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Lemaire

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isn't the kind of restaurant you go to every night. Foie gras-capped filet mignon is too rich for daily intake — duck breast topped with crispy duck confit too decadent to be quotidian. But for special occasions, there is no substitute for peak dining at Lemaire.

Self-described as "a new celebration of Southern taste," Lemaire's menu reflects more of a Southern post-nouvelle approach to cuisine with a European influence (exactly what Etienne Lemaire might have concocted for his White House employer, Thomas Jefferson). You'll find hearty and savory dishes in reasonably large portions, exquisitely prepared and served with a nouvelle flourish.

Menu items include 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 like spoon bread and pepperjack grits.

We still don't fully appreciate the velvety Southern texture of the peanut soup with Spanish sherry, but we emphatically recommend the corn and crab chowder with country ham.

Entrées are uniquely paired with sides designed to complement the flavors of the marquee ingredient. In addition to filet mignon and duck confit, feasts include pheasant over pepper-jack 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 spÔÇ×tzle, tart greens, lingonberries and a veal reduction.

Though a hotel restaurant, such magnificent preparations keep Lemaire from wallowing in the land of the clunky hotel restaurant cliché. The five AAA diamonds don't hurt either.

Jefferson Hotel, corner of Jefferson and West Franklin 788-8000

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