There are places on earth that I have visited and felt that I could never leave. I've found them in Portofino, in Tuscany, in Provence. Perhaps the most picturesque, peaceful and welcoming of all of them is in Loudoun County at the restaurant at Patowmack Farm. One half mile from the bridge on Route 15 crossing from Virginia into Maryland, on the road to Lovettsville, is a gravel road that runs up a steep hillside. We drove up this to a clearing where we were welcomed by several boys, directing us to park our car on one of several sides of a private home overlooking the valley and river below. Just in front of the home was a large tent similar to what might be found at a function in say, Potomac or McLean catered by someone like Ridgewell. Further up the hill was a barn which had been remodeled into a store selling herbs, vegetables and spices grown on the farm as well as nearby.
Goats batted horns on a hillside behind the tent while chickens roamed a nearby yard. Lit tiki torches and candles framed the tent and its surrounding garden.
At 6:30 this evening this was "Dinner in the Garden" at Patowmack Farm, certainly the most enchanting restaurant/inn/farm that exists within several thousand miles of D. C. Down the hill we could see the Potomac and the bridge carrying traffic into Maryland. On the far side was a mountain which we were told would frame the ascension of the moon later in the evening.
Thirty of us walked all over the property, some carrying glasses of wine from the tent, searching every inch of this incredible fairy tale setting.
I have been all over Europe and the U. S. Nowhere have I found a setting more enchantingly romantic, so irresistable. It didn't even matter what the food tasted like. This was truly a special place to come back to again and again.
But the food was itself special. Overall close to, say, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a big notch above that which can be found in most better Virginia country inns.
Virtually everything is grown on the farm. What isn't grown there is purchased from nearby sources. Even the wine is from Breaux Vineyards and Tarrara. Don't laugh. The Breaux Merlot is delicious, comparable to a good $20.00 California merlot. Patowmack Farm sells it for $28.00 when a downtown restaurant might offer it for $50.00 and that would still be worth it.
The restaurant's "kitchen" is actually the kitchen of the owners' home. The only commercial concession is a second oven. The result is that food is prepared and then carried approximately 20 yards to the open tent for the 30 to 40 diners.
Tonight's meal started with hickory smoked duck toast with gingered rhubarb. The duck was from Summerfield Farms the same supplier to the Inn at Little Washington, among other D. C. area restaurants. It was excellent. Next was fresh pea soup, a delicious textured creamy version that really began to make my wife and I feel that not just the setting and the ambience but that the food might actually be close to the same standards.
A salad with lettuce, asparagus, radishes (all grown on the farm), pistachios and shaved reggiano parmigiano was delicious.
The entree (one of two offered) was miso marinated fresh sockeye salmon with orange peel and shitake mushrooms. This was served mounded over basmati rice and fresh spinach grown on the farm. Deliciously simple.
The only flaw to the food was the lemon cheesecake with fresh strawberries. It was good but not up to the rest of the meal.
The total cost for this was $50.00 each plus the cost of wine.
After the meal the chef, who works there part time (and is also president of the Washington Chefs Association) and commutes from Upper Marlboro-a seriously long way but he knows this place is, indeed, really SPECIAL) comes out and circulates the room. Both of the owners are attendant throughout the meal constantly moving from table to table serving and caring for their guests.
Overall this is as friendly, warm and welcoming of a night that my wife and I have ever spent in a restaurant anywhere. In fact it didn't feel like any other restaurant we have ever been to. It really felt like, well, dinner in the garden of a private home that just happened to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The food is not on the level of, say, Citronelle or the Inn at Little Washington. But some of it is remarkably close. But the setting, the ambience, the experience, well, both my wife and I think that is the most romantic experience that we have had in the entire D. C. area and one of our best anywhere.
We are coming back for our anniversary in July. (Last year we were at a Michelin three star in Italy, the year before at the French Laundry, the year before that at Seattle's Herb Farm (a West Coast version of this which is NOT as enchanting). We expect this to be the best of all.
And next year when Patomack Farm expands a bit and builds a real kitchen-not just the kitchen of their home-their talented visionary chef and the obsessed "grow it on the farm" owners may come up a notch and challenge both L'Auberge and The Inn.
A treasured experience that you have to plan well ahead to have. Patowmack Farm is only open on Fridays and Saturday evenings, starting at 6:30 (get there earlier to walk the grounds), every other week. It is small, personal and limited. Right now they are booked into July.
My personal feeling is that when fall colors are out this may be the most beautiful place on earth to have dinner at. 540-822-9017.
The Washington Post review is linked below.