Savoring Salamander

by artfuldiner on November 4, 2020

in Artful Diner Review, Opinion, Romantic, Washington DC, Wining and Dining

Still reeling from the disappointment of having our two highly-anticipated cruises cancelled, and undoubtedly suffering the deleterious effects of what the New York Times euphemistically refers to as “Pandemic Fatigue,” my permanent dining partner and I decided that a restorative getaway might be just the cure for our enveloping ennui.

Salamander - ExteriorCarefully studying the possibilities, and eliminated anything we felt would put us in harm’s way – that included air travel – we finally settled on the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. Highly recommended by friends, it was a mere three and one-half hours away by car in the heart of the Virginia wine country. We knew, however, from statements on their website – as well as a printed notice when we checked in – that, because of the coronavirus, in addition to the requirement of wearing facemasks in public areas and keeping proper social distancing, some of the amenities, as well as those “personal special touches” (like twice a day room cleaning, valet services, opening car doors, etc.) would be conspicuous by their absence.

Salamander - Our RoomThere is no question that even in such comfortably posh surroundings, the feeling wasn’t quite the same as it would have been without the coronavirus lurking in the dark shadows. Still, even under such extraordinary circumstances, Salamander did a first-class job of making our four-night stay an extremely pleasant one. Our top-floor accommodation, for example, an Estate Room with Fireplace (pictured), was quite spacious, tastefully appointed, and afforded us a fabulous view of the grounds from our stone balcony.

But if there was one thing that impressed us more than any other, it was the overall quality of the food… Even breakfast was a perpetual winner. My dining partner’s Biscuits and Gravy – soft dough biscuits covered in meat gravy rife with bits of sausage and ground beef – a southern specialty, was alive with flavor and downright decadent. And you would think that turning out a decent omelet was something of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many kitchens muck them up. Here, regardless of the ingredients, they were perfect every time… as were the positively ethereal scrambled eggs.

At this juncture, I should mention that all our meals, including breakfasts, were enjoyed alfresco, as we were still quite conscious of the possible risks of dining indoors. Since our trip took place in early October, we were fortunate enough to encounter mild temperatures and days filled with sunshine.


Our four dinners were evenly divided: two at Salamander; two at restaurants off campus. The first evening we dined at the Gold Cup Wine Bar, the resort’s casual venue that serves lunch and dinner on a first-come, first-served basis. Gold Cup boasts not only a compact wine list by the glass & bottle, but also local wine flights, an exotic list of artisanal cocktails, whiskey flights, and a number of interesting craft beers.

Gold Cup - Cream of Broccoli SoupThe menu contains items like a selection of local artisan cheeses and charcuterie board, hand-tossed pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and a limited number of entrees. My dining partner started things off with Cream of Broccoli, the soup of the day. And this was certainly a rich concoction – loads of cream – but beautifully seasoned and the perfect prelude to ward off the creeping nighttime chill.

Gold Cup - Crispy Sesame CauliflowerI had a go at the Crispy Sesame Cauliflower – roasted florets set on a bed of jasmine rice and tossed with a sweet soy ginger glaze and sprinkling of shredded coconut – an incredibly delicious presentation. So delicious, in fact, that my dining partner gulped down more than her share after polishing off the soup… But who could blame her? The cauliflower was done just right; and that sweet soy ginger glaze was positively addictive. If there’s one dish that would bring me back to Gold Cup for a return engagement, this is definitely it.

Gold Cup - Shrimp & GritsEntrées were no less intriguing. This may be comfort food, but the kitchen always seemed to come up with some nifty little tagalong to transport a dish out of the realm of the ordinary. Take my partner’s downhome Shrimp & Grits, for instance. Here you have jumbo Texas shrimp, Byrd Mill grits, and a touch of citrus butter. But the secret here is the Virginia n’duja, sometimes spelled ‘nduja. This is a very special meat spread made from pork, roasted pepper, and spices that is similar to sobrassada. The is taste generally described as somewhat akin to deviled ham, which succeeds in adding a nice jolt to the taste buds.

Gold Cup - Mac & Cheese w ChickenPresented in a cast iron skillet, my Aged Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese wasn’t as exotic; but the three-year-old, generously seasoned aged cheddar still delivered the goods. And the cavatappi – a corkscrew-shaped pasta scored with lines and ridges – was the perfect shape to capture and hold all that addictively rich cheesy flavor.

The Mac ‘n Cheese was presented on the menu as a side dish, but by adding grilled chicken, our server suggested, it would make a very nice entrée… which proved to be a perfect match and more than ample for even the heartiest of appetites.

Desserts turned significantly upscale and offered such diverse possibilities as a suitable-for-sharing Chocolate Craving – mason jar chocolate cake, Nutella Rocher truffle pop, and cocoa raspberry brownie – and the Twisted Funfetti Donut with ruby raspberry crème anglaise, kiss the rainbow meringues, and cookie monster ice cream.

Gold Cup - Pumpkin CheesecakeAfter a spirited debate, we decided to share the more seasonal Pumpkin Cheesecake, which turned out to be an absolutely fabulous choice and as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. This was really a dual presentation: half pumpkin cheesecake, half Turkish coffee mousse separated by a walnut sablé, a French round shortbread cookie. Both the cheesecake and the mousse were incredibly delicious with garnishes including local Catoctin Creek Whisky powder and a dollop of white chocolate ice cream. A fabulous ending to a first-class downhome meal.


Harrimans - Outside DiningThe third night of our Salamander stay we dined outside at Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, the resort’s upscale steakhouse. And be advised… as with most establishments of similar ilk, everything is à la carte and the prices are almost certain to put a major dent in your pocketbook.

On the other hand, as Harrimans obviously caters to the carnivorously-inclined, and since you (usually) can’t go wrong ordering what the house proports to do best, meatier matters clearly seemed to hold out the greatest promise of success… More specifically, the restaurant’s “Butcher’s Cuts.” My dining partner settled on the 8 oz. Berkshire Pork Tenderloin; I, after much debate, cast my lot with the 6 oz. Petite Filet. Both of us, thankfully, were pleased with our choices.

Harrimans - Berkshire Pork TenderloinPork, as any diner knows (usually from sad experience), is a tricky proposition. It can overcook at the mere drop of a fork and turn as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. Fortunately, Chef Bill Welch obviously knows his business. His pork tenderloin (pictured) was incomparably moist, succulent and, as you may be able to see from the photo, exhibits just a touch of pink. Its cut-like-butter tenderness doesn’t get much better than this. Highly recommended on all counts.

My petite filet also had a lot going for it. Prepared to a perfect “medium,” precisely as requested, it also benefited from a complimentary Hunter’s Sauce, a winning combination of tomatoes, onions, and garlic in a savory veal stock reduction.

Harrimans - Potato PureeWe also ordered a side to share, a Wild Green Onion Potato Purée spiked with crème fraiche (pictured), which turned out to be the hit of the evening and the perfect traveling companion for both the pork and the filet.

Harrimans - Roasted Brussels Sprouts SaladOnly the appetizer didn’t quite make it… As we are both quite fond of Brussels sprouts, we thought sharing the Roasted Brussels Sprouts (pictured) certainly looked like a sure thing. This was actually a salad, as the sprouts were served cold accompanied by good things like crumbles of Point Reyes Blue Cheese, wafer-thin slices of Honeycrisp apple, and an absolutely first-rate vinaigrette. Just one problem… the Brussels sprouts weren’t roasted long enough. They were the next thing to raw… My jaws feel tired just thinking about it.

Harrimans - Fruit Tart SharedDesserts, however, courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Jason Reaves, were right back on track and well worth the additional calories and expenditure. They included such intriguing denouements as Sweet as Salamander Honey, a luscious honey-banana pudding replete with choco-banana cake; Raspberry Linzer with hazelnut shortbread, raspberry balsamic and goat cheese ice cream; and a decadently rich Dark Chocolate Lava Cake.  Chef Reaves also usually offers a sweet ending that is suitable for sharing by 2 – 4 guests. The evening of our visit it was an absolutely fabulous Fresh Fruit Tart. The photo tells the story… Need I say more?

One final word… Wine lovers have a number of interesting options here. My partner thoroughly enjoyed her 2017 Foley Johnson Chardonnay from California’s Carneros region. I began with the 2017 La Marimorena Rosal Albariño from Spain and moved on to the 2017 Saldo Zinfandel from California’s Prisoner Wine Company. Both quite good. Of course, if you’re feeling really flush, Napa Valley’s 2018 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.00 glass/$170.00 bottle) is an excellent choice.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe


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