The Bible says in Ecclesiastes Ch. 8: “I therefore praised enjoyment. For the only good a man can have under the sun is to eat and drink and enjoy himself. That much can accompany him, in exchange for his wealth, through the days of life that God has granted him under the sun.”
Much later in world events, a well-traveled gourmand from Virginia with a keen sense of history – Thomas Jefferson – wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Pursuing happiness. Sometimes easier said than done. It may seem funny, but through the toughest times, I have a little souvenir cookie box on my dresser that I stare at, along with a couple of cookbooks where I’m able to recreate one or two of the recipes decently. These cherished things recall a place that’s part storybook setting, getaway and feast: The Inn at Little Washington. And pretty much on the eve of the whole world going to Hell in a handbasket, I went back! When you’re up for a truly special experience that will smooth over all of life’s stumbling blocks, I most strongly urge you to save up and go. They’ve closed for the first time ever, but they’ll be back! I’ve traveled all over the planet and here is a place right in the USA that’s magical.
Constantly rated as the #1 restaurant in America for years, with other of the highest awards in fine dining, the Inn now has a few adjacent overnight accommodations at the intersection of Main and Middle streets. A historic tavern building now houses an extensive gift shop – start your experience there! A while back, I bought some of their souvenir popcorn boxes, which I pressed into service for my snacks during the time of Social Distancing. Munch, munch, munch. The shop has lovely coffee table books, some of the serving pieces used in the restaurant, jewelry, clothing and other boutique style goodies.
The numerous valets outside the inn wearing vintage uniforms give a royal footman feel to the very act of exiting your vehicle.
Since Spring has sprung – and not wanting something loaded with alcohol to burn my palate – I selected the Inn Cider Scoop. You can bet that cider is local! It’s a tall, cool drink with spiced rum, Calvados, apple cider topped with ginger beer. This combo was particularly a great match for the munchies they set out: candied pecans, curried dried apricots and mixed cocktail olives.
I was seated at a table in a section that still had lots of daylight flooding through. They create a lovely, personalized menu for diners to take home. I had a view of the koi fishpond, which in feng shui tradition is supposed to bring good luck.
Diners start out with little boxes of truffled popcorn mixed with freshly shaved Parmesan. It’s a festive touch that lets you know that you’re in for a night of fun.
You select from 3 prix-fixe menus: the Gastronaut (their classic dishes), Here and Now (seasonal) and a vegetarian menu. I picked Here and Now, to try some new things. As I was selecting, a glass of Champagne was sent out by the chef.
A couple of luxe – but accessible – amuse bouches were brought out. The first was a thin slice of baguette with a little crème fraiche, little micro brunoise of tomato, red onion, Italian parsley and Petrossian Imperial Osetra Caviar (one of the very best!). The second was a lemon sabayon with fresh dill and a Parmesan crisp. Perfectly sized and satisfying. Amuse bouches are meant to stimulate your gastric juices, get you prepared for what’s coming.
Then came the bread course. A little stick of rich butter was dabbed with honey and sea salt, served under a glass cloche. The breads were an everything bialy stick and a really interesting pecan rye. Don’t forget dinner is coming! Their pacing is pretty good, though.
If you go to the ladies’ loo, they play the audio from Dan Ackroyd on SNL playing Julia Child . . . which is maybe a little weird.
The first course on Here and Now was “A crispy Napoleon of chilled Maine lobster with Petrossian Imperial Osetra caviar (more! Like royalty!) in a pool of spicy Bloody Mary Coulis”. The fanciest fish and chips you ever had? It has a generous portion of caviar, so that you can really savor the experience. Bloody Mary served with dinner (how did Chef know that’s one of my secret pleasures? HOW?)? These flavors go really well together.
The next dish had such a cute presentation, reminding me of a very cutting edge (oh, that’s a bad pun) restaurant I went to this year in Lisbon. The can presentation came with “A Star-Kissed (!) tuna and foie gras confit awash in a black truffle vinaigrette. You might not think these flavors would go together, but they do. The vinaigrette is richer, not sharp. It’s garnished by seaweed which they say isn’t meant to be eaten, but I did! I would again!
The next dish has great elements of texture: “‘Risotto’ of sorghum, clams and rock shrimp with pan-seared Antarctic Sea Bass”. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything from Antarctica before! How exotic. The fish itself was moist, firm, meaty – but tasted of the sea. It wasn’t trying to be just a forgettable protein. The sorghum added a nutty flavor and had a texture of pearled barley. I noticed how everything seems to have just the right portion.
You can buy the meat knives in the gift shop.
The next dish was “A duet of milk-fed pork with cornbread pain perdu and Montmorency cherries”. So, it was roast pork and pork belly with a bit of tender and savory French toast. Why didn’t we all think of that concept? Rich and savory pain perdu! Montmorency cherries are said to be some of the most flavorful. I love the tableside presentation.
There is a firepit outside, which will be so fun when we all can go outside again and gather around it.
Palate cleansers are a tricky thing, I learned earlier this year. Sometimes, the temptation is to serve something so astringent, it obliterates the memory of anything you’ve ever eaten. But, that sort of thing is murder on any lovely wine you may be drinking. They serve a very gently refreshing coconut sorbet with a little quenelle of passionfruit and ginger granite’.
You can select cheese for dessert or go with their sweet dessert. I held off desserts for a month, looking forward to theirs – the best! Most places, their desserts are an afterthought. Here, dessert is a work of art. “Apparently a Pear” is pear cheesecake sculpted into a pear, sauced with white chocolate. It tends to become etched in peoples’ minds, when thinking back to their meal. This was a dessert well “worth it”.
With coffee service, a thin sheet of chocolate sprinkled with sea salt was cracked tableside to reveal its “treasure” of candied orange peel (or was it mango?).
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: I really don’t post pics with bites outta them, but I got so excited and still wanted to show you the little souvenir candy box. There were more cookies and miniature bonbons before I attacked them.