Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Inn at Little Washington

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, my husband and I went to The Inn at Little Washington, a place we've been curious about since we moved to the DC area in 2003.  It's consistently in the top 5 of the Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants, which is how I found out about it.  Like this year's review says, I was kind of surprised that one of the absolute best restaurants in the DC area is actually about an hour and a half away from the city, in "the sticks."  Since 10 is a big anniversary, we decided to go all out and sit at the Chef's Table.  I made reservations ten months ahead and one of the two four-person tables was already booked.  On a Thursday.  *boggle*

This was quite possibly the best meal I've ever had.  The experience of sitting right in the kitchen and watching the swarms of chefs work was amazing to watch.  These chefs worked as a well oiled machine, but I could tell from watching them talk and laugh that they loved their jobs.  Chef O'Connell took the time to stop by each of the two Chef's Tables and talk to us.  He wished us a happy anniversary and let us take a picture with him.  He told us about how the chefs' aprons and pants were dalmatian print in honor of his pet rescue dalmatians, which I thought was super cute.

The Inn has a few greenhouses and its own vegetable garden.  The garden hadn't been planted yet, but we walked around it anyway just to read the painted stones that labeled all the crops they were going to grow.  At our meal, we were told that 15 kinds of micro grains came from their greenhouse.  There was also an animal enclosure with several sheep and two llamas.  We were told that the llamas watch over the sheep.  I've never heard of llama-as-sheepdog before. There was also a chicken coop with a few hens and roosters.

I tried to take pictures of every course.  That said, we had a glass of champagne before we were seated, received a bottle of champagne as a gift before the meal, and got the wine pairings.  The only course I missed taking a picture of was the pheasant on champagne-braised cabbage.  But, I got the other nine, so I call that a win.

When the dress code at a restaurant is listed as "formal" in a city where it's (mostly) okay to wear smart casual, I usually assume that the atmosphere is going to be very stuffy.  One of the things I loved about this restaurant is that it isn't the slightest bit stuffy at all.  It didn't take itself too seriously, and that made it so much more fun.

When we were first seated, the host explained to us that Patrick O'Connell was considered the Pope of American cooking.  When the kitchen doors were opened, there was a waiter dressed as a thurifer  (yes, I googled that), swinging incense.  We got to greet the chef and were seated at our table which was right in the kitchen with no barrier between us and the action. Monastic chant played during the entire meal.

So many toys!! Not pictured: a mixer bowl large enough for me to fit in, a machine with the sole purpose of making croissant dough, a huge oven that also does convection and steaming, the dessert station, and a few walk-in fridges and pantries.  This kitchen is probably bigger than my house. 

First up: amuse bouches! Of the three, the "chip and dip" was my favorite.  It was onion and garlic cream wrapped in a potato tube dipped in caviar.  It was just the right amount of garlic and salt to evoke my favorite terrible for me snack: powdered onion soup dip (who knew partially hydrogenated oil came in powdered form?).

Left to right: pistachio and foie gras mousse, "chip and dip," braised pork belly. 

The first appetizer was truffle dusted popcorn.  It came in a cute little popcorn container and the waiter grated some extra truffle on top.  There were clearly some spices on the popcorn in addition to the truffles, but I couldn't figure them all out aside from just the right amount of sugar.  I could tell that this was going to be a fun meal from the start because the chef happily plated a dish in a cardboard container.

Upper right corner: the water goblet looked like something that would have been looted on Vikings.  I wish I'd gotten a picture of the whole thing.  
Next up was a shot of minted pea soup and a tasty looking puff pastry.  I asked, the little pedestal is actually a chopstick rest.  Honestly, I generally don't like pea soup.  But I liked this version!  It had just the right amount of mint and was not overwhelmingly pea-ish (not a word, I know).  The little puff pastry was hollow and light.

Next course was a panna cotta with caviar inside.  This dish is one of the reasons I saw so many of the cooks running around with giant food tweezers.  Think of how many onions it took to get the same sized ring on each panna cotta.  It was served with capers and hard boiled egg.  You can't really tell from the picture, but it was about the size of a golf ball.

The next course was one of my favorites.  Chilled lobster with hearts of palm, blood oranges, and pistachios.  I love lobster.  This small salad had a lot of claw meat.  Even though it had a creamy sauce, the citrus juice didn't make it curdle, it stayed perfect the whole time I was eating it.  The sauce was very mild so it didn't smother the lobster.  It looks like mayo but it's not.  My husband and I didn't recognize that this salad contained hearts of palm, we were trying to decide if it was some kind of marinated jicama. It was topped with a watermelon radish.   This course was served with a dry Tokaji, which was interesting to me because when I think of Tokaji I think exclusively of dessert wine.

The first seafood course was a roasted scallop with sweet peas, a "Pope hat" filled with pea puree, and bacon consomme.  The bacon consomme sounded like it would take over the whole dish but it didn't. As with everything we ate, the dish was perfectly balanced.  The Pope's hat was filled with a bright green pea puree that was not too mushy and not too chunky.  From our table, we could see the cooks making these.
The Pope's hat was a good nod to how we first entered the kitchen.  
The second seafood course was an Antarctic sea bass in an Asian-inspired ginger and mushroom broth that reminded me a little of miso soup even though I'm pretty sure there was no miso in it.  The bass was flaky and crispy on the outside.  The broth had regular brown mushrooms, thinly sliced ginger, and sesame seeds.

The first meat course was pheasant on champagne-braised savoy cabbage.  It was really good.  I forgot to take a picture of it.  :(

The second meat course was probably my favorite dish of the entire meal.  It was grilled lamb with roasted artichokes and an eggplant tapenade.  The lamb had a spice rub on it that I wish I could replicate - or even identify the ingredients.  The eggplant tapenade was quite spicy, I loved it.  It was served with a South African red wine that could stand up to the spice.

The first dessert was pear sorbet with Riesling-poached pears.  I almost forgot to take a picture of this one, I'd already eaten half the sorbet when I remembered.  Like I said: wine pairings.  These pears were done right - not too mushy.  The stuff that looks like a mushroom was (I think) some kind of toasted marshmallow.

And now the surprise of the evening! Since it was our anniversary, we had a special dessert that came out covered in a very cool looking cocoon container.
As I took this picture, I was trying to decide if this container was edible. 
Our surprise dessert was a honey and chocolate mousse beehive covered in toasted marshmallow with adorable frosting bees.  The marshmallow and chocolate both had a nice honey flavor to them and the mousse was very light.

The bees were so cute, I almost felt bad eating them.  
The last course of the night was a bitter chocolate ganache with pistachio ice cream and raspberries.  It was quite tasty, but the best dessert of the night was the beehive.  It tasted awesome and it was so much fun to have a personalized surprise.

Whew!  That was the end of the tasting menu.  I'm so glad they gave us a copy of our menu, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to remember everything! Best.  Anniversary.  Ever.  Hopefully someday we'll go back!

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I loved reading this. It sounds amazing! Greg and I have looked into this place but we just can't justify that kind of price. I guess for a 10-year anniversary it makes sense. :-) We will have to wait for 2020. So glad that you got to experience this, especially knowing how much of a foodie you are.


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