According to the Michelin guide, a 3 star restaurant offers “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” This was a special trip to a very special 3-star restaurant. The place is called Little Washington and it’s in Virginia, 30 miles from Washington DC.
In 2019, The Inn at Little Washington became the first and only 3 Star Michelin restaurant in the Washington DC metropolitan area when the inaugural DC guide was published. The Inn also holds the record for the longest tenured Forbes 5 Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant in the world. And that’s not all, they also had 2 Stars in the earlier US guide from 2016-2018. So it is a very special restaurant/inn.
Chef/Proprietor Patrick O’Connell
Patrick O’Connell, a native of Washington DC, is a self-taught chef who pioneered a refined, regional American cuisine in the Virginia countryside. In 1978, Patrick opened The Inn at Little Washington in a former garage in the tiny town of Washington, VA.
Patrick and The Inn have gone on to enjoy worldwide recognition and regularly host celebrities, politicians, and culinary enthusiasts. He has been referred to as the “Pope of American Cuisine” and in 2019, won the Lifetime Achievement award from the James Beard Foundation. In November of the same year, he received the National Humanities Medal from the President of the United States.
The once struggling town of Washington (Population : 133), which was founded by George Washington in 1769, has over the years morphed into an immaculate, storybook hamlet centred around the Inn and its restaurants. Several home décor boutiques and art galleries line the Main Street, but not much else.
The main inn’s cheery blue two-story façade, with its flags flapping in the wind, invites you inside, where you’re immediately transported into a world of whimsical, curious luxury envisioned by its owner, Patrick O’Connell.
Started from the Main Inn in 1978, the property has expanded into several historical buildings along Main Street. Many of the rooms are named after famous chefs like Julia Child, Jacque Pepin, Daniel Boulud, etc.
The place exudes an elegance from yesteryears that is carefully curated. The well-appointed garden reminded one of the country gardens of the old world, while the interiors are distinctly 18th century American.
The Dining Room
The dining rooms are opulent and yet surprising cozy and discrete for the quiet evening with your love ones. On a fine evening, one can choose to dine in the cool courtyard. It’s a special place for that special celebration as the cost for one evening here is not cheap.
The whole experience is brought to life with interiors by London stage and set designer Joyce Evans. Perhaps you’ll sink into a chair fit for royalty in the living room or head to the Monkey Room, where paintings of the primates tease from the walls while you sip a cocktail—whetting your palate for the best dinner experience of your life.
The meals here are poetic. They showcase the bounty of Virginia, the self-taught, James Beard Award-winning chef’s skills in the kitchen, and his belief in the theatrical side of a dining experience.
The first amuse bouche was a potato crisp cannoli of house made salmon and cream pimento cheese from their own farm with chives from their own garden. The cream cheese is one of the best I have tasted. Imagine that it being used in a cheesecake, that would be amazing! The black stone was purely decorative though.
The second amuse bouche was a sous vide egg topped with parmegianno espume and roasted garlic bits. It had a texture of chawanmushi enriched with chunks of foie gras and was a very sophisticated and tasty amuse bouche.
There were many variety of fresh bread on offer and you can have as much as you want. But the attraction was the hand churned butter that was so delicious.
The bread basket came with table water biscuits, pecan raisin rye bread, crusty sourdough and poppy seed crusted baguettes. All the breads were warm and fluffy, even the baguette.
Hamachi Crudo on Golden Beet “Pasta” with a Melange of Citrus and Beet Tartare
Inspired by the Peruvian ceviche, the hamachi crudo had a citrusy dressing to cure the fatty fish. The melange (potpourri) of beets with Petrossian ossetra caviar was refreshing.
Golden beets are a bit less sweet than red beets, but also have a more mellow and less earthy flavour all around. They have been skilfully made into fettuccinne like strips. Little gelatine cubes of champagne enhanced the golden beet “pasta”.
Carpaccio of Herb-Crusted Elysian Fields Baby Lamb Loin with Caesar Salad Ice Cream
Elysian Fields Lamb is considered the finest by America’s foremost chefs. Exclusively raised on the grass pastures of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains, the flavour is clean and delicious. No antibiotics or added hormones ever.
The lamb loin is seared, sliced paper-thin, laid out in concentric circles on wax paper, stacked and chilled. “It takes no space in the refrigerator,” said O’Connell. “Then you just turn it upside-down and flop it off the plate and peel the deli paper off and it looks like you’ve spent hours arranging this with tweezers.” The lamb was brushed with lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sugar, chopped chives and finished with croutons, capers and salt and pepper to taste.
The plate is finished with scoops of Caesar salad ice cream (which has been moulded into individual portions and stored in the freezer), a swoosh of pesto and a single wedge of Romaine lettuce dressed with Caesar dressing topped with freshly shaved Parmegianno cheese. So you have Caesar two ways, as an innovative ice cream and a traditional salad.
A Chartreuse of Savoy Cabbage and Maine Lobster with Caviar Beurre Blanc
A chartreuse is a French dish comprising vegetables such as cabbage, chicory or carrot (and sometimes also meat or seafood) that are wrapped tightly in a decorative layer of salad or vegetable leaves and cooked within a dome mould. The classic French beurre blanc sauce starts by simmering shallots in a mixture of white wine and vinegar until the pot is very nearly dry. And then softened butter is added and whisked off heat to form an emulsion.
The chartreuse was made with savoy cabbage and Maine lobster tail. It is very difficult to keep the emulsion as fats and water separate when the sauce gets too hot or too cold, therefore it was added ala minute. Ossetra caviar was added in the sauce to give more texture and umami to the beautiful sauce. I took a piece of bread to mop off all the sauce.
Grilled Young Squab Nesting on Our Orchard’s Sour Cherry Compote with Seared Foie Gras
I love pigeon and squab tastes even better. A squab is a young, immature pigeon about 4 weeks old. Because it is too young to fly, the meat is very tender. Squab usually weigh about 12 to 16 ounces, including giblets, and have dark, delicately flavoured meat. The squab was grilled and served on a bed of Israeli artichoke mash with Sauce Robert, a mustard speckled demi-glace, the savoury sauce complemented the sour cherry compote which relieved some of the fattiness of the pan-fried foie gras.
Prosciutto Wrapped Tenderloin of Veal with Orange-Glazed Sweetbreads and a Raclette Ravioli
If the squab was delicious, the veal and sweetbreads turned out to be the piece de resistance for the evening. Many would frown about eating offals, but sweetbreads. A medallion of veal tenderloin wrapped with prosciutto was perfectly medium rare inside and nice and crisp on the outside. Sweetbreads were panfried and glazed with an orange-cognac au jus reduction and served a single ravioli stuffed with raclette cheese. Well balanced and sublime.
Tequila-Watermelon Bubble Tea
Bubble tea is Asia’s favourite beverage and the craze has made its way to this small, sleepy town. This watermelon bubble tea tasted refreshing, sweet, and mildly aromatic, with an added kick from Mezcal tequila. The chewy tapioca pearls further complemented it with their texture and characteristic flavour.
“Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?” T.S. Eliot
The most daring part of dinner was dessert. The dessert was christened “Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?” after a phrase from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. In essence it was peach mousse transformed by the modernist tricks of the pastry kitchen to closely resemble the fruit itself. It arrived set atop a circle of genoise and was served with a raspberry consommé to evoke the flavours of peach Melba.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
With the image of the peach representing female sexuality, and especially with his self-doubt in considering whether to eat the peach, Prufrock revisits the feelings of inadequacy that he presents in his inability to compare to Michelangelo’s David.
A Selection of Cheese from Cameron, our “Cheese Whiz”
Cameron Smith (affectionately known as “Cheese Whiz”) is the Inn’s Maitre du Fromage. He has become one of only a handful of Certified Cheese Professionals through the American Cheese Society and is an avid student of the history and science of cheese making. His cheesy jokes and puns added an entertaining twist to our cheese service.
Cameron was very knowledgeable of the cheeses on offer. He was able to pick the exact ones that we would enjoy after we gave them our taste preference. One cannot go wrong with Parmegianno Reggiano and the Camembert. The sharp cheddar (the really orangey one) and the sheep milk cheese (the really pale one) were also unlike the supermarket variety. Even the local blue cheese which we were afraid to try but he strongly (no puns intended) recommended, it was so tasty with the wild honey.
Two candied ginger were hidden by a thin sheet of dark chocolate dotted with Himalayan and sea salt.
They broke the chocolate at the table without any warning and we got a shock thinking the bowl was broken. It was fine, nobody was hurt.
A Little Souvenir
At the end of the meal, we were presented with a keepsake envelope with their personalised menus, as well as a cardboard replica of the inn filled with sweets, including chocolate truffles, buttery shortbread and pâte de fruits.
It’s a beautiful way to extend the luxury into the next day while we reminiscent the wonderful evening.
My first experience at the Inn at Little Washington was truly amazing. Doormen greeted you by name at the entry. Every little details, from the flowers on the dining table, the scent in bathroom, to the wide selection of drinks and cocktails and wine, nothing was spared to give you the maximum enjoyment.
The service itself was smooth and well-executed, with each plate arriving at just the right pace. Menu advice and descriptions are offered and welcomed; the staff is only too happy to share with you the inspiration behind each plate or where the ingredients are sourced (like from the extensive garden, which yields thousands of pounds of produce a year). The experience was well-orchestrated, and the food was on point
It took us another two hours to get back to our hotel in downtown DC. Overall I felt the experience was truly a different culinary experience and I love the cute town that surrounds the Main Inn. It’s a good place to celebrate a special occasion though and I would recommend to stay the night at the inn for the full experience.
The Inn at Little Washington
5309 Middle St., Washington, VA 22747
Tel : +1 540 675 3800
Visited in Aug 2022
Michelin Washington DC Guide 3 Stars 2019-2022, 2 Stars 2016 (inaugural)-2018
Michelin Green Star 2021