Monthly Archives: July 2014

Restaurant Review : The Inn at Little Washington

Until recently I had experienced two restaurants that were incomparable to any other.  The first was the Paul Bocuse Restaurant near Lyon, France in 2000 and the second was Jean Georges in New York City circa 2002.  Two completely different experiences yet unequaled in food, service, ambiance and so much more.  I would go as far as to call each of them a meal of a lifetime.  Last week I was lucky enough to add a third restaurant experience to this category – The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia. 

I originally heard of the Inn at Little Washington over 20 years ago on a travel show.  Food and travel shows weren’t as popular then as they are today, but did air once in a while on PBS or some obscure cable channel.  Even back then, I was fascinated with food and the concept of cooking seasonal and local cuisine and that is what this restaurant made famous long before it was the thing to do.  The Inn at Little Washington is also an actual historic inn.  For years I’ve thought about visiting the restaurant and possibly stay at the inn but alas, had never had the opportunity; until recently when I planned a trip to the Shenandoah Valley with my son.  We did not stay at the inn and in fact the restaurant was over an hour’s drive from our hotel but I was determined to go and lucky enough to get reservations.

Now you might think it’s a bit ridiculous to take a 12 year old to a place like this and even the person who took my reservation commented how lucky he would be to have this experience.  The thought crossed my mind too, but I knew my son would love the food and he had recently won a poetry contest at school so I decided to reward him with a great meal and memory rather than buy him something that would be temporary.

It was great to return to this region after so many years.  I had visited last in 1977 during our move from Tennessee to New York so it was strange to relive those memories with my son.  As I walked through Luray Caverns, drove down Skyline Drive and hiked along the Natural Bridge I realized how time flies and yet so many things remain the same.  Perhaps one of the stalactites had grown a millimeter since I saw it last but I wouldn’t possibly notice.

On the day of our reservations at the Inn, we took on a fairly challenging hike of approximate 3 miles to a waterfall along Skyline Drive which was a steady descent to the falls but quite a climb back along the Appalachian Trail.  In fact Fitbit awarded me my first 100 flights climbed in a day badge after this hike. It was the perfect way to work up an appetite we would surely need to enjoy the feast that was to be put in front of us later that evening.

When we arrived at the Inn, we were promptly greeted by the valets who parked our car and escorted us inside.  My son loved that they called him “sir” though he did look quite grown up in his dress pants, button down shirt and jacket which he reluctantly wore at my insistence.   The Inn is located in a charming old building and decorated quite traditionally inside.  We were guided to our table and given menus that were created just for us and even had our name on it.  Apparently they do a separate menu for each party based on any allergies, dislikes, etc. which they inquired about when I made the reservation.  Upon taking our seats, our waiter immediately asked if he could get us some drinks since it was so warm and humid outside.  I opted for a glass of champagne (an apropos start I thought), and my son ordered sweet tea which you can do in the South.

As we were perusing our menus and asking questions, a passing thunderstorm caused a loss of power and we were left sitting in the dark until all the staff at the Inn hustled to bring out lanterns and candles for the tables.  This was turning into and even more interesting and exciting experience.

Even in the dark, the staff did not miss a beat.  The manager stopped at each table to ensure all was ok and spent extra time with my son to reassure him that all would be fine.  To which my son responded with “hey, I lived for 5 weeks without power during Irene and 4 weeks during Sandy, I’m fine thank you.”  We were immediately handed modified menus which removed any items that needed to be cooked in an oven.  

With a little bit of coaxing they allowed me to order their gastronaut’s menu which consists of ten courses while my son ordered the 6 course a la carte menu.  Generally everyone in the party is required to order one or the other.  What can I say, we are both pretty persuasive and this is where it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a companion who is 12 years old.

The meal my son chose :

Baby Lamb Carpaccio with Caesar Salad Ice Cream
  • Truffle Dusted Popcorn
  • Shot of Cucumber Vichyssoise
  • Carpaccio of Herb Crusted Baby Lamb Loin with Caesar Salad Ice Cream
  • Aged Gouda Macaroni and Cheese with Virginia Country Ham
  • Pepper Crusted Tuna Pretending to be a Filet Mignon capped with Seared Duck Foie Gras on Charred Onions & Burgundy Butter Sauce
  • Southern Butter Pecan Ice Cream Sandwich with Bittersweet Chocolate and Hot Caramel Sauce
Cucumber Vichyssoise
Aged Gouda Macaroni & Cheese

Southern Butter Pecan Ice Cream Sandwich

My Gastronaut’s Menu:

  • Truffle Dusted Popcorn
  • Shot of Cucumber Vichyssoise
  • Savory Panna Cotta with a Caviar Surprise & Quail Egg
  • Summer Maine Lobster Potato Salad
  • Black Cod and Gulf Shrimp in an Orange-Saffron Broth with Tomato Jam
  • Antarctic Sea Bass in an Dashi Broth Perfumed with Ginger ( my favorite dish)
  • Truffle-Stuffed Breast of Pheasant on Garden Succotash and Sauteed Golden Chanterelles
  • Prosciutto Wrapped Loin of Veal with La Ratte Potato Puree and Summer Vegetables
  • Strawberry Gin Sorbet with Lemon Granite and Champagne Sabayon
  • Bitter Chocolate Marquise “Taillevent” with Pistachio Ice Cream
Panna Cotta with Caviar Surprise
Black Cod & Gulf Shrimp

Sea Bass in Dashi Broth

Maine Lobster Potato Salad
Truffle Stuffed Pheasant 

Strawberry Gin Sorbet etc.
My dessert

Prior to our meal we were served a tray of Amuse Bouche which included Compressed Watermelon with Goat Cheese, Bloody Mary Jelly Bean and “Chips and Dip” in a molecular gastronomical sort of way.  With my meal I chose to order a half bottle of the 2011 Ken Wright Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir.  It was a delicious wine that was complex and earthy with great balance.  It didn’t work with all of my courses but I just drank water with those.  We ate part of our meal by iPhone light which made for an interesting adventure which we will not soon forget.  Many of the photos I’ve shown were also taken under the light of my son’s phone making for some pretty good shots.

In the end it was best to have ordered the different menus because it gave my son a break between each of his courses allowing him to rest and build up an appetite for the next course.  He polished off every bit of food he was served except for the popcorn which he didn’t care for too much.  His favorite was the lamb carpaccio – something he had never tried before.  I really love that he is so adventurous with food.  It makes it so much easier for me to eat at good restaurants when we travel.  I’m not sure what I would do if I had a child who only ate the standards and always looked for a chain restaurant or worse yet, fast food.

Despite the challenges of a power outage, the Inn at Little Washington managed to provide us with a fantastic experience and my third meal of a lifetime.  We were not rushed but were given attention when needed – that is the sign of exemplary service.  Completely full and satisfied, we retrieved our car and I drove back to our hotel through thunderstorms and a very dark Shenandoah State Park while my son slept like a baby.

I hope someday I will return to the Inn at Little Washington as well as to Jean Georges and Paul Bocuse.  Perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to have a fourth meal of a lifetime, but for now I’m still flying high from this recent experience.

Note: We stayed in a hotel with a kitchen and ate all the other dinners in and mostly picnicked for our lunches to be able to pay for this extravagant treat.  It was well worth it!!
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