Given the economy, downscaling is the smart way to appeal to the budget-conscious, so my good friend Holly and I decided to indulge in the lower-key atmosphere that now defines Lemaire. Like always, you still get greeted by a score of smiling employees before you ever even reach the bar, but all that four-diamond charm can be overlooked if the final destination offers up the casual quality promised with the recent renovation. And it did.
Being the locavores that we are, we began with the Kluge Blanc de Blanc because nothing says Monday like Albemarle County bubbles. Next up, I was impressed with the option of wines by the quartino ( 1.5 glasses of wine and a terrific bargain) as a way to stretch one's wining dollar. So while Holly stayed local with Blue Mountain lager, I opted for a quartino of Jade Mountain Syrah ($8 a glass, $10 a quartino).
The bar menu offered choices ranging in price from $5 to $12 and we opted for beef tartare with horseradish sauce and shaved Parmesan, cornmeal crusted Chesapeake bay oysters and slaw and fresh Gulf shrimp. I was craving the Braised Powhatan Rabbit Sliders, but Holly wasn't in the mood for bunny. Next time, for sure, though, I'll order them along with the PEI mussels with Kite's country ham. The guy sitting next to me had the house-ground filet mignon burger with bacon; it looked magnificent and he raved about the flavor.
Lemaire had the de rigueur hand-crafted cocktail list, but since I don't do cocktails, I merely perused it. The bartender did insist we try Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, which had a most unusual flavor, almost digestif-like. It's part of the Major Ginter, a scotch cocktail with vermouth and bitters. Someone please let me know how it is, since it's not anything I'd try.
The ads for the new Lemaire may be corny, but they're accurate: this isn't your mother's Lemaire. The food was terrific, the wine pricing option a steal and the crowd far livelier than you'd expect for the Jefferson. Downscaling rules.