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The Inn At Little Washington - With 2001 National James Beard Award Winner Patrick O'Connell


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Edited by DonRocks
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OK, we just got back so here are my impressions. The Inn is, as you can imagine, breathtakingly beautiful. It's like you're walking onto the set of Downton Abbey. Some of the décor bordered on Liber

My wife surprised me with a trip to the Inn for dinner. Until we left, I wasn't completely sure where we were going. She rightfully decided to find a more affordable place to stay, since $800 a night

Well having just dined at the IaLW, I can absolutely see why people consider it special and noteworthy after all these years.  The service just blows away the best service anywhere else in the DC area

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i also had a gift certificate to the Inn that I received for my wedding. it was extremely generous, and since I had never been, I was excited to check out this piece of american gastronomy.

my wife went just about 8 years earlier, and had since declared it the best meal she ever had.

well times have changed...and the Inn apparently hasn't.

what we had was a very nice meal. everything nicely executed, but nothing left me wowed; nothing left me scratching my head saying "what is this flavor?" or "how do they do this?" unlike maestro.

and nothing we got i couldnt have conceived and then executed on my own.

the food was good; but honestly, it was a price gouge. and i was not impressed with the pastries, petit fours and amuse bouches at all.

the service was very good and extremely attentive, but with some hiccups. I was never given a wine list with my menu or asked if i would like wine...and the same goes for the table next to us (also a young 30s couple). we both had to inquire awkwardly to our server AFTER we had ordered "what about wine?"

and for $400 for 2 people (only one drinking a glass per savory course) it is too much money.4 courses each for $128 is too much money for food that does not wow or overly impress. lets break this down....$128 for 4 courses is roughly:

$20 first course (tuna sashimi with wasabi sorbet and a lamb carpaccio with tabouleh)

$30 second course (tomato, mozarella and basil napolean and a lobster and grape and mucshroom fricasse with gnocchi) price gouge!!!

$60 entree (beef two ways: short rib and tenderloin sous vide and sweetbreads in a port sauce) Price gouge!!!!

$20 desserts (nothing spectacular: 7 deadly sins and peach 3 ways)

After the meal my wife remarked to me how her meal at the Inn wasnt the best meal of her life; it was just her limited perspective that had led her to believe that; and she would rather go to maestro again than come to the Inn.

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“I have an unusual request,” I said. “I’d like a second glass of champagne to honor someone who couldn’t be here with me tonight.”

“Certainly Mr. Rockwell,” she said, bringing back the bottle of Henriot, pouring a second glass and setting it across the table.

Tonight was Pat’s birthday, she and her husband Lester staying at the Inn and sitting right next to me. The three of us chatted between courses, her scallops arriving shortly afterwards.

“These are to die for,” she said.

In the meantime, I had looked over the wine list, deciding to bypass the magnum of 1982 Cheval Blanc for $7,500. Not wanting to pay $5,000 more than a wine is worth, I instead ordered a 1991 Joseph Matrot Blagny “La Piece Sous Le Bois” for $35.

Thirty-five dollars, the label being torn and stained, as stained as if Jackson Pollock had eaten beets and balsamic, climbed a ladder, and then dripped on the bottle.

The best bottle of wine I’ve had in a restaurant in ages, the cuisine being surpassed by several restaurants in the Washington area, don’t come here just for the cuisine, promise you’ll trust my judgment in saying that the cuisine at Inn at Little Washington is not at the very highest level, not necessarily a culinary experience, and if you come just for the cuisine you’ll leave feeling angry, don’t come here for the cuisine alone.

Late in the meal, the cheese cow arrived, a cart in the shape of a cow, and the server plopped down a cylindrical moo-device on the cart, eliciting a soft “moo” sound. The cheeses, like just about all of the ingredients here, are well-sourced, and often benefit from minimal disruption.

After finishing my cheese plate, the server wheeled away the cheese cow, furtively cupping the cylindrical moo-device in his left hand, turning it twice as he walked through the restaurant so it would quietly moo for the diners and attract their attention. As he disappeared around the corner, my eyes were naturally drawn back to Pat and Lester.

“Where are you going to celebrate your birthday next year,” I asked Pat.

They looked at each other and smiled, and then she turned back toward me.

“Who knows - I’ll be 86 next year,” she said.

He smiled and said, proudly, “I’m 90 years old!”

I smiled back, and said “you don’t look a day over 89,” adding, “You’ll have a great breakfast here tomorrow morning.”

And then I looked back at my table, attracted to the tall, thin flute of Henriot sitting across from me, bubbles rising to the top of the untouched glass, disappearing into the air. Pressed up against it was my glass of Matrot. When I picked it up and gave it one last swirl, I saw that there were tears pouring slowly down the side of the glass, falling back into the wine.

Happy Birthday Pat, it was nice meeting you Lester.

Happy Anniversary K.

D

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I heard the dalmations have gone to doggy heaven.

I saw a report a while back, I think on CBS Sunday Morning, that the original dogs were not around any more but they train new generations of dogs. When the female is mature enough to be around guests on her own she gets her own pearl collar.

I wonder who gets custody.

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While I realize that it is a real news story, I felt like I had to go to the kitchen and wash my hands after reading today's piece. The same feeling I get when I read the National Enquirer.
I was kind of getting the feeling that Tom was happy the Style section got this one. I still have never been there. Around the time I was thinking seriously of trying to make a reservation, I started to hear people saying it's not so good anymore. For the enormous cost of going and staying there because it's far out, I'm not so interested in gambles.
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I wasn't aware that they had real estate holdings throughout the town; I'm beginning to wonder whether the little kozy korner diner (not actual name, as I can't remember it) on the main street was owned by the gents in question and thusly constrained to only providing grilled cheese and fries in order to keep out the gourmet competition. That was a damn fine grilled cheese and I can't recall it costing several hundred dollars, so if they're granted their freedom in the coming arbitration the Inn might have some local flavor fighting them for the next Beard awards.

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I was kind of getting the feeling that Tom was happy the Style section got this one. I still have never been there. Around the time I was thinking seriously of trying to make a reservation, I started to hear people saying it's not so good anymore. For the enormous cost of going and staying there because it's far out, I'm not so interested in gambles.

For whatever reason my two visits to the Inn never blew me away. For the money, I'd take Citronelle (or maybe even Palena, though the plush whorehouse-y over-the-top-ness of the the decor and accompanying unctuous service was part of the charm).

If you do decide to take a run out there to check on the post-litigation state of the place, however, note that a little B&B cottage industry has sprung up in the area to shelter those who can spend $500 on dinner, or $500 on lodging, but not both on the same night. Google is your friend.

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I agree. Way more information then needed to be publicized.
Really? If, just for the sake of argument, Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman were to divorce and subsequently dissolve their business partnerships, you don't think it should be part of the conversation?

I thought the wording of their "relationship" was a bit awkward, but it's a divorce. Those things can get kind of messy. :)

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The Reliable Source women also had their weekly online chat today and the subject came up.

Click

Apparently, a business partnership needs an escape clause, in the event of dissolution. These guys didn't bother with that part; sorta like Paul McCartney not getting Heather to sign a prenup. I've never been to the Inn and I don't know either one of the men; nevertheless, I am sorry it has come to this and also that the breakup has become so public.

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Really? If, just for the sake of argument, Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman were to divorce and subsequently dissolve their business partnerships, you don't think it should be part of the conversation?

I thought the wording of their "relationship" was a bit awkward, but it's a divorce. Those things can get kind of messy. :)

Just for the sake of comparison in the restaurant industry lets look at Tru in Chicago. Rick Tramonto and Gale Gands divorce got little attention. It just did not have the eyebrow raising impact that the O'Connell, Lynch relationship has. And the media is aware of that.

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If you do decide to take a run out there to check on the post-litigation state of the place, however, note that a little B&B cottage industry has sprung up in the area to shelter those who can spend $500 on dinner, or $500 on lodging, but not both on the same night. Google is your friend.

Does anybody know of a great B&B out there? I can google, but was interested in recommendations. All are appreciated.

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Just for the sake of comparison in the restaurant industry lets look at Tru in Chicago. Rick Tramonto and Gale Gands divorce got little attention. It just did not have the eyebrow raising impact that the O'Connell, Lynch relationship has. And the media is aware of that.

The Gand-Tramonto divorce was no secret in Chicago and at least got the attention of the Chicago Sun-Times, in an article considerably longer than the mention in the Washington Post of the local split. Here is one rendition if you are interested: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_...24/ai_n12513104

Big differences seem to be that the Rick/Gale duo tried to keep the discord from damaging the restaurant, and that they survived the split to remain friends and colleagues. But now, I suppose that this is getting a bit away from the discussion of what it means for fine dining at the Inn when owners decide to alter their relationships...

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Does anybody know of a great B&B out there? I can google, but was interested in recommendations. All are appreciated.

My wife and I had a wonderful meal there last Wednesday, It was the meal of the year for us. And we stayed at a wonderful B&B (the Gay Street Inn) very cute little place. The also let dogs stay in one suite.

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Foster-Harris House. Tell them the guy from Citronelle sent you. They are super nice folks.
They are nice people. There are a lot of them out here in the hinterlands. The Middleton Inn is probably the swankest (next to the Inn itself). Gay Street Inn is awesome as well. New owners. Walking distance to the Inn. Foster-Harris just had a nice write up in Washingtonian Mag. There is literally a B&B for every mood out here. Depending on what your idea if relaxation is, that is. Check out www.rappahannock.com for a map of all the area b&b's

The Inn is an amazing place... And the county is an interesting place to live...

My first post. Finally something I can add to.

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They are nice people. There are a lot of them out here in the hinterlands. The Middleton Inn is probably the swankest (next to the Inn itself). Gay Street Inn is awesome as well. New owners. Walking distance to the Inn. Foster-Harris just had a nice write up in Washingtonian Mag. There is literally a B&B for every mood out here. Depending on what your idea if relaxation is, that is. Check out www.rappahannock.com for a map of all the area b&b's

The Inn is an amazing place... And the county in an interesting place to live...

My first post. Finally something I can add to.

Welcome aboard Rappahannock! Maybe you can guide us city/suburb dwellers to some hidden dining gems that are worth a drive out there or a good place to seek out on a weekend. Glad to have you here :)
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Does anybody know of a great B&B out there? I can google, but was interested in recommendations. All are appreciated.

We stayed at the Heritage House B & B.

http://www.bbonline.com/va/heritage/index.html

The bed was gigantic and the breakfast was very, very good. That's about all a B & B should have required of it, but there is also a nice sitting room with some decent port for sipping and a well-tended garden out back.

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A friend of mine just showed me a Harvard Business School Case Study that Patrick O'Connell wrote about The Inn At Little Washington's operations.

It looks like from the moment the guests walk through the door, their are given a grade on a scale of 1-10 based on their mood and then this grade is put on a chart in the kitchen. The rest of the evening is spent trying to elevate the mood of the guest. He has a system for training his staff to look for clues that the guest is unhappy or uncomfortable. O'Connell says that the guest is not to leave unless their mood is higher (on the scale) than when they arrived. This is achieved by additional courses, samples of selections that weren't chosen, complementary drinks, switching servers, O'Connell inviting the guests back into the kitchen for a tour, etc.

It was a pretty interesting read

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Jlock and I spent a night at the Inn this weekend and everything was amazing, except for dinner.

I left the dinner feeling extremely disappointed, a little angry, and quite a bit confused. Maybe our experience was an anomaly, but I do not understand why either the service or the food would be considered to be the top in the area. Last week alone, I had three better meals (Bar at Citronelle, Lickity Split at Eve, and Bar at Corduroy). The food at all three far surpassed the majority of the food at the Inn. And, the service was much more knowledgeable at all three. Sure, there were not as many people dedicated to serving me, but at each experience I was taken care of, I learned something about the food and beverages served to me, and I never felt like anyone was speaking down to me. That is far more than I can say about the service that I received at the Inn.

The overarching problem of the evening was the feeling that the wait staff – especially our head waiter – treated us as if we had never been to a restaurant before. It doesn’t come through as much in the description, but it was a general feeling that both Jlock and I felt throughout the evening. Something in the tone, and the way that the waiter would quickly leave as soon as we expressed interest in what he was saying. Also, the pacing was off for the entire evening. We felt rushed during each course. There was no need for this: We had an 8:45 reservation, and we obviously had no where else to be.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about why that was: Was it our age (ok, we aren’t that young, but we were the youngest in the room by far)? Was it our crappy car (our sensible Honda Civic)? Was it the crappy way that I dress (Jlock and I are not usually looking “fresh from the runway in Paris”)? Was it that I was paying (partially) with a gift certificate? Was it because we told them that we were here for a special occasion (anniversary)? After much contemplation and consideration of the conversations overheard at nearby tables, I realized that it was likely none of these things. When you sit down at the Inn, you should be ready for a canned play of “good service” that you are not to question because they must know better than you – they work at the Inn after all. Best if you don’t ask any questions – because the answers might not be in the script. In my opinion, dinner at the Inn is just a dress-up show designed to introduce Olive Garden customers to fine dining.

Before I begin my description of the specifics of the meal, I should note that our total bill for dinner was over $700 for two (seven course tasting with pairings). I knew that going in, and I had no qualms about it. I have only had a couple of other dinners in that range ever (Le Paradou – nine course tasting with extra white truffle courses; and, I believe Maestro ended up being close to that), and I did not have even the slightest inkling of disappointment with either of those meals. Thus, my specific comments may seem picky, but in my opinion, for that price, they should be. The meal should have been one of the best I have ever had, and it wasn’t even close.

The meal started wonderfully. We were sat promptly next to each other on the booth side of a four top and soon thereafter given two complimentary glasses of champagne to make amends for a very small and quickly fixed problem with our room. We were not told what the champagne was, but it was just slightly biscuity and lovely. Then, we were handed our menus, which had been printed especially for us and included a “Happy Anniversary” message at the top.

We had two options. We could do the four course dinner and make our own selections of dishes and wine for $148 pp plus the cost of the wine, or we could do the seven course tasting menu with ($288 pp) or without ($188 pp) wine pairings. We both liked the sound of the tasting menu, and we typically enjoy tasting menus quite a bit. We hesitated momentarily only because we were not certain of the quality of the pairings. But, we know our limitations, and wine is one of them. While we love wine and drink our fair share (and some would say more than our share), we are cursed by bad name recognition and generally blessed by good sommeliers. We decided to trust them and go for it.

Our first concern came when our head waiter came by the table and said “you already have champagne so no need for the first one. You should have sufficient beverages, so just let me know if you need more to drink.” Obviously, he didn’t understand the purpose of a tasting menu. It is not to ensure that we have sufficient alcohol to drink, and we were a bit miffed by the implication. We had never been told what champagne we were drinking, and we still don’t know if it was the one that was picked for the course. My assumption is not because it was much better than the other wines we tasted. But, who knows.

Next, came the first amuse: four lovely-looking spoon dishes. All were different, and we were told that if there was one we both wanted, to just ask. I chose the one with smoked trout and the one with mozzeralla and grape tomato slice. Both were basically flavorless. Jlock had the rock shrimp on avocado spoon which he felt was “okay” and he can’t even remember his other amuse (a bad sign…).

Next, we tried the bread. There were two breads. One was a rye bread with currants and walnuts, and one was a crusty poppy seed roll. They were quite good. Jlock especially liked the rye bread rounds. But, they were lacking a little spark. A pinch of salt on the butter would have done wonders. This became a theme of the meal. Of course, no salt was ever presented.

The second amuse was a white bean soup. It was smooth and light. But, again bland. I don’t know if it needed a bit of salt, a bit of cayenne, or something else, but it needed just a little something. We longed for the stunning broccoli soup that we had at the Lickity Split that afternoon – it was perfect.

First Course: A Tin of Sin: American Ossetra Caviar with a Crab and Cucumber Rillette

A very cute presentation of a caviar tin that had been emptied, filled with the crab and cucumber rillette and covered with the ossetra so that it looked filled again. It sat on a leaf, and next to it was a small piece of toast. The rillette and caviar were fine. The texture was great. It rolled gently over the tongue with a delicate flavor. Once we tried putting it on the toast, the feeling and flavor was lost to the butter and crunch of the bread. The bread and leaf, it seems, were just for show.

It was to be accompanied by the Steindorfer, Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria (2003). But, as noted above, I don’t think that was served to us.

Second Course: Wild Greenlip Mussels Baked with Herb Butter and Perfumed with Pernod. This was an excellent dish. The mussels were plump, but slightly crunchy, and the Pernod was a perfect complement.

It was accompanied by the Grosett, Riesling, Watervale, Clare Valley, from Australia (2004). The wine was quite a different Reisling than we were used to (i.e. not German or Austrian) – lots of mineral, dry with a slight floral touch – and it went quite well with the mussels. They got this course right.

Third Course: Pan Roasted Maine Lobster in an Aromatic Minestrone Broth with Miniature Vegetables. I did not like this dish at all. The claw was nice. The tail was slightly overcooked and unnecessarily covered with a sprinkling of crunchy stuff – don’t know what. The minestrone broth did not help the situation at all.

It was accompanied by the Oremus, Furmint, Mandolas, Tokaji, Hungary (2003). At first, I did not like this wine at all. The nose was funky and generally unpleasant (medicinal almost). It certainly did not help the Minestrone. Together, they made a pretty bad team.

After I had pushed aside both my dish and my wine a bit, the waiter approached the table and said something to the effect of “I am sure that you are loving this course. It is about this time that everyone starts raving.” Obviously, he is not very good at reading tables. I explained that it was not really to my liking. He asked about the wine, and I said that I was not a fan. He said nothing further at that time.

As the wine warmed up a bit, however, the nose softened, and I started to appreciate it. I noted that to the waiter, and he said “Yeah, Americans actually serve their white wines too cold.” I understand that cold white wine is a problem at many restaurants, but why should it be here?

Fourth Course: Minced Squab with Virginia Peanuts and Shiitake Mushrooms in Hoisin Sauce with Baby Lettuce Leaves. This course was served before we received our wine. So, we sat and stared at it wondering what to do for several minutes before the wine was served. (This was not a case of the food being presented with the sommelier trailing immediately behind to give us our pairing – no, this was at least a five minute wait!) Finally, the wine was served, and we began. This dish was actually quite good. The leaves acted like a wrap for the squab, and it was eaten with the hands. We both enjoyed this dish quite a bit – albeit it had started to cool off at this point.

It was served (eventually) with the Alvaro Palacios, Les Terraces, Priorat, Spain (2004). The wine was good, went okay with the squab, and completed this course. We are always mindful that waiters and sommeliers are humans and that humans make mistakes and that miscues sometimes happen. But, at this price-point and at this supposedly high level of personalized dinner service, the wine’s tardiness was not acceptable. When we pointed it out to the head waiter, he did not seem concerned in the least.

Fifth Course: Braised Veal Cheek with Saffron Risotto and Gremolata. This was my favorite of the evening, and the only dish (other than the mussels) that I felt was truly outstanding. The veal was mouth-wateringly tender and went beautifully with the risotto.

It was served with the Duca Carlo Guarini, Primitivo, Boemondo, Apulia, Italy (2001). I liked this wine quite a bit, but I didn’t think that it went that well with the dish. It matched the flavors without providing sufficient contrast. The discussion that we had with the wine server (don’t know if he is a sommelier) while he was serving this wine was the only moment in which we felt actual enthusiasm on the part of the staff. Jlock and I both enjoyed his descriptions throughout the meal, and we were sorry when we did not see him again for the last course.

Sixth Course: Ginger Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit Granite. This was a perfectly pleasant dish and was a nice palate cleanser before the dessert course.

Seventh Dish: Limoncello Souffle with Lemon Ice Cream. We are both fond of lemon desserts and the soufflé did a wonderful job of presented the “essence” of lemon amidst the fluffy souffle’s body.

It was served with a Gessinger, Riesling, Eiswein, Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Mosel, Germany (2001). The Reisling handled the lemon well and was a nice wine to finish the evening.

At the end of the meal, we were given a “bee basket” of little candied fruits and chocolate for later (they were great), and our personalized anniversary menus were slipped under our door later that evening.

Overall, the meal was very good. But, it was not wonderful. For wonderful, I think you would do much better staying closer to the city and going to Citronelle, Citizen, 2491, Maestro, Eve, Le Paradou, Corduroy, or probably several others (where you will generally spend quite a bit less as well). But, if you are just looking to impress the Jones’ and take your Country Club dinner up a notch, the Inn might be the right choice.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with the Inn at Little Washington’s dinner service is the issue of value. Did the quality of our meal and our service justify the $700 price tag? Was it a good value? This is always hard to discern as there are not many restaurants in the country that demand this price point and so comparisons are difficult – but if you charge the highest prices, market yourself as a top-notch dining experience, then you should be able to deliver. For scripted service, good but not great food, and a rushed evening of missed cues, middling wines, and over-the-top floral prints, we didn’t feel the dining room at the Inn delivered.

As an aside, I feel completely differently about the rest of our experience at the Inn. We stayed overnight for an additional $600 or so, and it was amazing. I have never had better service. Everything was just perfect, including afternoon tea service and breakfast. This just made the contrast with dinner all the more stark.

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Extremely well written and a very real pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing.

Your experience was also quite interesting since in many ways it mirrors one that my wife and I had several years ago. This is what I wrote about it on CH then: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/168062?que...&user_name= Suffice it to say that while I appreciate the indulgent luxury of the Inn I have never been overwhelmed with it as, perhaps, many others have. I also know that I am not alone. When I put the post on Chowhound there were almost sixty responses, many from people who like yourself left somewhat disappointed.

Please also note that if you had sat in the kitchen at one of the two "chef's tables" your tab would have been an additional $250 + tax + tip or over $700 for two would have been over $1000 for two. For the same meal.

I continue to believe that Maestro and Citronelle are our best restaurants. I have not been to CityZen recently enough to include that.

Thanks again.

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Thank you. The link above seems broken.

Please also note that if you had sat in the kitchen at one of the two "chef's tables" your tab would have been an additional $250 + tax + tip or over $700 for two would have been over $1000 for two. For the same meal.

Actually, the website now lists a $300 surcharge, $450 on Saturdays, for a kitchen table.

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Jlock and I spent a night at the Inn this weekend and everything was amazing, except for dinner.
This has to be one of the most damning reviews I've read on this board. It's a shame for your anniversary, but also for the Inn to have fallen so short of its (former?) reputation. I couldn't help but contrast the service failures you mention with the immaculate service I received at my last "special occasion" dinner, at L'Arnsbourg in the Moselle region. Despite all the dedicated servers in this country who take their jobs seriously, there still does not seem to be that critical mass of professionally trained servers that can dazzle with their knowledge, skill, and polish the way they do at a place like L'Arnsbourg (or at any number of lesser restaurants throughout Europe for that matter). Gastronomy in this country is just not set up like that. That's not to excuse the Inn, but it is perhaps part of an explanation as to why these disappointments occur in even the highest places.
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When this comes up, I always feel too young/inexperienced to comment on it. I haven't been to Eve or Citronelle yet, so I really have no basis of comparison. We had our first anniversary dinner there a year ago and if it wasn't for the personalized menu we have in the keepsake trunk I wouldn't be able to remember much about the food we had. The scotch, on the other hand, was very memorable. That has nothing to do with my memory loss, of course.

We felt special, it's certainly a special place, but I can describe steak at Ray's to a friend and MAKE them want it. I can't do that with the Inn. The best I can manage is that their red pepper soup tasted just like trader joe's red pepper soup, but what the hell good is that if you haven't strained the TJ's through your laptop to equalize the price?

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Ray's the Steaks/Ray's the Classics are NOT the Inn at Little Washington. They are not suppose to be. Some of the food which is served at the Rays' may, however, be on par with that which is served in Washington, VA. But the Inn at Little Washington (and any other restaurant on this level) is more, much more about how the "customer" feels. How the Inn makes/allows/encourages the customer to feel. Are they the single most important people in the restaurant? Does the restaurant exist ONLY for them? Is the investment they are making in their dinner (likely an anniversary or birthday of some sort) an investment in a memory for an album thirty or forty years hence? Are they going to feel truly SPECIAL? Will one day they be able to brag about how they were treated to others in the nursing home? It is also about the silverware, the china, the crystal-the sumptuous, indulgent luxury as well as a team of servers and proper presentation. Ray's, Black's, Kinkead's and a slew of others are not about these last questions. But "The Inn" is. Maestro, Citronelle, perhaps CityZen and a few others are, also.

Based on the experience that lackadaisi and ourselves had "The Inn" failed miserably. And, charged a lot of money for this failure. We left there feeling robbed. Serious. Robbed. Our dinner was $555. More recently, $700+ or $1,000. That is an awful lot of money for a dinner which does not provide the greatest dinner of one's lifetime nor allows one to feel like they "own" where they are having dinner. At the top, at this level, EVERY diner should be allowed/encouraged to feel this way.

Apparantly for many the Inn has not accomplished this.

At any price.

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Well, for what it's worth, my wife and I ate at the Inn about a month ago and had the identical tasting menu and pairings as lackadaisi, and we thought the meal was superb. We pulled up in our Honda CR-V, paid (part of the bill) with a gift certificate from our real estate agent, and were younger than most people in the room. I was going to write a lengthy review when we ate there, but the eight-month old baby constantly pulling at my leg has made that difficult.

In order to avoid repeating lackadaisi's run down of the entire tasting menu, I won't go through course-by-course, but I will note a couple of differences of opinion. First, my wife and I both really enjoyed the first round of amuses. Lackadaisi can't remember the fourth spoon amuse, but I *think* I can a month later: a prosciutto with local pears. Second, my wife and I both thought the lobster course was excellent, and I thought the wine pairing was wonderful. In fact, it was a pairing that really made me appreciate the skill involved in pairing wine with food.

One point of complete agreement: the veal cheek was the highlight of the evening. They served a steak knife with it, but I can't imagine anybody actually using it. "Like butter" has become cliche, but this really was.

We did have some service issues. I had the wine pairings, but my wife wanted one glass of champagne (unlike the lucky lackadaisi, we were not staying at the Inn, and my wife volunteered to drive us back to the hotel we were staying at). Getting that glass of champagne required a few requests. Relatively minor, but you should only have to ask once for an $18 glass of champagne. We also encountered the problem that lackadaisi did with wine arriving late for certain courses. In one case, I was almost finished with the course by the time the wine was poured.

We also felt like there was a bit of a Disneyesque quality to the Inn, starting with the personalized menus that you can keep as a souvenir. Like at Disney, everybody from the maitre d' to the waiters to the busboys seems to be a cast member rather than simply an employee doing a job. When I praised the mini-baguettes that were among the bread offerings, the busboy was sure to inform me that they were available for purchase in the gift shop. When I jokingly asked if they made their own sugar for the coffee, I was informed that, "No, it's [blah-blah-blah] imported from France, and you'll find it in our gift shop."

On the other hand, with the exception of the off timing on a couple of courses, I will say that I enjoyed the wine service. The wine selections were explained to us in detail and questions were answered fully and without any hurry. I actually felt like I learned something from the wine service. If they were doing that for each table, perhaps that's why they were behind on serving the wine a couple of times.

In sum, my wife and I haven't been lucky enough to eat at that many four-star reviewed places (and that eight-month old pulling on my leg who requires monthly contributions to his 529 plan will preclude many visits in the near future), but we thought this meal was certainly up there with the best meals we've had. Last year, my in-laws took us to the four-star Le Bernardin in NYC, and we thought the Inn was close to as good (and, in some ways, more interesting since Le Bernardin is all fish).

Lackadaisi asks the right question, though: is it worth this much money? Is any meal worth this much money? My answer: I'd love to go again, but probably not on my own dime.

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We did have some service issues. I had the wine pairings, but my wife wanted one glass of champagne (unlike the lucky lackadaisi, we were not staying at the Inn, and my wife volunteered to drive us back to the hotel we were staying at). Getting that glass of champagne required a few requests. Relatively minor, but you should only have to ask once for an $18 glass of champagne. We also encountered the problem that lackadaisi did with wine arriving late for certain courses. In one case, I was almost finished with the course by the time the wine was poured.

<snip>

Lackadaisi asks the right question, though: is it worth this much money? Is any meal worth this much money? My answer: I'd love to go again, but probably not on my own dime.

I suppose in a way it comes down to how forgiving you are or what standards you expect the Inn to attain. For the money I assume you paid (comparable to lackadasai), quite frankly, I'm pretty unforgiving about service issues. The problems you describe with receiving the champagne only after multiple requests and receiving the wine pairing for certain courses late are pretty unforgivable at the prices they charge. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Count me among the people who have been been unimpressed with the IALW. I'll grant you, they handled what I think was a snafu on their part INCREDIBLY graciously. I think there had been some error regarding our reservation, because when we arrived (a party of 4), we were offered the chef's table (on a Saturday night) without any premium. We accepted their invitation.

I can't imagine paying a premium to sit at the Chef's table. The experience was far more like simply eating at a table in the kitchen. There was no effort to engage us in the process of cooking, no special asides about an item they were trying out, nothing. I've never been at the chef's table at other restaurants (of any caliber), but my impression has always been that those sorts of things (e.g. special tastings, etc.) are part of the experience. As a more general comment, I found the food to be just fine. Probably better than fine, but really, not worth the price. It's hard to know what would make food worth the price they charge, but i think part of what I expect is creativity in addition to flawless execution. The execution was good, but the creativity wasn't there. They were touting their molten chocolate cake like they had invented the thing. I'm a big chocolate fan, and I couldn't care less about molten chocolate cakes--I think they're tired and trite. Apparently, not at the Inn.

Of course, the other side of the equation, particularly at a restaurant at this price point, is the service. I agree with JoeH. At this level, you should totter back to your nursing home (thanks, Don!) with nothing but raves. Not just how they were nice, but how they seemed to anticipate your needs before you did, how they were always available but never intrusive, how they made the evening special. I thought the service was good at IALW, but it certainly didn't rise to that level. I know that Charlie Trotters is not roundly loved, and I was last there roughly 7 years ago, so clearly lots could have changed, but I found our server at CT to be just that. She perfectly matched our mood and desires for level of formality. When we envied the deserts another table received, she simply brought us 'some of what they had' without even blinking or us asking. Another restaurant that has impeccable service (albeit more formal) is Tony's in St. Louis. It's almost certainly the most expensive restaurant in St. Louis and is, like many of 'the most expensive' restaurant in any given city, not roundly loved. But the service there is provided by professionals. Servers whose career is waiting on tables, and they are professionals. It's a unique experience, and one that IALW should also provide its customers at the prices they charge.

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To hear other stories of miscues, timing problems, and multiple orderings makes me wonder how "The Inn" still garners the reputation that it seems to have (and how it can charge $700+ for a single meal). I am sure that all high-caliber restaurants are constantly under the magnifying glass and as a place attains the highest levels of merit, it also attains the highest level of scrutiny. But there are places in this category (French Laundry, Citronelle, etc...) that are doing it and doing it well.

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I thought I'd chime in because though I've never been to the IALW, I have experienced service that has been top notch and pretty much fulfilled all the above comments relating to what service should be like at a restaurant at this pricepoint - it was at Gary Danko in San Fran, and it was less than half the price of IALW, for food that probably is of the same caliber. It was a special meal, the restaurant made us feel like we owned the place (we were the youngest guests there - this is especially nice for us), it wasn't pretentious, the servers were knowledgable as opposed to scripted, it just simply was the best service I've ever experienced at a restaurant. I'm from St. Louis, and have been to Tony's a number of times - when I was little, I used to love testing the Professional Servers by turning my knife just a little crooked, and they'd jump in and set it straight right away (okay I still like to do that :P ). I find the kind of service at Tony's to be very attentive and professional, but stiff, and while I still like it, to me it wasn't on the level of Gary Danko's (obviously, these are very different restaurants).

From these recent reviews, it seems to me I should not feel badly that I haven't made it to the Inn yet, and celebrate my special occasions at Maestro or one of the other great restaurants we have around town (or fly out to San Fran again). :D

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I come neither to praise nor bury the Inn. But I wonder if "destination" restaurants in out-of-the-way places sometimes set themselves too big of an ask when it comes to serving (long-A) analysts like us. Like it or not, the Inn appeals greatly to the vielle riche, "isn't-it-nice-to-come-to-the-country-aren't-we-roughing-it-with-our-$200-champagne-and-mooing-cheese-cart" ethic that, dare I say it, doesn't cover many of us. We go to Corduroy, Komi, Vidalia, (the late) Szechuan Boy, Citronelle, etc., not just because they are good and a good value, but because we can engage the staff and the cuisine and incorporate a learning function to the whole thing, which can be more difficult at a place that is too busy kissing up to the aforementioned riche drinking $600 bottles of Opus One with their guinea fowl.

I remember my 2001 meal at Guy Savoy for the Franglais give-and-take on cooking black bass with the scales on, leaving the last of my Condrieu on the table for the cheese, and the mini-essay I received on AOC Coteaux de l'Aubance. Do we expect too much of our destination places, or do they not expect enough?

Or am I over-analyzing?

[okay, fine!]

By how much am I over-analyzing? Show your work and express your answer as a common fraction.

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Jake,

I don't think that you are overanalyzing at all, and I tend to agree with you. Dinner at the Inn did not impress me. The same dinner, however, impresses many other people.

Over the past few days, I have reported on my dinner to many people that do not frequent this board (and that know of it only through me). The responses that I get from those people are much different than those that I am getting on this board and from other people that are as interested in dining as am I. Most of those people are shocked when they hear that anything at the Inn was disappointing. Yet, when they listen to my gripes, they tend not to understand what was so wrong with the service. There is no reason to believe that the "amazing" service that they received was anything different than the service that I discussed.

The Inn sells a show. An expensive show, but still a show. Many people enjoy this show. Just as there is a strong market for Disneyworld, there is a strong market for the exact dinner that I described. And, those people deserve to be able to partake in such a show if they are willing to pay for it. But, it does not change the fact that it is not a world class dining experience, and it is not fair to those who are looking (and paying) for such an experience to be told over and over again by food critics that the Inn delivers this type of quality. It simply does not. If the Inn wants to be viewed as an adult Disneyland, then it is on the right path. If it wants to be the world class dining experience that it claims to be, it better shape up.

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What you call a "show" I call "one-size-fits-all" service. And the thing is, one size fits most. The best places figure out quickly when the one size doesn't fit and know what to do with that information. But that is exceedingly hard to do the first time someone comes to a restaurant. It's the benefit of being a regular; the Inn, however, through its pricing, location, and homogeneity of format (only dining room) can't cultivate regulars like Corduroy or Vidalia or Citronelle can (neither can Komi--but the service at my one dinner there was spot-on and engaging; it was a weeknight, we brought some wine and engaged right away and the staff engaged right back).

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What you call a "show" I call "one-size-fits-all" service. And the thing is, one size fits most. The best places figure out quickly when the one size doesn't fit and know what to do with that information. But that is exceedingly hard to do the first time someone comes to a restaurant.
I realize that I am extremely spoiled with service in those places at which I am a regular. But, I don't think it should be necessary to be a regular to have good service. And, I think that there are many places much closer to the city that don't require that. I had amazing service the one time that I went to the Bistro at Eve - and, the server was able to quickly identify that the service that I wanted was much different than that of the neighboring table, and was extremely good at providing the service desired by both tables (in this instance, I wanted quick service with no conversation at all, while the other table wanted a slow meal with full interaction). Similarly, the service was spot on at Komi, Le Paradou, Maestro, and many other places on my first visit. I don't think that I am necessarily disagreeing with you, but I think that the ability to read tables is integral to excellent service. The Inn's inability to do this was particularly shocking to me given the stories I have heard about how they assess customers' moods. Moreover, even those who may not know that they are receiving inadequate service deserve to have thier paired wine served at the same time as, or prior to, the course to which it is being paired.
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I've only been to the Inn a couple of times and failed to be blown away either time, though I thought it was quite good. Nonetheless, I would be hesitant to write off the place as a warren of bumbling, snotty servers and bumptious monied parvenues eager to flaunt their wealth by ordering wines they can't pronounce. It is a places that revels in its over-the-toppedness, and as such can rub one the wrong way. I can't speak to an individual dining experience, especially one in which I was not included, but I would suggest not rushing to judgment with a restaurant which has won so many plaudits from so many people (including on this board) for so many years.

FWIW, the last time I was there, the staff did a marvelous job of tracking four of us who kept dashing into the bar between bites to smoke and who got riotously -- and righteously -- smashed on a series of excellent Burgundies. Not, at least that night, a "one-size-fits-all" performance.

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