The Jefferson Hotel: Virginian Elegance

The Jefferson Hotel is a classic example of Richmond’s brand of Virginian elegance. The lobby hosts a regal likeness of its namesake in an atmosphere that honors both Jefferson’s love of all things French and his native home.

The hotel offers two restaurants of equal elegance. TJ’s offers more casual dining fare in an atmosphere of understated elegance.  Lemaire offers classic French cuisine in an atmosphere of formal elegance.

Both offer the perfect setting for celebrations.  TJ’s is the only place I found in Richmond that offers eggs Benedict on its daily breakfast menu.  Since eggs Benedict is our eldest daughter’s favorite breakfast, it seemed a fitting start to our day of shopping to prepare for her launch into her first adult professional post in Minneapolis.  She chose the vegetarian version of eggs Benedict and I opted for the Rivah omelette which includes one of Virginia’s best ingredients: crab.

Later that week we chose the Lemaire to celebrate my and my husband’s birthdays.  The pickled watermelon salad, heirloom tomato salad and crab cake opened the meal with summer’s bounty. The plates were beautiful, full of enticing texture and flavor combinations and just the right size to wake the appetite.

Our main courses, cooked to perfection, were equally beautiful, delicious and satisfying.  Beef tenderloin with duck fat potatoes, asparagus, crispy shallot, watercress, dijon Demi-glace; thyme roasted cobia with parsnips, garlic confit, tuscan kale, Surry county sausage and carrot butter; organic free-range chick breast with Yukon gold potatoes, shiitake, grilled scallion, chicken leg confit and parmesan cream; and open lasagna with vegetable ratatouille of beech mushrooms, marinated olives and ricotta salata with squash coulis were our choices.

No birthday celebration is complete without a sweet ending. Our finale consisted of  a cheese and fruit plate; lemon/raspberry tart; flourless chocolate cake/caramel mousse and a  creme brûlée’.

Lemaire successfully reminded us that food truly is edible art.

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Food Books Galore!

In September, we will have lived in Richmond, V.A. for three years. I continue my quest to get to know not only my new city: Richmond, but also my new state: Virginia.

My February trip to Mt. Vernon inspired me to read some of the treasures I discovered in their bookstore and my local library.

mt veron image

It’s taken me several months, but I have finally finished these five great reads: Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman, Southern Food and Civil Rights by Frederick Douglas Opie, Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee’ by Thomas J. Craughwell, The Best of Virginia Farms by Ci Ci Williamson and Julia Reed’s South- Spirited Entertaining and High Style Fun All Year Long.

Eight Flavors

At first, I thought Lohman’s Eight Flavors was going to be a dry history of American cooking, but Lohman’s anecdotes brought depth to the history because at it’s core, history is about personal stories: people.

Eight Flavors reminded me that we bring our personal fears, bias, and racism to food, yet in spite of ourselves, we love the food of those we fear. Food builds bridges, brings acceptance of a new culture, even if that culture is misunderstood or muddled in interpretation. I.e.: chow mien, chop suey, spaghetti and meatballs….

Southern Food and Civil Rights

Frederick Douglas Opie is a history professor at Babson, College and a regular contributor to Splendid Table. Southern Food and Civil Rights, is just one of his food history books. Opie’s premise is Napoleon’s observation that “an army marches on its stomach”. Throughout the book, Opie demonstrates that feeding protestors was central to all successful civil rights movements. As a child born in the 60’s, my understanding of American civil rights movements was more limited than I realized, so I appreciated learning that as early as the 1930’s, Black communities began protesting and using boycotts to force white store owners to hire people from the neighborhoods where they had businesses and from the communities that shopped in their stores. Once one campaign was successful, word spread throughout the country. One grocery store was even put out of business because it refused to comply. I think that is called “cutting your nose off to spite your face”.

Professor Opie graciously answered my questions about eliminating food deserts in our inner city neighborhoods and offering “great tasting healthier options”. He also directed me to a helpful webcast by Dr. Alvenia Fulton of Chicago.

https://soundcloud.com/thedinnertablewithfredopie/dr-alvenia-moody-fulton-queen-of-nutrition

Thomas Jefferson's Cre'me Brule'e

I knew that Thomas Jefferson was a man of many interests and talents, but I had no idea that he was America’s first foodie.   Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee’ by Thomas J. Craughwell chronicles Jefferson’s enthusiasm for European foods and their introduction into American culture. Jefferson even went to far as to bring his slave, James Hemmings over to Paris so that James could be trained as a French chef. Because slavery was illegal in France, James was officially a free man, so Jefferson had to pay him regular wages and allow him to roam freely on his time off. James even learned to speak French better than his owner. Jefferson promised to give James his freedom once they returned to Virginia, if James would first return to the Virginia and train another slave at Monticello. Jefferson went back on his word, delaying James freedom for several years…because he could. Nonetheless, we have our third President to thank for introducing many varieties of fruits and vegetables, as well as popular dishes like macaroni and cheese and ice cream to the U.S.A.

The best of VA Farms image

The Best of Virginia Farms by Ci Ci Williamson inspired me to make my own list of maple sugar farms, bed and breakfasts, gardens, arboretums, and national parks that I want to visit now that I live in Virginia.

Julia Reed's South

I finished up with Julia Reed’s South Spirited Entertaining and High Style Fun All Year Long by Julia Reed. Julia has inspired me to try to re-create her menus for dinner parties and holiday celebrations. Southern hospitality is real and Ms. Reed brings it alive in her gorgeously photographed book. The photographer, Paul Costello chooses idyllic settings to showcase Ms. Reed’s beautiful food and table settings.