by Max Brantley
Out today is the list of the semi-finalists in the James Beard Awards competition for outstanding restaurants, chefs, etc. On the list again this year, as a semi-finalist for the title of best chef in the South, is Lee Richardson of the Capital Hotel.
UPDATE: Lindsey Millar has an interesting article on Capital Hotel cuisine in next week's Times, our annual Readers Choice Restaurant Awards issue. Between that article and this news, I decided to treat myself and Ellen to lunch today at Ashley's as an early Valentine's observance.
For the longest, we were the only people in the luxurious dining room. It's a pity. The $25 three-course prix fixe lunch is a bargain for the setting, service, quality of food and care of preparation. We were in and out in about an hour. We were delighted by excellent food, but not stuffed. Portions, particularly of the appetizer and dessert, are small. But they are outsized in taste and ingredients. Twenty-five bucks is not cheap, but it's high value -- call it affordable luxury.
After homemade crackers and freshly made pimiento cheese as a complimentary starter, I had sauteed sweetbreads with dabs of a peppery sweet citrus sauce, diver scallops with cauliflower and brussels sprouts topped with a buttery foam and kumquat crumble with a tiny scoop of tart and creamy blood orange ice cream.
My wife and I passed a pleasant hour enjoying the artistry, a good memory not likely to fade as quickly as a bunch of roses.
Anyway, don't bother tonight or tomorrow night. Ashley's is fully booked, the waiter said.