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.