Gaylord National Resort: Love is in the air during Valentine’s Month

All that love is too much for just one day; Gaylord National Resort celebrates all month long. Photo: Newly engaged Leah & Kapres

WASHINGTON, February 5, 2012―Leah Huagen says she had a clue when boyfriend of two years Kapres Meadows planned a  singularly  significant  date. The day, as Leah will recount time and time again over the years, began amid the romance of the sparkling trees and dancing waters in the lobby of the Gaylord National Resort, then continued with a romantic couples’ massage at Relâche Spa.

The day’s pièce de résistance was a romantic dinner at the Old Hickory Steakhouse. It was the first meal of a new life together, and it included a dessert of chocolate-covered strawberries served with the perfect diamond ring.

With Leah’s enthusiastic “yes,” the restaurant erupted in applause and cheers and we all felt the love.

Wedding Gazebo in the Gaylord Resort National Harbor lobby (click to enlarge; Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Wedding Gazebo in the Gaylord National Resort lobby (click to enlarge; Image: Jacquie Kubin)


The Gaylord National Resort is the Mid-Atlantic place to celebrate love this February, or anytime.  For the guys not sure how to create the perfect engagement, Kapres proved to us that the Gaylord makes it easy to plan the perfect date all month long.

The Gaylord National Resort is perfect for a romantic interlude or a celebration, like a wedding. And it would make the perfect atmosphere for the future Mr. and Mrs. Meadows’ nuptials.

At first, the hotel is dauntingly large, but its staff exudes a healthy dose of charm and hospitality. And while I was at first dubious about the Gaylord’s ability to provide an intimate experience, due strictly to the huge size of the property, I was quickly won over by the staff.

With a few smiles and warm welcomes, the Gaylord National Resort went from a mega-property to a resort with a boutique hotel feel. Rooms are decorated in a palette of gold and brown, tastefully appointed for the feminine yet comfortable to the masculine. Beds are “Goldilocks comfortable,” neither too soft nor too hard, but just right, with linens that are comfortable, too.

Celebrating the season of love, Gaylord National Harbor’s Relâche Spa is wrapping their services in an extra layer of sweetness, finishing your personalized spa experience with berry-infused champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Relâche Spa lobby Relâche Spa (Image: Gaylord Resorts - click to enlarge)

Relâche Spa is a French-inspired wellness center.

From the name, which translates to “relax,” to the clean crisp lines and artful use of black and white marbles to create an environment that is empowering, this is not the taupe, horizontal spa experience. Relâche has been designed to create an uplifting, bright environment that works to enhance your experience and the time spent.

With the spa’s westerly orientation, sunset views are spectacular, as is watching the boats - from tugs to pleasure craft - on the river.

Again, the staff is what makes the experience. Manager Toni Sullivan is on hand to guide guests and answer any questions or concerns, while Jasmine takes lead on a tour of the facility, including Jacuzzi, steam, sauna and relaxation lounges, one for couples, the others for “ladies” or “men” only.

“When you walk through the door, you leave your day behind,” Ms. Sullivan says. Relâche is designed to be an invigorating, non-rushed experience that leaves guests feeling fully revitalized and relaxed, ready for whatever challenges life may hold.

Massage therapist Gulcin, who is from Turkey, relaxes the tension in muscles and improves overall circulation with a Relâche Signature Massage. That’s followed by the Tropical Island Glow body treatment that envelopes body and senses with warm coconut milk followed by a sugar cane scrub.

As the aromas of honey and milk fill the room, your skin is revitalized. Muscles get a final relaxing treatment as hot, moist towels engulf your extremities, infusing winter skin with healthful emollients.

As the spa is, so are the treatment rooms. Large spaces with wide windows (appropriately screened of course) are comfortable and open, allowing the therapist to move easily, and soundlessly, as you slip into the experience.

Whether they come as hotel guests or just for day treatments, manager Toni Sullivan explains that spa guests are encouraged to linger and take advantage of the amenities.

In addition to a full menu of services, Relâche also has a full hair, manicure, and pedicure salon. Retail allows for the spa’s signature lines to travel home with you so that you can continue the spa “ahhh” and benefits between appointments.

While a relaxing nap could be in order after you massage, dinner with Chef Aaron at Old Hickory Steakhouse beckons, and it is an affair to remember. With roots in the mid-West, Chef Aaron knows how to create food that is remarkable and memorable.

Old Hickory Steakhouse (Image: Gaylord Resorts; Click to enlarge)

Old Hickory Steakhouse (Image: Gaylord Resorts; Click to enlarge)

Old Hickory Steakhouse has the charm of a French Quarter dining stalwart with lofty ceilings and a crisp white, black, and taupe decor.

White-coated table captains like Enrique are there to guide you through your meal, anticipating your desires and making suggestions for enhancing your dining experience.

LaVonia Smith, the maître d’fromage, brought the cheese cart to the table to start the meal. While the cheese course is traditionally a bite between the entrée and the dessert, it was also a satisfying start to a meal that lasted well over three hours.

The pace was leisurely, the interaction with the staff was pleasant, and every course was allowed the time necessary for full enjoyment of taste, texture, aroma, and reflection.

Presenting a selection of cheeses from the mild to robust, and from each category of milk – cow, goat and sheep – Ms. Smith described the source and production of each, adding a bit of cheese education to the conversation.

Ms. Smith’s suggestions included the Ocooch Mountain, a mild sheep’s milk cheese, a Piave Vecchio cow’s milk, Cabot cheddar cows milk, and the Tête de Moine, a shaved Swiss Mountain cheese whose provenance goes back to 1292, when monks first created this cows milk cheese.

This gourmet cheese’s presentation is as unique as the cheese itself, as it is not cut, but scrapped using a Girolle, a shaver that revolves around the drum of cheese, to create beautiful ruffled rosettes.

Old Hickory Steakhouse cheese with Tete de Moine (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Old Hickory Steakhouse cheese with Tete de Moine (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

The Tête de Moine must be scraped in this manner to allow as much air as possible to come in contact with the surface of the cheese, releasing sweet and tangy flavors of garlic, nuts and butter.

The cheeses were artfully arranged with accompaniments of sweet glazed walnuts, marcona almonds, dried Turkish apricots, and a sweet jam, showing that pairings are not just for wine and that the right accompaniment to a cheese can artfully change its flavor and aroma.

While I have had the pleasure of being the beneficiary of many a chef’s culinary prowess, Chef Aaron Baxendale brings the Midwest to the East coast in artfully created dishes that allow core flavors of the dish to stand out.

Thinking back to this dining experience, not once does the memory of a spice or preparation overtake the memory of the balance of the dish.

Chef Aaron’s skill is clear in the Roasted Butternut Squash soup ($12.00 ala carte). A personal favorite, when I spy it on a menu, I order it enthusiastically. However, none has ever met expectations as Chef Aaron’s did.

The creamed soup, which marries roasted butternut with apples, is served poured at the table over a large dollop of bourbon crème. With the soup being poured over the crème, the crème retains its distinction, not melting into the soup as it is carried from the steel counter of the kitchen to the white clothed table.

As you spoon into the soup, dig deep to the bottom, gently raising your spoon so that you catch a bit of the bourbon crème at its tip. Your first taste is the cool crème and whisp of bourbon followed by the sweet and savory of the roasted butternut squash, and finally the bite into the still-firm diced pieces of roasted squash bursting with flavor.

Chef Aaron elegantly supports this soup’s roasted butternut squash flavor profile, and the presentation is beautiful.

Old Hickory Steakhouse is all about big steaks and pork chops, sourced from quality purveyors such as Harris Ranch and Niman Farms, where the quality of life for the cattle, adn swine lead to quality products with superior taste.

“When you start with a quality steak, my job becomes easy,” says Chef Aaron. “It is a matter of preparing the meat with care, cooking it perfectly and serving it artfully.”

And artful his plates are. In honor of Valentine’s Month and love, The Old Hickory Steakhouse February prix fixe menu for two ($125) offers four delicous courses: a first course of soup or salad, an entree course offering beef tenderloin with peppercorn sauce, Atlantic salmon with citrus butter sauce, or roasted young chicken with sage. The third cheese course and dessert add a classic touch to a meal that starts with a glass of champagne. 

Being in a steak house, the natural choice was the tenderloin, which Chef sent out without the sauce on request. Eschewing the peppercorn allowed the beef’s delicate flavor to stand on its own, which it did quite admirably. Chef Aaron perfectly cooked the steak to a preferred rareness that kept the tenderloin firm and flavorful, and beautifully colored.

Too often when we enter a steak house, steak is the goal, but that can be a misstep. From the menu is the Niman Ranch Pork Chop ($40), a large bone-in chop that Chef brines in brown sugar, sage, juniper berries, salt and pepper for twenty-four hours. The result is a moist, well-textured chop, served just slightly rare, with a crust that has bursts of flavor that perfectly support the meat.

The ribeye steak, cut from the prime rib roast and usually served on bone, is considered by many to be the most flavorful of all steaks. The ribeye’s flavor comes from marbling of the meat, allowing for enhanced tenderness, and it is best eaten medium rare to ensure the fullest flavor profile. The Old Hickory Steakhouse Cowboy Ribeye is a full 20 oz. ($46), served grilled.

Old Hickory Steakhouse bread service (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Old Hickory Steakhouse bread service (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

With table captain Enrique’s direction, we opted for the Jumbo Lump Crabmeat steak topping ($15) from among the choices including Maine Lobster Tail ($25), Maytag Bleu Cheese ($8) or asparagus and Béarnaise sauce ($15).


If you have never taken the opportunity to enjoy a well-prepared steakhouse ribeye steak, it is a delight you should place on the must-do list.

Table shares, dishes to be enjoyed by all, included crisply roasted asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes ($11 each) that highlighted Chef’s Midwestern approach to the wonders of butter.

It could not be over without coffee, simply served with fresh cream and a sweet choice. A trio of Old Fashioned Carrot Cake, Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake, and traditional Crème Brulee brought a marvelous meal to a wholly satisfying close.

The February Valentines Month prix fixe dinner ($125 for two) includes a glass of champagne, soup or salad, entrée choice, cheese course and dessert course, but does not include additional beverages, tax, or gratuity.

After dinner, a romantic walk along the river, or as it was a rainy day, through the lobby is in order. In the lobby the fountain offers a lovely light display and dancing waters, and there are plenty of meandering paths to walk beneath the sparkling trees.

And if you look up, you will see the Wedding Gazebo, where I hope to hear that the future Mr. and Mrs. Meadows celebrate their union.

Leah will be a lovely bride and we surely wish them many more happy memories and a lifetime of love.


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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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