After the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) held its summer symposium in Richmond, Va., SFA director John T. Edge tweeted, "Richmond is the next great American food city." That might be overstating the case a bit, but the old capital of the Confederacy is certainly developing into a very good place to eat, both casually and with a bit more seriousness.
In the latter category, Lemaire, the dining room in the city's landmark Jefferson Hotel, does a wonderful job of turning local and semi-local produce, meats, and seafood (Richmond is landlocked, but Chesapeake Bay is only 50 miles or so to the east) into dishes that are imaginative but sensible and pretty much delicious.
Chef Walter Bundy, a Richmond native who once worked at the French Laundry, offers things like a silky cream of sunchoke soup with hazelnuts and a crisp fritter of Firefly Farms goat cheese (from the interestingly named town of Accident, Md.); chicken-fried Barcat oysters (from the Rappahannock River estuary) with johnnycakes, Virginia country ham, and Tabasco butter (there are also excellent Virginia oysters of several kinds on the half-shell); blue cheese ravioli with toasted walnuts and shaved Surryano ham; and Chesapeake Bay rockfish with melted leeks and parsnip purée.
Desserts tend to the sticky — Baileys crème brûlée with a snickerdoodle cookie, bananas Foster cake, chocolate caramel bar — but there is a nice selection of Virginia and Maryland cheeses for those without a very sweet tooth. There is a nice wine list, predictably graced with some good bottles from Virginia, among other things; service is correct; and the dining room, while a bit old-style, is comfortable.