Wednesday, December 3, 2008

3 Inns in 3 Months: Inn at Little Washington

This is the second in a series of three posts about visits to local Inns.

Elizabeth writes: Grab a cup of coffee because this is a lengthy post.

Going to The Inn at Little Washington has been a life long dream. As someone in the hospitality industry and as a bit of a foodie, I have listened longingly to those who have gone there and come back with stories of life altering food and wonderful hospitality. Some will never experience the incredible phenomenon of this culinary legend and others (as I found out recently) make an annual pilgrimage to The Inn for their fix of owner/chef Patrick O’Connell’s culinary genius.

For those of you not familiar with The Inn at Little Washington, here are a few accolades:

· The Inn at Little Washington, and Chef Patrick O’Connell, has received 5 James Beard Awards including: Best Service, Best Wine List, Restaurant of the Year, Best Chef in the Mid–Atlantic and Chef of the Year.
· The Inn has been rated one of the Top 10 Best Restaurants in the World by The International Herald Tribune.
· The Inn at Little Washington dining room is rated number 1 in America by the Zagat U.S. Hotel Survey. The Inn has been rated number one in all categories (food, d├Ęcor and service) of
Zagat’s Washington DC restaurant survey for the past 14 years.
· The Inn’s dining room has been rated #1 in North America, and #2 in the World, by Travel + Leisure Magazine’s ‘World’s Best Awards’.
· The Inn has been awarded
Wine Spectator magazine’s “Grand Award” for its wine list every year since 1995.
· The Inn received the “Readers Top Table” award in
Gourmet’s Restaurant Issue.
· The Inn was the first establishment ever to receive AAA’s highest accolade, the 5 Diamond Award, for both food and accommodation.
· The Inn was the first establishment in the
Mobil Travel Guide’s history ever to receive 5 stars for its restaurant and 5 stars for its accommodation.

We made reservations far in advance and on a lovely October afternoon, took off for the drive to Virginia. Since I considered the trip likely the only one I would ever take to the Inn, I soaked in the details the moment we drove into the small historic town of Washington, Virginia. No small detail was left unnoticed and taking notes (I know – how touristy) helped me to remember each gracious touch.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a valet who welcomed us and asked our names. From that moment on, no other staff member would ask because by some feat of communication, our names were conveyed to every staff member we would encounter.

The front desk manager welcomed us (by name of course) as we stepped into the lobby and let us know there would be no “check-in” paperwork so instead “Let’s toast your arrival as I give you a brief tour of The Inn”. Goosebumps. He poured a cocktail of fresh passion fruit puree and champagne into two gorgeous crystal flutes, handed it to us and off we went for a tour.

Minutes later when we entered our sleeping room, our luggage was already there along with a handwritten welcome note from Patrick O’Connell. Our room was an eclectic mix of fine European antiques, some with a chinosserie feel and others very traditional. They succeeded in furnishing the room with such a warm combination of furniture and linens, curtains and accessories with such panache and sophistication. The second floor room had a charming balcony with comfortable furniture which looked directly over the front entrance of The Inn. It was an absolutely beautiful Fall day and we enjoyed sitting on the balcony reading and people watching as new guests arrived for their fantasy stay.

In order to prepare for dinner, I poured over one of Patrick’s cookbooks because as everyone knows, reading well written cookbooks with mouth watering photos makes one ravenous. The writing at the beginning of the cookbook tells the story of his fascinating journey to becoming an innkeeper. It is filled with great glimpse of how the greatness came to be although his tone is still very humble.

Next on the schedule was a walk through the shops of the little town which featured a few gift shops and art galleries. Since we live in an old farmhouse, it was especially interesting to look at the historic houses and churches along the small roads in this quaint town. We also walked the grounds of The Inn and found the herb and flower cutting garden just outside the kitchen door.

Back at The Inn, it was time for afternoon tea. The tearoom was busy with many couples but we were quickly greeted and offered a dizzying array of teas which was promptly followed by a delightful platter of cucumber sandwiches, Virginia ham biscuits, raspberry tarts and lemon scones all served on Wedgwood china.

A couple of hours later, anticipation was building for dinner and after a cocktail, we were seated for dinner. By the way, my cocktail was the usual: a vodka martini with three olives and it was fabulous but the little bit of heaven were the unusually crisp olives. After later investigation, a caterer friend is guessing the olives were “raw”. If anyone knows where to get these gems, please let me know. I must have them.

Dinner options were presented on a personalized menu and we opted for the four course dinner. We dined on Chilled Maine Lobster in Sherry Vinaigrette with Avocado and Grapefruit, Crispy Maryland Crabcakes on Marinated Cabbage Slaw with a Trio of Sauces, Pepper Crusted Tuna Capped with Seared Duck Foie Gras, and Beef Two Ways: Pecan Crusted Barbequed Short Ribs Paired with Filet Mignon wrapped in Swiss Chard. My favorite course was Porcini Dusted Maine Diver Scallop on Cauliflower Puree. I swear I would have licked the plate if I wasn’t in public. Dessert was a Homemade Southern Pecan Ice Cream Sandwich with Hot Caramel Sauce served tableside.

It was nice after wine and a fabulous meal to just walk up the steps to our room. Waiting there were cookies and a printed “Tomorrow’s Forecast” with weather information.
The sleeping room was so comfortable and private we felt like we were the only ones at The Inn that night.

Breakfast was another culinary dream and when we were reluctantly ready to leave, our car appeared like magic with the luggage inside and we were sent off with a cute bag of clementines for the ride home. What a nice “last impression”.

If you decide to make the trip to The Inn at Little Washington (and I strongly recommend that you do), be prepared for two reality checks: First, it is expensive to go to The Inn. The room rates range from $ 400.00 - 2150. per night. Weekend rates are higher as are May and October stays. To have dinner there is about $ 250.00 per person for a four course meal and a glass of wine. Second reality check: there is no cell phone or internet service in the town. I know, I know, it’s a little scary but I promise that within an hour of your arrival, you’ll be glad you are unreachable. A little fantasy and relaxation is good for the soul.


Vicky @ Event Accomplished said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience! My husband and I have been waiting for an opportunity to go and we might just have to move it up on our to-do list!