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Lemaire Affair

Internationally recognized fine-wine expert Filippo di Belardino brings his exuberance and passion to an exclusive wine dinner at the Jefferson Hotel March 17. It's a far cry from the green-beer bashes elsewhere on St. Patrick's Day and an opportunity to taste some of the select Tuscan Banfi wines that he represents.

"It's going to be a dinner driven by the narrator," the hotel's Ben Eubanks says of the di Belardino effect. "He is a tremendous presence with a vast experience producing fine wines, and he's extremely gregarious and entertaining."

The five-course dinner in Lemaire, prepared by executive chef Walter Bundy and sous-chefs James Schroeder and Brian Hukey, pairs wines with elegantly presented crab and tuna, duck, filet mignon and molten chocolate cake. There is limited seating; the tariff is $120 per guest, which includes tax and gratuity. Reservations at 649-4629 or lemairerestaurant@jeffersonhotel.com.

Lemaire closes for renovations in July and is expected to reopen in October, when it will have a new name, a new design, a full-service bar (vitally important to the scene change) and a menu that's "more accessible to the local community," Eubanks says -- still reliant on local produce and artisanal suppliers but more contemporary in approach and attitude.

Lemaire's run as Richmond's fine-dining landmark has consistently earned it the five-star and five-diamond awards of travel giants Mobil and AAA. Both organizations are said to be more accepting of concept shifts in top-notch hotel restaurants — they don't have to be French and formal to earn the highest rankings these days.

"We will respect the hotel's heritage," Eubanks says, "so we won't go ultra-modern, but we recognize that there is a younger presence with sophisticated preferences here. We want to be second-to-none in the region, and we actually enjoy the competition that has grown. We're happy to see so much interest in dining in Richmond."

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