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The Jefferson's Lemaire offers a peak dining experience.

Le Splurge


It's hard being at the top of your form. The fall is so much farther, and so much more painful when you hit bottom. The Jefferson Hotel knows this well, for as lovely as it is today, its current opulence has come only after several devastations including fire, fire again, and years of general disregard, inattention and finally closure in 1980. All that changed in 1986 when, after three years and $34 million worth of renovations, the hotel reopened.

That's about the time opened its majestic doors in what had been the hotel ladies' parlor. And dining at Lemaire allows you, too, to join in the long tradition of high-dollar expenditures. The menu, which changes quarterly, ranges in price from $6 to $16 for appetizers, soups and salads, and $27 to $36 for entrées. But who can resist a little pampering?

Tagged as "A new celebration of Southern taste," from the look of the menu that means meat, game and seafood evocative of a turn-of-the-century industrialist-on-holiday lifestyle; French-style wine sauces and sauce reductions; and big-flavor low-country sides such as extraordinarily good — and rich — spoon bread.

The peanut soup with sherry, while lovely if you go for that sort of thing (and it is as Southern as marshmallows in sweet potato casserole) takes a back seat to the corn and crab chowder with country ham ($7.50). We give it four stars, plus one half for presentation: A wide bowl is placed in front of you with a pile of crab meat dwarfed by the white space around it. Just when you think to yourself, "Huh?" the server produces a silver cup and pours the chowder in a circle around the crab. Well, well! Same thing for the peanut soup. Thanks to our gregarious waiter, we also had a taste of the special peach soup: creamy, vaguely reminiscent of Orange Julius and just shy of a Dreamsicle.

[image-1](Stacy Warner / the nine-item entrée list we chose the filet mignon capped with duck foie gras, over truffled mashed potatoes in a port wine demi- glace ($36), and the breast of duck and crispy duck confit over braised Swiss chard, a meaty wehani rice and a duck demi-glace ($29).

But choosing wasn't easy, despite the redacted menu. Other feasts include pheasant over pepperjack grits and basil Alfredo; salmon with mushroom polenta over a ragu of grilled tomato, onion and bell pepper; and venison rib chops with a mustard sp„tzle and tart greens, lingonberries and a veal reduction. No matter what you choose you will not go wrong, and you certainly won't go hungry with the generous portions.

Rather than a dessert menu, the dessert selections are brought to your table live and in-person, a temptation too sensual to resist: French apple tart and crŠme brulée were our sins of the night. The tart crust was a tad doughy, but the crŠme, spiked with Grand Marnier, was dead-on.

Such magnificent preparations keep Lemaire from wallowing in the land of the clunky hotel restaurant cliché. The five AAA diamonds don't hurt either. Of the 44 restaurants in the country that have them, Lemaire is one of only three in Virginia. No diamond in the rough, Lemaire is cut, polished and

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