For my 50th birthday we finally ate at the Inn at Little Washington. The Inn, by the way, is celebrating it's 25th anniversary year.
Let's get the negatives out of the way first. It was wet, rainy, and humid in Virginia yesterday. The drive to the Inn was not bad since it had stopped raining, but was overcast and dreary. Of course it made the countryside green and since it is "horse" country, there is a lot of green. The last 25 miles or so is through the country driving toward the mountains and would have been spectacular if it had been a nicer day. This is part of Virginia wine country too and we passed three or four wineries on the way.
We arrived in Little Washington about an hour before our reservation so we wandered around the shops after dropping the car with the valet at the Inn. A really nice goldsmith, a couple of antique shops, the Inn's shops, and a craft and folk art gallery. At each place, they asked if we were eating at the Inn, and said it was an experience. It was raining again, but since the whole town is only about three blocks long, umbrellas took care of it. There are several nice looking B&Bs in town, but we were driving home after dinner. Obviously, this town revolves around the Inn.
The Inn is beautiful inside. Very posh and sort of Victorian. Lots of comfortable chairs and couchs for you as you are waiting for your table. The ceilings are especially interesting, each room's is different, all painted and quite spectacular in their own way. Heavy curtains were tied back to give a view of the garden.
Since we had a 6:15 reservation, we did not have to wait more than 5 minutes to be led to the table. We sat in the glassed in porch (right next to the french doors, overlooking a small garden with a lily pond and lots of flowers. It was quite peaceful and if it hadn't been raining (not hard, just spitting) and wet, we would have walked out after dinner to look.
The table was a little small for three, but the linens were immaculate and quite impressive, probably a 400 count weave borcade in a snow white. Fresh flowers and a candle made for a nice setting. Since we were on the porch however, the chairs were wicker and a little uncomfortable for sitting in for the two hours it took to have dinner. I would have preferred chairs that were a little less leaned back too.
The menu and wine list were presented by the waiter/wine steward who also acted as the head of the service team for our table. (It was obvious he was the boss) The menu for the day wished me a Happy Birthday and everyone made a point of discretely wishing me a happy birthday without making a fuss (No singing thank goodness)
Now to the meal. The wine list took me a long time just to read, much less make a selection. It is 60 pages long, and there are a lot of selections on each page. Very heavy in Bordeaux. The wine list, while somewhat expensive, does include quite a few selections for under $100. (They even have a full page of Virginia wines, mostly Bourbourville) There is also a page full of wines by the glass, and a page of half bottles as well as two pages of large format bottles.
After deciding what to eat, I decided on a 1986 Ridge Monte Bello ($150). To be honest, I found the 1994 to be much better. It had lost a lot of fruit and was somewhat earthy but still complex and not too oaky. Over the evening it opened up some more but never got to what I thought it should. Perhaps it was a little corked, but I don't have any real experience with older wines so I don't really know. They did bring Ridel stems to drink it in. I wish I had chosen the the Merry Edwards PN or one of the Ken Wright Single vineyard PNs instead to be honest. AT $105 they were fairly priced.
Dinner however, was spectacular. It became a running joke with us that you couldn't empty your water glass or bread plate. Everytime you got close they came buy and filled it again. As soon as the ramakin full of butter was empty, it was replaced. The rolls were crusty twist rolls with poppy seeds and were always hot and smelled heavenly. They also served thinly sliced dark bread with nuts that has a dusting of sea salt in the crust. It was delicious. (I think we must have eaten 5 or 6 rolls each - maybe more for the kid)
As we were deciding what to order they brought a tray of canapes, 4 each of 4 delightful bites. A small ham biscuit, a smoked ham and gueyere quiche, a salmon and cream cheese roll on toast, and a baked cheese ball that we could not identify (and forgot to ask about again).
For the first course, my wife and I both chose the warm salad of grilled asparagus and fresh water blue prawns with sherry vinagrette. My son had the sole "fingers" with green herb sauce.
The asparagus was out of this world, fresh (grown locally apparently) and full of flavor. It came with fresh prawns and smoked ham on top dressed with the vinagrette. Each bite was sublime. Capers and diced egg dusted the plate and added just the right accent.
For the second course, my wife had a cucumber sorbet with a cucumber and dill salsa. It was unbelievable. Cool and refreshing, just a little sweet and tangy with the cucumber flavor dominating. I had the pecan crusted soft shell crab tempura with Italian mustard fruit. Fantastic. Lots of flavor, crisp yet not crunchy, and perfectly accented by the tanginess of the fruit and sauce. The boy had the local morel pizza with Fontina cheese, country ham and frizzled ramps. It was cut to be eaten with the fingers and I was afraid that if I tried to take a slice I would have lost mine. It was very good.
My wife then had the pistachio crusted grilled lamb chop with forest mushrooms and carrot ginger essence. She asked for it medium well and it came exactly like she asked. It was delicious. The carrot ginger essence was a perfect foil for the tender lamb and pistachios.
I had the pan seared tenderloin of veal with wild morel mushrooms, local asparagus and raviolis of Virginia ham and Fontina cheese. Heavenly can't begin to describe this. The veal was so tender it cut with the fork. The raviolis were full of flavor and the morels were plentiful and plump, full of flavor and smelled wonderful.
The boy had the Pot-au-Feu of locally raised prime tenderloin of beef and breast of chicken simmered in aromatic broth with root vegatbles and grilled wild ramps. It also was so tender that he could cut it with his fork. He loved it. It came with a tray with horseradish sauce for the beef, a herb and lemon zest for the chicken, (those little french pickles what ever you call them), and sea salt.
Then came dessert. What a difficult choice.
I love lemon desserts and there wasn't one on the menu. When I said I was disappointed, the waiter suggested the they could make a plate of lemmon tarts for me so I chose that. It came as six small tarts, two each with mirange, blueberrys, and rasberrys. They were grouped around a small pot of lemon curd. It was sooooooo good, lemony and smooth and fresh tasting. They had decorated the plate with Happy Birthday written in chocolate on a marcipan ribbon.
My son had the Molten-Centered chocolate cake with roasted banana ice cream. It was out of this world, warm and gooey, lots of dark chocolate and a scoop of the most outragously delicious ice cream
My wife chose the Seven Deadly Sins. Small bites of seven desserts. A lemon tart, the molten center cake, butter pecan ice cream, a hazelnut ice cream bar shaved dark chocolate stem, a coconut-pineapple sorbet in a chocolate cup, the pannacotta in passon fruit sauce (out of this world, I almost wish I had ordered it as my dessert) and a apricot-ginger fruit spread on a crisp.
Coffee and expresso ended the meal we thought, but then they brought our a couple of straw boxes with small cookies, chocolates, dried fruit and nuts. I couldn't finish them I was so full.
Service, of course, couldn't have been better. Bread and water appeared before you knew you were out. Each course was perfectly timed, and served (they used two wait staff to bring each course so all three of us could be served at the same time) Once I had said I wanted to decide when to refill glasses of wine, the steward left it alone in the decanter. They had the art of anticipating what we wanted down to an art. We were never rushed, but we never had to wait either.
All in all it was a great experience and this is definitely a destination restaurant. Service is everything you could expect in this type of establishment. The food is spectacular and the presentation glorious. The town is very pretty and the countryside around it beautiful. Was it worth the money, probably. I could get as good a meal in DC for less, but not much and it wouldn't have been quite the same. I am not going to complain.