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Jefferson Shaking Up Lemaire, TJ's

Lemaire, the elegant but underperforming restaurant inside The Jefferson Hotel, is closing in early spring to make way for a new restaurant with a new strategy.

After extensive renovations to the restaurant, owners hope to reposition it from what's perceived as a special-occasion-only setting to a contemporary dining destination for discerning clientele and hotel guests. A reopening date has yet to be announced.

The Jefferson is a Five Star, Five Diamond property with a century-long tradition as a Richmond hospitality landmark. It's owned by The Riverstone Group, William Goodwin's diversified holding company.

Change is also hitting the hotel's second restaurant, TJ's. Longtime executive chef Jannequin Bennett left last week for a chef's position with Ellwood Thompson's. The acclaimed cookbook author, vegetarian guru and teacher had run TJ's for almost a decade.

The new TJ's chef is Matthew Tlusty, former owner of seafood restaurant Limani, who says he plans to bring a little Carytown neighborliness to the opulent hotel setting. He'll also bring a different kitchen strategy. Tlusty admits to being compulsively change-minded and wants to avoid the culinary ruts that can characterize hotel food.

"I'm hoping the restaurant will stand on its own like other places in town," he says. "People may have gotten complacent about TJ's reputation -- that it's just a place for sandwiches and burgers, but it's more than that. I'm hoping to make it more fun, a little more open, and not having the same things on the menu for long periods of time."

Tlusty, who praises Bennett's "phenomenal food knowledge and respectful kitchen," has moved past a series of career missteps in recent years — some ventures too hastily decided, he says: "But I want to be here a very long time, and I'm gung-ho to think that people have been cooking in this kitchen for a hundred years."

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