Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On the Potomac at Lansdowne Resort; An Evening Immersed in Local Flavors

Lansdowne Resort in Virginia's Loudoun County invited an eclectic group of writers and members of the industry on Cinco de Mayo to taste select items from the new spring menu featured at On the Potomac, a restaurant focused on local and organic ingredients.

Denise Benoit, marketing consultant for Lansdowne, had lured me into attending the event after trumpeting the efforts of their restaurant's own cocktailian, Christian Reimer. After a few weeks of correspondence I eagerly agreed to come out to Loudoun, meet their mixologist and enjoy a resort dining experience.

On the Potomac sits at the end of a dogleg by the Potomac River, downstream from Leesburg. The resort itself tempts Washingtonians with Virginia's countryside scenery and fresh local flavors. You can't have the town without the country.

The restaurant focuses on local growers and purveyors. Some of Loudoun county's richest agricultural treasures are becoming increasingly more incorporated into culinary culture.

Add in the twenty-seven wineries and tasting rooms from which to choose in Loudoun and the dining experience immediately brings one's mouth to water.

Chef Wesley "Wes" A. Rosati spins the menu around the seasons in Northern Virginia as they shift. The frequency of menu changes range from four to six times a year and are subject to Rosati's own inspiration.

I arrived late to the restaurant but was relieved to hear Denise mention that the group had not started yet. Eight others sat at a long table next to one of Lansdowne's stunning rural outlooks. I chatted quickly about the view with my neighbors as we struck up some light conversation.

The mixologist, Christian Reimer, came by my table with a cocktail and made formal introductions.

"You're the man I came to see, sir. Give me your best shot" I said, prompting a grin from Reimer.

The cocktail he brought was a Moscow Mule and it was a tasty mixture of Russian Standard Vodka, ginger beer, and house-made rosemary syrup. He garnished this sipper with a candied ginger slice and rosemary sprig. The aroma of the rosemary complimented the sweet and gingery elements of the drink. It was playful, with just enough citrus and sweet to keep the wrist raised. It was a cocktail with unfamiliar, yet all-too familiar, sets of flavors.

Spenser McKenna, manager and sommelier at this lovely resort, paired the wines for each dish and provided a pithy description of each choice. McKenna introduced the Viogner that was to be served with the first dish. The Viogner, from Sunset Hills (a Loudoun winery), went down with a mild sweetness and a keen minerality.

The first course was a "charcuterie" plate featuring two acts. On the left side, Rosati featured Hudson Valley torchon duck foie gras that was poached in-house and accompanied with brioche croutons, citrus salt, and a Chardonnay gelée.

On the right side, chef prepared duck "ham" from Maple Leaf Farms sitting on a bed of Heller Brothers honey and sprigs of wild watercress. My eyes excitedly met Denise's. She knew what I was thinking: I was glad I came.

The second dish was a delicately pan seared Georges Bank scallop on a carrot ginger puree with pea infused creme fraiche and house-made bacon chip. The juxtaposition of the crisp creme fraiche with savory bacon was delightful. Moreover, Rosati avoided the sin of allowing his scallop to get chewy or gummy. It had a wonderful firmness to the cut but lightness on the palate.

Clacaire from Clos Du Bois in Alexander Valley, California was served with the next dish. This wine had a slight buttery taste but was not overly lactic. The third course was a house-made potato tarragon gnocchi with spring mushrooms and a shaved cherry glenn crottin. This pairing was earthy and felt like the most appropriate pairing for the experience up to that point. I'm sure the smirk on my face was quite noticeable from anyone's seat.

As an intermission and palete cleanser, pastry chef Jamie Ream presented us with a house-made lemon yogurt sorbet. The citrus taste was clean and simple. Ream said that simplicity is a critical objective that has brought success to her work. The cold portion was perfectly sized and it reset the taste buds for our next set of dishes.

Mckenna introduced us to the wine for our fourth course. Evolution, a white wine from Sokol Blosser in Oregon, is a blend of seven grapes. This pairing fit nicely with the Asian inspired flavors of sturgeon, which was marinated in sake and lightly grilled. It was accompanied by a jasmine rice cake, carrot ginger puree, stir fried peas, pearl onions, and a pleasing yuzu Thai basil vinaigrette.

By now, I had gotten to know my neighbors. They took great interest in my blog's topic and gave me a lengthy list of Virginia distilleries and breweries to visit in the near future. One such suggestion included an intriguing upcoming nano-brew company, Corcoran Brewery.

As we reached our final dining destination I wondered what to expect. McKenna returned to explain his curious but delightful pairing. Picking a Bordeaux from Chateau d’Argedens, bottled in 2006, seemed to require a mighty and meaty protein for a pairing. Instead, the main event featured Fields of Athenry Farm pork chops that were house brined and smoked with polenta, bacon, toasted walnuts, wilted mustard greens circled with a rhubarb and strawberry wine gastrique.

As a left bank and, thus, Cabernet Sauvignon heavy blend, I actually found that the wine complimented the pork well and did not cover the flavor at all. The fruitiness that I might have wanted with the wine was substituted by the wonderful rhubarb and strawberry wine gastrique leaving the moderately bodied wine open for enjoyment on its own. And I gluttonously swirled my fork full of food through that gastrique. I would have asked for more of the sweet fruity ingredient if I wasn't afraid of being judged for my indulgence by my new friends.

As the plates were cleared, a dessert was awaiting the guests as one final tidbit to send us off. Some ordered coffee or tea as a Petit Manseng dessert wine was distributed to everyone.

I took care to slowly sip the Petit which happens to be a grape that grows very well in Virginia. The full flavor fell sweetly onto my tongue and it seemed like a fitting way to end a wine pairing experience with a such a local focus.

Ream’s final contribution was the polenta “shortcake” with strawberries, diced and drowned in brown sugar, accompanied by house-made balsamic ice cream.

The idea of balsamic ice cream, I’ll admit, did not sound particularly appealing, but Ream made everyone a believer after one taste. Strangely savory and yet sweet, the characters of balsamic made for one of the most unique and delicious ice cream flavors I've had.

While the guests said their goodbyes and Denise thanked everyone for coming I drifted over to the bar for one final night-cap with Christian Reimer. This final drink, called The Steeple Chase, combined Old Forester bourbon with Angostura bitters, Cointreau, Chambord, fresh orange juice and mint.

I watched as Reimer worked his hands around the various ingredients that were at his disposal. I could see squeeze bottles with house-made syrups and solutions, tinctures and concoctions. My only wish was that I could partake in a few more "digestifs" before heading home.

As I drank, Reimer told me about his journey from San Diego to the D.C. area. He mentioned the opportunities that he had taken to own a percentage of two different establishments in California and how, unfortunately, he’d be returning there one day.

After a while it had occurred to me that On the Potomac was closing. By then, I had worked up such an exciting discussion with Reimer and McKenna, time simply zipped by me. I did not want to trespass on my gracious hosts' time so I thanked them both and promised I'd visit again soon.

And visit again I will. Lansdowne’s On the Potomac is an exciting taste of the Loudoun County experience. They bring a thrilling thoughtfulness to their work. While Washington D.C. is experiencing a thrilling culinary renaissance, foodies should take notice because places like On the Potomac in Virginia have a place in this conversation.


  1. Anthony: you really captured the staff and love of cooking we provide at On the Potomac at Lansdowne. Thank you for writing such a great account of our Chef's table. i'll keep you posted on the next one. --denise

  2. Great writeup. I like how you captured (via photos) the plated dishes well and incorporated them into the article. I'll look to grab a few of these wines and we can compare notes in the near future.

  3. Sounds good brotha. I think Denise should invite you to write for the next chef's table. I can say for my part it was a great experience and that made it easy to write about.


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