Looking for something to do away from the busy streets of DC? Take a trip to Middleburg, VA and check out the luxury of Salamander Resort & Spa. Located on 340 picturesque acres, Salamander has something for everyone. Whether it’s a couples massage, treetop ziplining, equestrian experiences or a five-star culinary adventure, you’re sure to have a memorable experience that will last a lifetime.
What’s that about the five-star culinary experience, you ask? Let me break it down for you. Salamander is home to Harrimans Grill – a Virginia Piedmont grill that features a local bounty of bold and flavorful dishes celebrating the rich resources and history of Virginia’s most fertile region. Chef Ryan Arensdorf creates a menu that focuses heavily on the finest local proteins, butchered in house, and seasonal dishes with ingredients from the resort’s expansive culinary garden. Arensdorf also creates an incredible shared board of local cheese and charcuterie sliced in-house, paired with house-made pickles and honey made on property by Salamander’s own bees! They have their own BEES, people!
There are three ways to explore the culinary adventures of Harrimans:
- Enjoy a lively dinner with friends in their beautiful and intimate dining room,
- Host a private chef’s dinner or sign-up for a hands-on class in the Cooking Studio,
- Get outside! Take a pre-dinner stroll through the Culinary Garden or relax with an after dinner cordial and s’mores by one of their fire pits.
I was lucky enough to experience all three, and I highly recommend checking out at least two of these dining options.
My evening started in the Cooking Studio, where I got a front row seat to the making of Chef Arensdorf’s spectacular hors d’oeuvres. I munched on crispy artichoke chips with shaved black truffles; cauliflower tempura with sweet Thai chili sauce; and my personal favorite – crab hush puppies with pimento aioli and micro greens. The hush puppy was so light and perfectly crispy. The fluffy batter was stuffed with crab and served piping hot with a sinful pimento aioli. I loved it! A perfect popable bite to whet my appetite.
Not to be forgotten were the cocktails that made the rounds during cocktail hour – two signatures including the Mango Motion – mango puree, and freshly shaved nutmeg on top – YUM; and the Rosemary – gin, St. Germain, lime and pressed rosemary syrup – TO DIE. I was so pleasantly surprised by the mango cocktail, assuming it would be overly sweet and cloying, but it was fresh and exciting. The beverage director is an expert in his field – recommending unusual and unique wine pairings, while focusing largely on sourcing locally from the many Virginia wineries, and coming up with unique and innovative cocktails that utilize products from the garden on site.
I was seated in the luxurious dining room with high ceilings and warm candle light. The service was incredible. I never once had to worry about a water refill or look around hoping someone would take my next drink order, and all the while the staff wore welcoming smiles. A fun little “extra” was the purse stool that was placed next to my chair to rest my bag on – I hate slinging my bag over my chair and having to worry about it being knocked around or falling to the ground – it’s all about the details!
Now, onto the dinner service.
First up: a local cheese and charcuterie board to share. Served with pickled things, honey, crunchy stuff (bread, nuts, happiness), and the piece de resistance – strawberry chutney! I am a sucker for slathering on some sort of sweet marmalade or apple butter with my cheese and the strawberry chutney was such a refreshing new play on sweet and cheesy. Obsessed.
The evening progressed with foie gras on toasted challah with dressed greens; roasted winter vegetables with a parsnip puree; whole roasted branzino with fennel and citrus; charred broccolini with hazelnuts; and finally bread pudding with CINNAMON ROLL ICE CREAM. Yes, you heard that correctly. Ice cream sorcerer and Executive Pastry Chef Jason Reaves pulled out all the stops for dessert (see photos below of the MASSIVE black forest cake for two), including homemade marshmallows in three varieties to enjoy by the fire pit. The meal was perfection, with hyper seasonal ingredients ranging from root vegetables to stunning citrus in perfect portions. The branzino was served whole, but had been scaled and deboned so that I didn’t have to worry about fishing around for choking hazards. The meal was delightful, and I left feeling satisfied without the guilt of gluttony.
It was an evening of decadence and luxury — from the culinary garden complete with honey bees, to the cozy blankets to curl up with by the fire — no detail went unnoticed.
If you’re seeking adventure or a relaxing weekend away from our Nation’s Capital – be sure to check out Salamander Resort & Spa and feast on the culinary creations at Harrimans Grill in Middleburg, VA. I know I’ll be back soon!