The Inn At Little Washington
Camelot in the Blue Ridge
Only 70 miles from "big" Washington, D.C., The Inn at Little Washington is an oasis of opulence in the rolling hills of Virginia farm country. Yards of fabric drape, billow and stretch over every surface; fringe drips from light fixtures; every morsel is served on silver platters just so. Chef-owner Patrick O'Connell, his partner, Reinhardt Lynch, and their staff cosset every customer to the maximum.
Self-taught, O'Connell ranks with the top American chefs on creativity and fanatical attention to detail. His food strikes the right balance between serious gastronomy and wit. Exhibit A is his Macaroni and Cheese made from ziti with aged Gouda, cream, tiny dice of local Virginia ham and (grandma never thought of this) white truffles. On a recent visit he used sweet, silky prosciutto from Friuli to offset tart pear slices and bracing young arugula. A sage-infused wine jelly, so jiggly it threatened to fall apart, dressed a terrine of foie gras, with only a tiny pile of flaky sea salt to season it. Filleted and seared rockfish from local rivers got just the right balance from braised bok choy and delicate sweet and sour jus.
The $98 prix-fixe menu brings only three courses, plus a few "between course selections." The six-course tasting menu costs $138, and the price balloons to $198 with wine for each course.
The wine list avoids weak producers, and many wines have a couple of extra years on them. Someone is adept at finding good menu matches. Highfield Sauvignon Blanc Elstree 1997 from New Zealand added just the right zing to the prosciutto, and Chteau de la Maltroye Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Maltroye 1995 wove its earthy, honeyed, floral notes with the Macaroni and Cheese. Virginia venison with black currant sauce made the perfect foil for the silky fruit flavors in Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele 1995 (in a half-bottle).
Art tiles line the ceiling in the spacious new kitchen, completed only last year, and the most coveted dining spots are the two antique wooden tables nestled by a stone fireplace.
The Inn is certainly different from the surrounding town (population 192), which was mapped out in 1749 by a young surveyor named George Washington. The Inn opened in 1977 in what had been the general store, and O'Connell and Lynch, who currently own more than 60 percent of the town, are gradually making it over in their own style, to the consternation of some local residents. To the glitterati who arrive in limousines and sometimes helicopters, however, The Inn at Little Washington is a little bit of Camelot in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
THE INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON
Address Middle and Main Streets., Washington, VA. 22747
Telephone (540) 675-3800
Fax (540) 675-3100
Open dinner, Daily
Cost Very expensive
Credit cards Visa, MasterCard
Wine Spectator Award Grand Award since 1995
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