My best friend is leaving the DC area for grad school and it's also her birthday. One of the things on our list of things to do was have dinner at ILW so we checked that off the list last night.
One word can describe our experience there: exquisite. Traffic on the Beltway conspired against us but once we made it past 66, we were alright. The rest of the drive was perfect and we arrived on time for our 5 PM reservation. Two gentlemen greeted us outside, asked for the name and seated us at once in the front room when you first walk in. Some of the tables were close together but we were on a two-top spaced a foot away from a round four-top....plenty of room. There was a bit of buzz from the conversation but never intrusive. The lack of music helps keep the din low.
While we perused the menu, a waiter brought over a tray of amuses...a small smoked salmon, cream cheese and pumpernickel, mini-BLT, red wine arancini, two puff pastry pieces and a mini sandwich on a tiny bun. I sampled all but one of the puff pastry pieces and they were delicious, perfect little bites with just the right balance of flavor.
The bread came next, which was also great. A medium size poppy sead breadstick, nice and crunchy on the outside and soft inside, as well as thin slices of raisin walnut bread with a salty exterior. These were my favorite...I could have eaten an entire loaf but cut myself off to save room for dinner.
Another amuse was a tiny tea cup filled with asparagus soup, which was creamy and salty, with the perfect essence of asparagus.
Since my friend got in to grad school, I let the restaurant know this and the menus wished her congratulations on top, which is a wonderful touch. For my 1st course, I had the grilled shrimp on roasted onions with mango-mint salsa and she had the crab, mango and avocado tower. My shrimp were three perfectly grilled pieces on sweet roasted onions, which I could have made a meal of. The salsa had cilantro in it, which I don't really like but it wasn't overpowering and did not detract from the dish. The crab, mango, avocado dish was also great, with fresh lump crab playing off the creamy avocado and the sharper mango.
2nd course was tempura soft-shell crab with pecans and mustard fruit for me and the boudin on a tangle of greens for her. I've never had mustard fruit before, it looked almost like a piece of candied kiwi to me and after one bite, I was in heaven. The candied sweetness of the fruit was a great foil for the salty, crunchy soft-shell. The dish also came with a caraway-flecked slaw, which was simple but good. The boudin was excellent, with small spicy peppercorns throughout.
Main dish for me was the roasted lobster with orzo, grapefruit, spinach and citrus butter sauce, and angus tenderloin with red wine risotto, morrels and fiddlehead ferns for her. The lobster was by far my favorite dish, with the sweet citrus and butter sauce...I could have licked the plate it was so good. Two perfect claws and the tail, cooked just so, on top of a scattering of orzo. The bitterness of the greens was a nice addition, and cut through the sweet, richness of the sauce. The angus tenderloin was also great, cooked perfectly medium rare and the risotto still with a bit of bite to it.
Dessert was also a high point. Friend ordered the chocolate pistachio souffle with pistachio creme anglaise, which came with a happy birthday/congrats ribbon of sugar at the top, a wonderful touch. I had the seven deadly sins, which consisted of a panna cotta with passonfruit coulis (my least favorite), small apple tartlet on puff pastry (crunchy, buttery and sweet), coconut ice cream in a chocolate shell with little flakes of coconut underneath (delicious), lemon meringue tartlet (loved the lemon curd and shell, friend loved the mini tower of meringue), butter pecan ice cream with caramel sauce (good but not great), a chocolate and white chocolate roll cake with dark chocolate sauce (the sauce was heaven and the cake was wonderful too) and my favorite...a molten chocolate pudding cake. Had that been on the menu as a main dessert, I would have ordered that as it's always one of my favorites. The center was perfectly soft and rich. Heaven. Coffee and tea were also excellent.
The meal was topped off with the tiny baskets of cookies and fruit jellies, which was unexpected for my friend and she was delighted.
The service was perfect, with the glasses refilled at appropriate times and we were never interrupted mid-bite. Plates were cleared accordingly, the maitre d' stopped by to wish my friend congrats and the pacing was excellent. I watched the waiters in the room and noticed lovely touches. For instance, a couple at a table nearby had someone up to use the restroom and the food came in the meantime. The waiter brought a small dome to place over his plate so the food stayed warm while the patron was gone. He waited nearby and when the gentleman returned, the dome came off and they were left to eat. A nice touch.
A few weeks ago, I posted my experience with 1789 concerning the service I received and some felt it may have been age related. At ILW last night, we were never made to feel any different from any of the other patrons and it was truly a 5 star evening. We were dressed appropriately (though I did see someone in jeans and a sloppy, untucked button down!) and acted appropriately as well. In returns, we received a spectacular experience that we'll remember for the rest of our lives.
Thanks for reading!