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A'ight kids, put yer reading caps on Friday was our 7th wedding anniversary. That means its been 7 years since some generous friends took us to a meal at the Inn at Little Washington as a wedding present. Our gustatory urges had been slowly awakening over the previous year, driven in part by our release from the penury of graduate school into gainful employment, and we had wined and dined ourselves at Obelisk, Cashions and DC Coast to name but a few. Fine restaurants all. But "The Inn" was the big kahuna. Remember that in DC in 1998, there was no Maestro, no Laboratorio, no CityZen, no Eve, a reminder of how spoiled we are for fine dining options now (I think Citronelle was there but for some inexplicable reason we have yet to dine there). The passage of time, the loss of brain cells and a couple of years of sleep deprivation have taken their toll, and memories of the meal are hazy, but we remember literally being *blown away* by the whole experience. The setting, the service, and most importantly the food were all superlative - we had never experienced anything like it - I remember a sublime molten Valrhona chocolate cake before it had become a tired cliche. Two years later we returned, flush with the proceeds of a Harry Potter arbitrage scheme on eBay, and left wondering whether The Inn had changed or had we changed. Were our expectations too high after our first visit? Had we become more discerning as diners? Or was The Inn standing in place, content to serve a menu eerily similar to two years beforehand to those willing (and there were still many of them) to make the two hour trek from metropolitan DC, or even further afield? Some of the dishes were very good, but lacked the wow factor of our previous visit, and the service seemed a little detached and rote. As we left, the prevailing sense was that for $120+ per person BEFORE wine, tax or tip was it just wasn't good enough. Based on the comments on several other food sites it seemed as if we were not alone in this opinion. Time passed and we concentrated our fine dining adventures closer to DC, enjoying spectacular meals at Maestro, Laboratorio, and Eve, or overseas (Arzak, McNean Bistro). Last Christmas, my sister, remembering our raves from our first visit generously gave us a gift certificate for The Inn. While grateful for the gift, we honestly were not that jazzed about going back to The Inn and sat on the gift cert for a while (and in the "We do it because we can" category, shame on The Inn for voiding gift certs after ONE year). We finally decided to go in late-September and turn it into an anniversary celebration both for us, and my parents who would be visiting. My mother has a garlic allergy which can make dining out a difficult process so I mentioned it as I made reservations, and was assured it would not be a problem. Then the day of the meal, our babysitting fell through and I called The Inn to find out if it would be ok to add a 4-year old to our reservation. Again, they said it was not a problem (to be honest I was surprised at this, as an ultra high-end restauranteur, adding a 4 year old into a dining room full of boomers spending $200+ per person seems to have lots of downside). We arrived just in time for our 6.30 reservation and were shown to a circular table overlooking the courtyard (the same table as our first time there, maybe a coincidence, maybe not). Our amuse bouche arrived quickly, with about 8 for the non-garlic allergites (is that a word?) on one place and 3 or 4 on a separate plate for my mother which I thought was a nice touch. The amuse bouche included a mini-BLT (still on the menu after all these years) a red wine risotto filled ball, parmesan crisps, a rabbit turnover, a mini-ham sandwich and one or two others which I have forgotten. In general the amuse were good but not earth shattering. In ordering for the rest of our meal, our waiter took scrupulous care in accommodating the garlic allergy, to the extend of tweaking the making and presentation of dishes to ensure there would be no garlic but that my mother could still order just about whatever she wanted. I was very impressed. After the amuse came a complimentary cup of chilled watermelon soup with a hint of tequila. The soup was excellent - creamy, yet light, tasting of summer, and with the tequila giving its just the slightest kick. They even brought a cup of the soup (minus the tequila!) for our daughter, which she loved. For the first course proper, me and my mother had Prawns and Charred Onions with Mango Mint Salsa, while my wife and dad had Maryland Crabcakes Sandwiched between Fried Green Tomatoes with Silver Queen Corn Salsa. In general both dishes were excellent, but I think the prawns shaded it. Three large, succulent prawns paired nicely with the sweetness of the charred onion and the salsa. In another nice touch, they brought our daughter some macaroni (penne pasta to be precise) and cheese between our first and second courses so we could concentrate on feeding her and still be able to eat ourselves. This was seriously tasty and I'm guessing they used several different cheeses in its preparation. For the second course, I had A Marriage of Hot and Cold Foie Gras with Homemad Quince Preserves, my mom had a Morel Dusted Diver Scallop on a Cauliflower Puree, my wife had A Fricassee of Maine Lobster with Potato Gnocchi and Curried Walnuts, and my dad had A Warm Salad of Stone Church Farms Seared Duck Breast with Baby Arugula, Pine Nuts and Parmesan. In general, I adore foie gras and ordered this dish mainly for the seared foie with aged balsamic and it did not disappoint, but was pleasantly surprised at the "Cold" part of the dish, which was a delicious pate served with a small piece of toasted bread. For our main course, myself and my dad Medallions of Rabbit Loin Wrapped in House Cured Pancetta Surrounding a Lilliputian (!!) Rabbit Rib Roast Resting on a Pillow of Pea Puree, my mom had Prime Angus Tenderloin of Beef on Silver Queen Corn Saute with Wilted Baby Spinach, and my wife had Sesame-Crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Silver Queen Corn Succotash. I don't think I'd really eaten rabbit before and it was excellent. The pancetta added a good deal of flavor and it was surprisingly tender. The sea bass was also good, and the corn succotash was very flavorful. For dessert I had cheese, my wife had a trio of chocolate desserts (Black Forest Mousee Bombe, Chocolate Creme Brulee, and Bitter Chocolate Souffle), my father had the "Seven Deadly Sins", and my mother had a trio of peach desserts (Peach Melba, Peach-Champagne Sorbet and Peach Cobbler). In general I thought the desserts were good but not outstanding, although I think I was more in the mood for savory than sweet that night. Our daughter had a scoop of mint ice cream (that was as good as 2 Amy's and that's saying something) with chocolate ribbons. At The Inn, the cheese is served from the back of "Faira", a wheeled cow that must be (somewhat arkwardly) manouevered around the dining room - its cute, kind-of, but let me tell you when you're a 4-year old nearing the end of a 3 hour meal and its an hour after your normal bedtime, it's the coolest thing in the world! I had a nice back and forth with the cheese guy (earning a "you know your cheese" by the end of it all), and ended up picking a Montenbro, a crumbly blue from the Asturias region of Spain, a wonderfully ripe Tallegio, an even more wonderfully ripe Epoisses, a pungent cheese from Switzerland whose name escapes me and an award-winning American cheese that, much to my chagrin, I had never heard of. Now we were really starting to wind down, and Reinhardt Lynch came by and asked if we wanted the doors opening out onto the courtyard to be opened. Again, a great idea for a rapidly tiring 4-year old, and while we enjoyed coffee, tea and cookies, we took turns peering into the courtyards coy-filled ponds with her - several other tables were enjoying their desserts outside. After dinner, we had a quick tour of the kitchen and observed those willing to pony up the addition $300 ($450 on weekends) for the chef's table, exchanged pleasantries with Chef O'Connell (always easy when you have a cute kid), and made our way into the night air for the drive back to DC. Total bill for 4 people, a nice but inexpensive bottle Pinot, and a "kids meal" plus tax and tip was $775. The regular menu is $128 per person, our wine was $60, and our daughters meal was $28 (note that the tasting menu is $168 and the tasting menu with wine pairings is $243!!). We tipped 20% on the total bill including tax because the service was exemplary. Neil is a true professional, always there when we needed him, sensitive to the particular demands of our table, friendly, and good with our daughter. So, was it worth it? I would have to say yes. Its not the kind of place where you should go all the time, and it may not even be the place where you go for groundbreaking cuisine, but for a special occasion, the combination of ambience, service and food is hard to beat. I think they deserve credit for regaining their focus and maintaining a general level of excellence as they enter their 28th year in business. A final note on our superstar daughter. Yes, she's used to being taken out to restaurants, but she excelled herself this time around. By the end of the night, complete strangers were coming up to talk to her, clearly awed but her ability not to ruin their evenings! A final, FINAL note on the one teeny-tiny sour note for the evening. A young female member of staff loudly chastised my wife for reading one of Patrick O'Connells cookbooks that had apparently been already purchased by someone else but left on a table in the common area directly outside the kitchen. Honey, she wasn't trying to steal it, she didn't know it belonged to someone else, and your tone was not appreciated.
Location and Rates - Website Anyone one been? Going in December for a short 20th-anniversary celebration (dinner and one night). Reviews are uniformly excellent but I would love input from the DR family.