Lemaire is the fine dining restaurant in the historic Jefferson Hotel. It is named for President Thomas Jefferson’s maitre d’ Etienne Lemaire who is credited with introducing cooking with wine to America. The menu changes seasonally and is under Chef Patrick Willis, a Virginia native, since 2009 when the place underwent a major renovation. The hotel was lovely and had a nice bar just outside where you could wait for your table. Inside the elegant dining room was one room with elaborate plaster moldings, Italian chandeliers, mirrors, custom draperies and double-clothed large tables. Some windows were on two sides of the room and provided additional light to the small votive on the table. The padded leather chairs, carpet and well-spaced tables make a conversation easy yet private. Service was professional yet friendly and guests varied from those celebrating a special occasion to casual hotel guests. We wanted to split a number of things and they were happy to course it out for us. This place is worth a visit.
We started with a Negroni cocktail which was served up in a martini glass. It was well made and tasty for just $10 which included an upgraded gin. The bread service was served by the slice, not heated but very moist white bread with softened butter. Both were quite tasty.
Oysters on the half shell from Matheson Oyster Co were served with a champagne mignonette and cocktail sauce. The local oysters were medium to small sized and cage raised. Their sweet fine flavor was delightful. The mignonette held lots of black pepper and was good with them but so was their cocktail sauce. It had a nice balance of flavors that did not overshadow the fine flavor of the oyster.
Crispy Chesapeake Bay Oysters were fried and served with compressed celery, house hot sauce and Roquefort mayonnaise. We had something like this combination years ago in New Orleans and it was rich and delicious. This was well done but the Roquefort was not as strong nor the hot sauce as spicy. Still, it was excellent. The lightly coated oysters were of a medium to large size so stayed wonderfully juicy. This was a fine melding of flavors and textures that I could eat regularly compared to the decadent one in New Orleans.
Jumbo Lump Crab Cake came with baby carrots and vadouvan cream. The one large cake was all crab with little or no filler. The buttery and flavorful sauce was perfect with it, as well as with the fine baby carrots. The cake had a good crisp edge to surround the soft large chunks of crab inside. It was fabulous.
Chili Glazed Rockfish came with Carolina Gold rice middlins, watercress and a pear-miso sauce. Middlins were broken or smaller pieces of the Carolina Gold rice that is known for its very long grains. The fish was cooked perfectly and the tiny rings of pepper and other spices made it sing with the sauce. Contrast that with the underseasoned rice that was almost creamy underneath. It was a well conceived and executed plate of food.
Caramelized Sea Scallops came with pork belly, cauliflower, pickled mustard seed and sorghum vinaigrette. The 3 large scallops were cooked perfectly – moist and tender. Some small pieces of cauliflower were added to the puree underneath that and the buttery sauce. In combination it was delicious. The pork belly was like a large thick piece of bacon that added even more flavor to the plate.
Strawberry Shortcake included vanilla cheesecake, sponge cake and strawberries. This was not your usual strawberry shortcake. The strawberries were on top of a thick piece of cheesecake topped with a strawberry gel. The buttery sponge cake was underneath and then some dehydrated crisp strawberry bits were strewn around the plate. Lots of texture added to the nice taste here. It was sweet but not overly and just the perfect size for two.