The Washington Post


Celebrate a deal

At these fine dining destinations, victory tastes even sweeter.

  • Updated 01/07/2016
  • 4 Items

One of the country's most acclaimed inns acquired a "farmer in residence" in 2011. And a British master gardener. And a pastry chef from another esteemed brand, Chez Panisse in Berkeley. The Inn at Little Washington is more than three decades old now, but it can't be accused of resting on its many laurels, I discovered during a rendezvous at chef Patrick O'Connell's food fantasy. The tab is considerable ($600 for two with wine, drinks, tax and tip); the memories, including a post-dinner chat with the star of the show, are priceless.


When customers are shelling out hundreds of dollars per person for a single meal, an exclusive restaurant has to distinguish itself not only from the luxurious competition but from any lofty recollections a diner might have. The top spots can't afford to rest on their accolades. That's why I so admire the most formal of Cathal Armstrong's dining rooms in Old Town. The chef constantly pushes himself to please. If you haven't reserved in a while, you'll be pleased to see that the garden is the source of more ingredients (artichokes, herbs, pumpkins) and the dining room is bigger and plusher, dressed with huge chairs the staff refers to as "thrones."


How much you enjoy Rogue 24 depends a lot on your sense of adventure, your patience and your credit card balance -- and whether you think dinner should be a science class, a celebration or a break from home cooking. Rogue 24 is all of the above. This is made clear the moment you step inside the lounge, where a rotary evaporator for extracting essences sits on display, and again deeper into the exposed-brick restaurant, where black ash wood tables ring a center-stage kitchen energized by a small army of chefs.


Nostalgia draws me to Vidalia, the city's most sophisticated Southern lair, but the cooking at this 18-year-old downtown destination keeps me coming back. The bread basket makes a proper first impression: It would take an iron will not to finish the warm corn bread, onion-laced focaccia and old-fashioned potato roll. Alice Waters, the Mother of California Cuisine, could have tossed the gorgeous salad of fluffy greens, Marcona almonds, shaved cauliflower, butter beans, dried apricot and lime dressing. Chicken-fried sweetbreads gathered on a raised waffle with buttery asparagus and a base of bacon "fondue" sends a down-home dish to a master class.

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