Editors' pick

Inn at Little Washington

$$$$ ($35 and up)

Editorial Review

2013 Fall Dining Guide

2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013

First-timers to one of the most famous addresses in the food world often e-mail me to ask, "What should I know before I go?" My gut reaction: Pace yourselves. The a la carte menu of four courses (three savory ones plus dessert) is preceded not just with lovely breads, but with canapes so gorgeous, it's tempting to look but not touch them. Tempura fried baby zucchini with an Asian dipping sauce, a shot of sumptuous tomato soup with a coin of truffle-edged, Comte-filled brioche and a miniature lobster salad garnished with a teaspoon of tomato sorbet crowd the table within moments of your being seated in a room so plush you feel like royalty.

From there, follow your heart's delight and get whatever combination calls to you most. On the light side there might be tiny turnips filled with osetra caviar and staged around a scarlet scoop of beet sorbet. The most decadent second course is "a marriage of hot and cold foie gras." One of the Inn's best-known dishes, the plate pairs seared duck liver with a pink slab of pate and garnishes of pickled local fruit and shimmering Sauternes gelee. Crisp, curry-kissed veal sweetbreads remain my obsession, as much for accents of roasted plums and Virginia ham as for the rich organ meat.

Order cheese, if only to spend time with the resident "cheese whiz," Cameron Smith, and his tag-along cow on wheels, otherwise known as Faira. (Yes, she moos.)

Great, sometimes extraordinary, cooking served by a fleet of cosseting servers is part of what makes the Inn such an enchanting place. The cocktails are perfect, the bouquets are sumptuous, the chef's favorite cologne rests on the counter of the gentlemen's restroom for sampling.

A chat with the star of the show in his grand kitchen -- a fillip extended to every diner -- reveals plans to add six guest rooms across the street in April. How does chef-owner Patrick O'Connell do it after all these decades? I believe in magic.

2012 Fall Dining Guide

2012 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012

It's hard to stay on top. If you've never been to one of the most storied inns in the country, your first encounter with truffle-shaved popcorn with cocktails in the lounge, a “tin of sin" -- caviar-paved peekytoe crab -- in a plush banquette or “a painter's palette" of seasonal sorbets (best sampled in the garden) can astound. If you've been before, your expectations shoot to the moon: Can chef-owner Patrick O'Connell sustain the magic you recall from your first, or after your 20th, visit? I thought I had seen it all here when I dropped by this summer, but before the inevitable drinks and eye-popping canapes, the suited servers trotted me outside to tour the Inn's garden, beehive and henhouse -- dressed with a chandelier. The food is by turns playful and serious. The “dressing" for a lamb carpaccio on a shimmering green herb sauce is tiny scoops of Caesar salad ice cream; the support for sliced pigeon with blueberries is a delicate zucchini crepe that I was sorry to see go. And perhaps the best surf and turf of my entire year is the duo of sauteed cod and dainty pork dumplings splashed with lemony vodka sauce. Not every dish soars. Shrimp with chorizo is the sort of dish that might impress on an upgrade in the sky, but not on this hallowed ground. The Inn's desserts erase any aftertaste of the ordinary, though. I dare you not to swoon when you spoon into the brilliant pineapple-lemon grass sorbet, served alongside pink peppercorn granita, or “grandmother's" apple tart, a pie by way of Paris. Or heaven. When a bug dropped into my glass of Roland Tissier et Fils Sancerre Rose, the sommelier whisked it away with typical grace and humor: “At least it has good taste."