“Should we do it?”
I knew the answer, but my mother had always raised me to be polite. I waited for Isa to reply.
“I mean, won’t it be expensive?” She questioned.
My hand was ready to press the “reserve” button on the screen, but I hesitated, “Yes, it’ll cost an arm and a leg, but I bet you it’s an experience we’ll never forget.”
She nodded, I clicked, and the next thing you know, we were sitting in a dining room unlike any other we’d ever experienced (or imagined).
Getting to the Inn at Little Washington
Chef Patrick O’Connell’s famed Inn at Little Washington sits in Washington, Virginia. With the anticipation of an incredible meal, getting to the Inn becomes an experience in its own right. Coming from the south, where Isa and I were staying in a remote cabin for New Years weekend, we travelled north up Virginia State Highway 231. Just off to the west was Shenandoah National Park. Driving up Skyline Drive is a possibility, but you’d need to plan extra time if that’s of interest.
As the sun set, the views were beautiful. We were experiencing “golden hour,” as I’ve been informed it is called.
“Slow down! I want to take pictures of the sunset!” Or, “Slow down, I want to take a picture of that cow!” Made what should have been a 45 minute drive take closer to an hour, but the stops were well worth it.
As you approach Washington, Virginia you quickly realize that your Verizon cell phone service cuts off. Washington is remote, and as of the last census, 135 people call it home.
We drove up main street towards the Inn and scrunched our eyes. “Is that a Washington Fine Properties office?” I asked Isa. “What the… it is. That’s so strange, Zach,” she confirmed. The mixture of upscale pomp and farming culture was a challenging juxtaposition to rationalize, but nonetheless, we parked on main street and began our short walk towards the Inn.
The atmosphere at the Inn at Little Washington
The Inn at Little Washington is strange. Elegant, but strange.
The wallpaper, the lighting, even the flowers remind you of your grandmother’s house. A little cluttered, a little haphazard, she probably could have thrown that thing out a while ago, but she hasn’t… it has that sort of “vibe.”
However, it is beautiful and exquisite. The cutlery on the table was from France, the China dish ware was intricate and refined, and the people sitting near us were dressed to impress.
You quickly realize you’re not at grandma’s house, rather you’re seated in one of the most over the top luxury dinning rooms in America.
The service at the Inn at Little Washington
Earning three Michelin Stars is no easy feat. Chefs work their entire career to get even one star to their name. Three is like winning the Super Bowl.
Beyond the culinary experience, Michelin takes into account a variety of other criteria, service being one of them. After dining there, it is easy to see why the Inn has three stars.
“Do you think you eat this?” Isa whispered towards me.
We both looked at it, it appeared edible.
“Pass it over here, I’ll try.” I motioned towards the plate.
Our waiter, Tom, was walking by. “Tom, do you eat this?” I pointed towards the bed seaweed in front of me.
“It’s decorative,” he said, and continued on, “I wouldn’t, but I know plenty of guests that have. One woman ate it and then immediately told me it was the best seaweed she’d ever had, and that the prior week she was in Japan, so to each their own,” he said with a smile.
Everyone we interacted with was pleasant, and when Isa and I made it clear to Tom that we weren’t sure which desert we wanted (the one from her menu or from mine), when substituting in the cheese course, he surprised us with all three (two dessert plus the cheese course), at no extra charge. If we didn’t feel special before, we certainly did now.
The food at the Inn at Little Washington
There are three menu options at the Inn at Little Washington. Each are fixed price and 5 courses. Isa and I chose two different options, neither of which was the vegetarian fare.
I highly recommend taking this approach if you visit the Inn. Every course Isa and I shared bites of what we received. And, on occasion swapped plates.
The entire meal, all five courses, were superb. If nothing else, chef Patrick O’Connell challenges each visitor to try something new. For us, that meant experiencing caesar salad ice cream, and foie gras and caviar in quantities neither of us had ever experienced. The meal was exceptional, and the presentation made it memorable.
Take for example your cheese course. At the Inn there is a rolling cow carrying cheeses. I’m not making this up. The “Cheese Whiz” comes to your table, it’s incredibly awkward (in a funny way), and then serves you five different cheeses of varied complexity. You’ll never have an experience quite like it.
Neither Isa or I drink alcohol, so we opted out of the wine-pairing portion of the menu. However, from the couple that we spoke with next to us (who wisely had a driver bring them to dinner), they highly recommended it.
Should you go to The Inn at Little Washington?
This answer is easy, it’s a resounding yes. However, determining when to go may be a challenge. On the evening Isa and I dined at the Inn there was a family celebrating a birthday, another family that looked like this was their regular dinner spot, and myriad couples like us, going out on a date.
The Inn at Little Washington should be reserved for special occasions. The atmosphere, the service, and the food are all breathtaking and extraordinary (and so is the price), however experiences like these should not be commonplace. If you’re contemplating going to the Inn, first consider the investment (yes, I am really phrasing it that way), and also consider the occasion.
Even out in remote Virginia there are other fine restaurants (another Isa and I have dined at called the Ashby comes to mind), but the Inn at Little Washington is different — it should be reserved for only the most special times.