Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Trip to Washington, VA: The Inn at Little Washington

After our lovely lunch, we walked around the town some more before returning back to our bed and breakfast for some downtime before dinner. There wasn't much to do so we decided to play some good ol' fashioned Scrabble where I proceeded to beat Mr. M&P. Yes! I'm still champion! After I did my victory dance, we went to get ready. A little before we headed out for our meal, the owner of the bed and breakfast gave us some tips about the restaurant. At the Inn at Little Washington, the waiters and hosts watch your every expression discretely. So if you're dissatisfied with something, they will know immediately. They will be there by your side to correct anything that may have made you furrow your brow. They want each and every patron to leave with the notion that they exceeded any and all expectations. That's service for you.
So we drove over to the beautiful historic building to have an amazing meal. This specific meal was the one thing that made this vacation happen. In fact, everything else was planning around the Inn at Little Washington. Yes, we travel for food. Everything else is secondary.

So we sat down in a cozy area of the restaurant. It was the dead of winter and I was wearing a sleeveless dress. I thought I might be cold but the roaring fireplaces helped alleviate that. The waiter came over and happily welcomed us to the restaurant. He described a few things then left us to look over the menu. We went with the regular 4 course tasting menu ($178) while there was also a Gastronaut's menu ($228) as well. With the tasting menu, we were allowed to choose our dishes. The Gastronaut menu was pre planned by the chef.

*Editor's note: I'd like to menu that each and every menu is personalized and then handed to the patron at the end of the night.*

After we made our choices, the amuse bouche came out to play. From left to right, we had: fig with Virginia ham and cheese, braised pork belly with apple, and chips and dip with sweet onion mousse with chives and caviar. The ham was so delicious. Real intense pork flavor with the sweetness of the fig and the creaminess of the cheese. The pork belly was rich but quivered from being cooked low and slow and paired really nicely with the freshness of the apple. The chips and dip was our favorite. It reminded us of sour cream and onion chips but much more sophisticated. Savory, briny, creamy, fresh, and crunchy. Everything just worked so perfectly. This was an extremely happy start of the meal.
Oh but the freebies don't end there. Our next course was a chive gougere, and a shot of white bean soup with Virginia ham. That gougere was so impectably light and airy with the essence of cheese and chives. I could eat these by the handful. The white bean soup was incredibly creamy and smooth with the starchiness of the beans but cut beautifully with the fatty flavor of ham. I don't generally like beans but this was incredible.
*Editor's note: Before I move on, I wanted to briefly mention something about the service at this point. I was so excited about this meal and the food that I forgot to take a picture of the second course before devouring it. I was extremely saddened because I wanted to share this meal with my readers. The waiter came over and Mr. M&P explained the situation to him. Without hesitation, the waiter came back with another gougere and white bean soup. No questions, no wait. Just boom, there it is. Wow, they were really aiming to please and pleased I certainly was.*

Right before our first course came out, bread service came around. We picked from a variety of fresh baked dinner loaves. And then the butter came to the table. Room temperature butter with warm bread is a major plus for us. And the Inn at Little Washington delivered. Warm bread split open then smeared with a good helping of creamy luscious butter. In fact, the butter was so good that we asked the waiter about it. Surprisingly, the butter was unsalted. Unsalted! What?! How can that be? It was so flavorful. Well, he goes on to tell us about their very own dairy cow in Orwell, VT named Sasha. In fact, the farm is called...wait for it...Animal Farm. Get it? I thought that was awesome. Anyway, Sasha the cow is treated very well and all the flavor in the butter comes from the feed its given. It's a true testament to how food will taste if your take care of it from the beginning stages to the end.

*Editor's note: After the trip, I looked up Animal Farm in Orwell, VT. They provide dairy including butter to some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country. I'm talking about French Laundry, Per Se, No. 9 Park, etc. It's worth checking out (http://www.animalfarmvt.com/about/).*

Okay, now onto the plated dishes of the night. For his first course, Mr. M&P had the carpaccio of herb crusted baby lamb loin with caesar salad ice cream. How pretty was this? Thinly sliced lamb (so thin that you can see through it) seasoned perfectly with a wonderful play on a classic caesar salad. He loved it and I loved the bite that I had. This was really impressive.
I had the spicy sesame crusted ahi tuna tartare with cucumber sorbet. Another beautifully plated dish with incredibly fresh tuna fish with a cool cucumber garnish. The sprinkle of lettuces added crunch while the crisp gave it just the smallest touch of something bread-y. It was impeccably balanced and seasoned. I very much enjoyed every last bite.
For his second course, Mr. M&P had the aged gouda macaroni and cheese with virginia country ham. This was described as mac n cheese for grown ups. This is also one of the few dishes that has remained on the menu for years and years. Yes, it is that popular. And after one taste, I can see why. First, they use good quality cheese to make a cheese sauce. The pasta is cooked al dente, and the ham is of the highest quality. The crispy bread crumbs just adds the right amount of crunch to the dish. Who knew mac n cheese could be so sophisticated and beautifully plated?
For my own second course, I had a marriage of hot and cold foie gras with sauternes gelee and fig marmalade. This dish was AMAZING. If you love foie as I do, you will love this dish. Two different preparations of foie: one was a terrine, and one seared. Buttery brioche toast on the side. As I was eating this, I told Mr. M&P that one day I wanted to cry from eating food so delicious that my senses and emotions would be in overdrive. This dish didn't make me cry but it's gotten me the closest to that feeling.
Here's a closer look at the seared foie. It was a generous portion and seared until caramelized. So fatty, so luscious, so rich. It was a beautiful piece of fattened duck liver.
The foie terrine was no joke either. Incredibly smooth and creamy with the slight bitterness of the gelee and sweetness of the fig to cut through the richness. This was best eaten with the buttery brioche toast. With both portions, I was on a foie high. This was possibly the best foie dish I've had in my life.
And the decadence didn't stop there. Oh yes, we still had our third and last savory course of the night. Mr. M&P had the pepper crusted tuna pretending to be filet mignon capped with seared duck foie gras on charred onions and burgundy butter sauce. That's right, more foie! But this time, it's for Mr. M&P. The tuna steak was cooked and treated like a beef steak making it a hearty protein with a rich red wine butter sauce. You may think that tuna is too delicate for that. But no. They somehow found a way to make it work with the lightly cooked vegetables, fried onions, rare tuna steak, wine sauce, and seared foie on top. Everything together just worked. His plate was left without a drop of food.
And for myself, I had the seared blackened loin of beef with bone marrow custard, chanterelle mushrooms, and roasted brussels sprouts. A beautiful version of a steakhouse staple. The beef was cooked just beautifully. I mean look at that color. It was incredibly juicy, tender, and flavorful. The accompanying bone marrow custard was something I've never had before. It's made to look like bone marrow but instead, it was soft and fell apart as I dug into it. Creamy custard laced with the richness of bone marrow. And lastly, the tiny vegetables that graced the plate but balanced out the meal completely with the lightly bittersweet brussels sprouts, and earthy mushrooms. What a great end to the savory portion.
Of course, there is still dessert to be had. After looking over the dessert menu, Mr. M&P asked the waiter about the most chocolaty dish. The waiter replied that the chocolate dessert on the Gaustronaut's Menu is the best. But he that wasn't just teasing him. He offered it to Mr. M&P without waiting for him to reply. It just happened. He was going to have chocolate. Shortly, he was presented with the bitter chocolate marquise taillevent with pistachio ice cream. It had rich chocolate mousse, gold leaf, grand marnier, pistachios, ice cream, and raspberries. The chocolate mousse was incredibly smooth, creamy, and melted in your mouth. It was made with high quality chocolate and was bittersweet. The nuttiness of the pistachios, the sweetness of the ice cream, and the tartness of the raspberries added great flavor and textural contrasts.
For myself, I had the lemon meringue tartlet with toasted pistachios and meyer lemon confit. If you like lemon desserts like I do, then you would love this tartlet. Incredibly citrus-y with the perfect balance of tart and sweet. Neither the meringue nor the pistachios masked the lemon flavor. Even though it's considered a light dessert, it certainly felt rich to me.
After our wonderful meal, we took a stroll through the kitchen. It was immaculate and quite beautiful. Not the normal stainless steel cold feeling you get from most professional kitchens. No, this was intricate and almost home-y. As we gazed and gawked, our host told us that we just missed Chef Patrick O'Connell. After decades of passion and service, he's been leaving shortly after the last tickets of the night. Well deserved, Chef.
And on our way out, we were given a cute little box of mignardises to take home. Look at the detail. The box is in the shape of the Inn. And it closes via magnet. Nope, it's not some cheap design to fall apart after a few days. In fact, this still sits on my kitchen counter to this day to remind me of the incredible meal I had.
Oh but what's inside, you ask? Oh just simply some candied orange peels, shortbread cookies, caramels, and chocolates. All very delicious. All very much appreciated.
After this meal, I was completely ecstatic and satisfied. I didn't want to say that it was one of the best meals of my life too quickly. I was still riding on that high from all the food, great service, and warm atmosphere. But it's been months now that I had that meal. And looking back, I can honestly still say that it was one of the best meals I had in my life. I mean, it almost made me cry tears of joy. That says a lot.

The Inn at Little Washington
309 Middle Street
Washington, VA 22747
(540) 675-3800
theinnatlittlewashington.com

7 comments:

  1. OMFG. All the the amuse and entrees look so F'ing good. I want all of that. Like seriously.

    As an aside, Mr. M&P's seared tuna looks a lot a nuclear warning symbol. :P

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    1. It definitely exceeded all my expectations and more!

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  2. *applauds* Beautiful! Love it!! You said many words that speak to me, mostly "if you like [foie/lemon] the way I do" - and I do! Oh I do!

    PS Years ago, the same thing happened to me - I forgot to photograph a course. I asked the kitchen if one happened to be coming out, if I could snap a photo and they refused. Now that I think about it, I guess it's kind of gross - leaning over someone else's food - but they just flat out refused, not even "I can check with the patron to see if they're OK with that"

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    1. Well an amuse is different from a full course. Offering another complete dish would be really weird. Also, what you said about another patron's dish...yeah..even if you didn't touch it, they can't reserve it. Also, like you said, they could have just lied and say they would check.

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  3. Yvo sent me over, knowing I am a Virginia native, my family is from the parts of Maryland you visited and I went to college in DC.
    This trip is amazing...M&P is to be commended. I haven't finished yet, as I started at the beginning, but I wanted to tell you I kept praying "Oh PLEASE let them go to Washington VA and the Inn" SO happy you did!
    Every bit as amazing as everyone says it is - it is THE destination around here and we all love the Inn and Chef Patrick very much.
    And yes, I love foie gras as much as you do. I am sad I will have to wait. YUM! Great review.

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    1. Hi SkippyMom! Thanks for reading.

      This was truly an amazing food trip. I wanted stress free and Mr.M&P certainly delivered. We were both extremely happy with how this trip panned out.

      I have to admit though that I didn't know of The Inn at Little Washington. That he discovered all by himself.

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  4. I think service is not good lately. Looks like Pat lost hes best people on the floor. Food still good. I like the inn about 5 years ago when Jon was sommelier. If inn loses Cameron, that will be the end of it...

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