REVIEW

The Inn at Little Washington

The Inn at Little Washington is, as the name implies, a luxury country inn that also houses a restaurant.  It is not, however, located in Washington, D.C., although its inhabitants do comprise the majority of the inn’s patrons, but is rather located in the little-known hamlet of Washington, VA, about 67 miles outside of D.C.  It is widely considered the finest restaurant — in quality of food, service and atmosphere — within a day's journey of the nation’s capital, and in our view is one of the top 10 restaurants in the United States. 

The restaurant has been endlessly showered with awards of various kinds.  In 1996, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote an article for the London Telegraph in which he stated:  “I have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world this year, from Girardet at Crissier, Switzerland, to La Tante Claire in London.  For my money this little hotel provides the best overall dining experience I can remember in a long while, perhaps my best ever.”  Similarly, Craig Claiborne of The New York Times called it “the most magnificent inn I’ve ever seen, in this country or Europe, where I had the most fantastic meal of my life.”  Such gushing praise can inordinately raise expectations so it is frankly best simply to anticipate a very fine and memorable meal. 

The façade of the two-story main house is quaint and inviting, but inside is a world of unrestrained fantasy and opulence, with rose-colored silk-fringed Victorian lamps glowing above each table, heavy tapestries and candelabra sconces on the walls and an intricately patterned hand-painted ceiling.  Andrew Lloyd Webber went on to describe the décor as that of “an English country house that has been 20 percent overdone”, an observation that more induces envy of the English country houses Webber evidently frequents than accurately portrays the dining room. 

O’Connell repeatedly takes risks, making bold, iconoclastic choices in the cuisine as well as the design (tapestries and tassels are not particularly en vogue these days), and does so with absolute authority.  This self-possession is all the more remarkable given that O’Connell is self-taught.  His cuisine is always seasonal, fresh, and composed of the highest quality ingredients available.  But there are frequently whimsical touches:  the “tin of sin” containing osetra caviar, peekytoe crab and cucumber rillette; black truffle popcorn; a version of beef Wellington with tuna.  Not to mention that you may notice during the course of your 10-course tasting menu that one of O’Connell’s Dalmatians has wandered into the dining room (he has a habit of cooking in what appear to be Dalmatian pajamas) or the rolling, mooing cow that has been adapted as a cheese cart.  But the overall bias is classic, with French-inflected New American cuisine plated in colorful, imaginative presentations.  There is “salmon five ways”:  tartare; smoked; pastrami-cured; poached; gravlax with cilantro.  There is apple-rutabega soup, a kind of sweeter butternut squash soup (a result of the addition of maple syrup), that is meant to taste like liquid autumn.  And “glazed oysters drunk on champagne”, a hedonistic alchemy of oysters, champagne and caviar:  oysters are first poached in their shells with champagne, then champagne hollandaise and a dollop of caviar are added on top. 

The restaurant has arguably the best service in the country.  O’Connell holds an undergraduate degree in drama, so it is perhaps not surprising that there is so much theatricality and pageantry involved, from the customized menus printed with your name to the invitations afterward to tour the exuberantly-decorated kitchen and to stay and enjoy a cup of coffee on the captivatingly romantic garden patio.  The isolation of the Virginian countryside is ideal for melting away the freneticism of the city and the inn is a place of such warmth and hospitality that is hard not to depart in buoyant spirits.  The drive back to D.C. can be excruciatingly anticlimactic after so transcendental an experience, so we highly recommend diners stay for the night at one of the inn’s sumptuous rooms or cottages. 

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INFORMATION

Washington, VA
Middle and Main Street
(540) 675-3800
    Patrick O’Connell, Chef
    Jennifer Knowles, Wine Director

    TAGS

    • Washington, D.C.
    • American (Nouveau)
    • Best Decor
    • Best Service
    • Best Wine Lists
    • BYOB Corkage: $35 (1st 750ml) and $50 (2nd 750ml) or $50 (1500ml); limited to 2 750ml bottles or 1 1500ml bottle/not on wine list. Corkage fee waived for each bottle purchased off wine list.
    • Chef's Table 2 Chef's Tables: 6 seated
    • Romantic
    • Tasting Menu 10 Course "Gastronaut's" Menu: $208 10 Course "Gastronaut's" Menu with Wine Pairings: $308 4 Course Prix Fixe: $168 / 178 / 198

    OTHER REVIEWS

    • Zagat : 29

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