The Inn at Little Washington offers many novelties including black truffles shaved over popcorn to kick off its six-course tasting menu.
It’s a dash of proper English sprinkled with a touch of French color and finished off with pure sumptuousness.
Welcome to The Inn at Little Washington. Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we found the country inn smack dab in the picturesque town of Washington, Virginia. It served as the perfect stopover during our Civil War road trip.
Washington's main street rolls into pastoral Virginia
We came here for the award-winning food prepared by renowned chef Patrick O’Connell. We left full of memories that extended well past the six-course menu.
Warm hospitality and luxurious quarters had us wishing we’d booked another night.
Entering the inn kicks all senses into high gear. We were immediately struck by the rich colors of the rooms, and the light smoky aroma and crackle of the fireplace. The inn’s vivid and complementary palette makes you feel as if you’re entering Monet’s garden at Giverny.
Our greeter offered us glasses of champagne cocktail as he ushered us upstairs to our room. On top of the landing, framed photos of celebrity chefs lined the walls.
Each of the inn’s rooms are named after and designed with a famous chef in mind. After all, these are the people who have inspired O’Connell, the inn’s chef and owner.
Our greeter then revealed what promised to be a special night. We would be spending the night in Julia Child’s room.
OK. It wasn’t her actual room, but it certainly looked as if it had been transported directly from France. The furnishings and bathroom tiles incorporated the classic French blues and yellows.
As we entered the room, a framed picture of Julia and her bio sat atop a table.
A copy of her autobiography also found a place in our room. It became my reading material during the visit as I sat on our balcony beneath a pink tulip tree.
As far as first courses go, our welcome experience wowed us and we hadn’t even started eating.
To warm up our taste buds, we enjoyed the inn’s complimentary afternoon tea service. It was set up off the dining room in a softly lit room filled with plush pillows and overlooking the gardens. More light was available in the adjoining sunroom if we had preferred it.
With a wide selection of properly prepared teas and sweet and savory treats, the experience provided just enough food to simulate our appetites, but kept us wanting more as we anticipated the feast ahead.
We used our post-tea caffeine buzz to fuel a walk around the town of Washington, population 135. Surveyed by George Washington in 1749, the town is nicknamed “Little Washington” to avoid any confusion with the bigger Washington 70 miles down the road.
It was a short but pleasant walk along the main street, where you can poke around antique shops, sample wine-and-chocolate pairings, and marvel at homes from the 1700s. We restrained ourselves from what seemed an obvious first stop at the wine-and-chocolate shop. We wisely saved space for our approaching dinner.
In the spirit of research, we checked out the inn’s nearby garden across the street. We ventured further along a circular path overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, which led us to a herd of sheep and …llamas? Yes, and they seemed to get along beautifully.
When we returned to the inn, we meandered around its enchanting grounds.
With afternoon tea and a nice stroll behind us, the obvious next move had to be a nap. We needed to conserve our energy for the dining marathon to come.
Where do I begin? Well, let’s start with our welcome from the hostess, who pinned a white boutonnière on my husband before seating us. Classy move.
As with most fine restaurants, we started with an amuse-bouche. It had to be one of the most entertaining and unexpected courses of my life.
The white-gloved waiter delivered two small buckets of popcorn to our table and began shaving black truffle over the top. What better way to enjoy the pure delight of truffles than with a salty non-competing popcorn kernel? We loved it.
Then it was decision time. We had three tasting menus from which to choose. Fortunately, we were able to mix and match from each.
The menus included the inn’s “enduring classics” – three decades of refined American cuisine; “spring break” – the menu of the moment; and “the good earth” – its vegetarian creations. We had to go for the classics, but mixed in a little spring break.
Our favorite courses included the chilled Maine lobster salad with marinated Hawaiian heart of palm, the carpaccio of herb-crusted baby lamb loin with Caesar salad ice cream, and the crispy and bourbon-glazed veal sweetbreads on pappardelle pasta with Blenheim apricots.
I never knew I could be a fan of sweetbreads, but this dish turned me.
I love a meal with moments of comic relief when you see a fine establishment not take itself too seriously. It started with the popcorn dish. That immediately removed the stuffiness that can come with a highfalutin meal. Then our waiter rolled over the haltered cow cheese cart. With those big Elsie eyes staring at me, I couldn’t help but smile.
At the end of our meal, we received a beautiful folder-encased, personalized menu and goodie box resembling the inn with assorted sweets for the road.
How nice it was to be only a short stroll from our room. Awaiting us on our pillow was a short story, “The Secret Ingredient,” by Paul Gallico. Reading would have to wait, but what a rewarding story to savor after the feast and by which to remember our magical night.
Farewell breakfast – say it isn’t so
After a few rain soaked days, it felt heavenly to wake up to the sun streaming through our windows.
We showered, stretched our legs one last time with a short walk through town and headed to our last meal.
The sunroom overlooking a garden with koi ponds served as the perfect setting for our farewell breakfast.
Our meal started with four juice varieties that include melon, which was a surprisingly yummy first for me.
By the time they delivered the remaining complimentary yogurt, berries, granola and bread basket filled with flaky croissants and buttery scones, we decided to pass on the additional menu options. Eggs benedict would have to wait for another day, but I have no doubt they would have been eggcellent. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
As if we needed more by which to remember our time at The Inn at Little Washington, the staff sent us off with another memento, a gold tin box of Blackcurrent Grether’s Pastilles. There they go again, expanding my culinary horizons and exceeding my expectations.
The inn excels in its attention to detail, making you feel special and delivering a magical, unforgettable experience.
Thoroughly pampered and inspired by my night in the company of famous chefs, I began considering putting my copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” to use.
Every time I have opened the pages to her beef bourguignon recipe, I chicken out (pardon the pun) by the time I’ve read the third reference to another recipe within the recipe. One recipe quickly multiplies into four. I’m worn out before I begin.
On second thought, maybe I’ll keep the mystery alive and leave the cooking to the real chefs like Patrick O’Connell.
What are your favorite foodie inns?