"Richmond. Virginia--Southern elegance was everywhere on our visit"

.. By Jeanne Bartlett

If someone were to ask me to name a hotel that was the epitome of elegance, yet warm and friendly, I would select the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. AAA named the Jefferson a Five Diamond Hotel, and it richly deserves the accolade. The Jefferson is one of only 33 hotels in North America to receive such a ranking.

It is imperative to enter the Jefferson through the Main Street entrance. From there you get a view the grand staircase, reminiscent of the stairs in the movie classic “Gone with the Wind.” The feeling of going back in time is so real you might expect Scarlett to make a dramatic entrance, strolling down the stairs parasol in hand. The rooms are as elegant and perfectly appointed as the foyer.

The Lemaire Restaurant, located in the Jefferson, is lively and contemporary, featuring up-to-the-minute cuisine and décor. Chef Walter Bundy has introduced a “farm-to-table” policy that promises fresh local shellfish, apples, hams, peanuts vegetables and herbs in his menus.

It is difficult to say one restaurant in Richmond is my favorite as there are many excellent choices, but I nominate One North Belmont as something extra special. AAA has rated it a Four Diamond Restaurant for the fifth time in its five years of existence.

It has been recognized with a prestigious Award of Excellence by the Wine Spectator for its wine list. And if that wasn’t enough, Chef Frits Huntjens was a semi-finalist for 2008 Best Chef (mid-Atlantic) award by the James Beard Foundation, the Oscars of the culinary world. Phone for information and reservations: (804) 358-0050.

Don’t let the simple exterior of One North Belmont fool you, as inside there are exquisite French furnishings. From the lovely antique chairs and sideboard to the charming table lamps, it is an unpretentious and warm setting. The cuisine is a la carte French. A meal to be remembered was the Carre D’Agneau, Sauce aux Truffels et Champignons, a Pistachio-crusted Rack of Lamb with Merlot, Mushrooms and Lamb Demi-Glace Sauce with a Bouquet of Vegetables and Pomes Croquette. It was one of the most unforgettable meals I have ever had! Maybe it was six interesting people meeting as strangers and the dining experience that turned them into friends. The wine that was selected, a 2006 Crozes Hermitage La Matiniere from Ferratin Pere & Fils, was exceptional and paired beautifully with the cuisine. The restaurant prides itself on pampering its customers. We saw this in action as one of the members of our party ordered the Sole Meuniere. We watched as the plate with a whole Dover Sole was placed on the sideboard and deboned by our waiter with the ease of an experienced surgeon. There was a great selection of desserts but the perfect ending to the meal was a Grand Mariner soufflé

Many eating and drinking establishments offer a “Happy Hour” but Richmond has a twist on the concept with the “Un-happy Hour” at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. This special meal is being presented in honor of the Poe Bicentennial. Rain in the museum garden tried to spoil our day but the gloom only added to the atmosphere. Do you remember Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart? We had Poe himself with us to deliver the chilling story. Okay, I knew he really wasn’t Poe, but when the actor recited the words and looked in your eyes as he performed it, the effect was electrifying. After the recitation the two costumed docents and “Edgar” joined us at our tables.

I was much relieved to find Mr. Poe at another table as we shared the Gold Bug Salad, The City & The Sea (beef tenderloin medallions and Atlantic salmon filet) and the Tell-Tale Tart dessert (heart shaped chocolate cake with cherry sauce, and whipped cream). We were fortified to go on by an Amontillado tasting before we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum housed in the Old Stone House in Richmond. You can read more about the Poe Museum at chris@poemuseum.org, phone (804) 648-5523.

A must to visit is the Virginia House. The imposing edifice was assembled from materials taken from a 16th-century English manor house. Since the weather had obligingly cleared, we were able to stroll through the lovely gardens. The person conducting the tour took us through the herb garden and pointed out the various varieties growing there and told us about the harvesting involved to get the best results of taste and odor. We returned inside to partake in traditional tea and scones and then adjourned to the next room. . We were given small, rectangular cloth envelopes to fill with the various herbs that were laid out for us – yes, we made our own tea bags! After the bags were filled and ironed shut they were ready to travel. For my filling I chose chamomile for apple flavor and its soothing properties, rose hips for fruity taste and its aromatic quality, and finally lavender for an exotic flavor.

When I think of seafood in Virginia, the Hard Shell comes to mind – and what a great memory. We ducked in out of a drizzle to a warm and inviting restaurant with promising aromas of exotic spices and tasty seafood. Hard Shell serves fresh and local seafood as well as raw items such as oysters, clams, shrimp, and mussels. This award-winning restaurant is located in the downtown area known as Shockoe Slip at 1411 Cary Street.

In short order we were able to savor what the smells promised. It would be tough to choose between the delicious appetizers. We tried the fried calamari, creamy lobster dip with fried flour tortillas, and jumbo lump crab cakes. Then came a platter topping anything you might envision. The rectangular dish contained a shiny red lobster and clustered it around lay scampi, mussels, clams, corn on the cob and drawn butter. Where to begin? Later, we had to hope for a renewed appetite as the entrees arrived. I had chosen the two lobster tails with fingerling potatoes (thus causing me to forfeit a claw in the previous dish) but the pan seared salmon with roasted potatoes and asparagus selected by my daughter looked every bit as scrumptious. For another day When I think about a great place to live I might envision a home nestled among vineyards, a winery within walking distance, a championship golf course for a new hobby, shops and boutiques, polo grounds, and walking paths. If I ever wanted to move, the community of Viniterra, situated midway between historic Williamsburg and downtown Richmond, has all of these features and more. In this subdivision is the New Kent Winery, which I heartily recommend as a great stop.

A tour of the New Kent Winery with Pete Johns, Managing Partner of New Kent Farms revealed a contemporary structure built of materials from Virginia’s historic past. They used old-heart pine trusses from a railroad depot, timber rescued from a warehouse constructed in 1852. Handmade, pre-Civil War bricks were used to achieve the exterior façade of the winery. More than 85% of the materials used in the construction were recycled. The winery opened in May, 2008, but was eight years in the planning, planting and building.

The tour was informative, but now we were ready to sample some Virginia wine. We were treated to a pairing of New Kent wines with food under the guidance of Ryan Taylor. Taylor, who is affiliated with Mosaic, a local restaurant and catering company, gave us a dynamic view of wine and food together. He really showed how it could be done! The offerings were “minimal,” so you got plenty of flavor without overshadowing the wine. The unique part of this was that you could watch the preparation of the food. There were chefs working in the background preparing the tasty morsels to be served.

The first offering was Chardonnay with a single perfect shrimp scampi. Next, the Chardonnay Reserve – a vintage that captured the Gold in a recent competition – was presented with a cheese ravioli with creamy Alfredo sauce, a tiny fork impaled in the pasta for easy consumption. The Meritage was a big wine that deserved a hearty morsel, and sirloin steak stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped with bacon filled the bill. For Merlot, a hand-selected wine of intense color, there was sweet and bittersweet chocolate. A clever idea was serving a spicy miniature pesto pizza with the White Norton, a native Virginia grape. Our dessert was a peanut butter and banana panini with the Sweet Virginia, a great finale to the tasting.

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