations committee. Dara believes food is subjective; everyone’s taste is different and she enjoys bringing you to her table to commiserate and enjoy lively discourse. Contact the author.
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