Saturday, April 19, 2008

the inn at little washington

i found it a gross miscarriage of justice (on my part) without writing about (and reflecting on) our experience at the inn at little washington after having separate (and long) entries for chez panisse and the french laundry. if chez panisse’s about simple food with simple ingredients, and the french laundry, perfect to the details with innovative matchings, the inn at little washington is about being elaborative, fanciful and sometimes even playful, sheer luxury without being presumptuous.

the dinner served as the finale to our u.s. vacation. prior to our final stop at the capital city we have been on the whirlwind tour “across america” which brought us to san francisco, napa valley and baltimore, and as you have read in my prior blog entries, our previous experiences all within the span of one week have set the bar extremely high for chef/proprietor patrick o’connell to beat. another case of miscarriage of justice, unfortunately.

the inn at little washington, contrary to what the name may have suggested, is not anywhere close to washington dc. in fact it’s some 60 miles away, in the virginia town of washington, along the windy roads which led down to the scenic shenandoah valley in the south. it’s already my second visit here while for cyy, that’s her first.

our reservation’s at 6:15pm so we basically have to leave dc at around 4:30 to beat the evening commuting traffic. by the time we got there the sun’s not set yet so we had a chance to appreciate how beautiful it is on the road en route –picturesque forest, ranches with horses, farms and vineyards - we could totally imagine an even better scenery comes fall time during foliage season. we were greeted as we pulled up our car to the parkway at the inn, and surprised to see we were not the first diners arrived.

menu’s a bit complicated here compared to what we had at the french laundry – there’s the 7-course tasting menu feast, or an a la carte menu with a variety of choices for each courses. i promise this would be the only comparison i am going to draw between these two totally different restaurants with distinct characters. we spent a good fifteen minutes studying bit by bit and arrived at a consensus decision – “omakase” that is, as we almost proclaimed to our waiter. wine list is an interesting one actually –from local virginia vineyards (oh virginia makes wine? you may ask) to the usual old and new world selections, even to a few junmai daiginjo (which after all, is a perfect accompaniment to raw seafood or sashimi course). we finally settled on a 2006 weingut brundlmayer gruner veltliner, on sommelier’s recommendation. crisp and definitely not overtaking any of the food.

my favorite dishes are the quartet of oyster slurpees – raw oysters served with passion fruit, cucumber, cabernet sauvignon and wasabi sorbets – and morel dusted diver’s scallop on cauliflower puree – the signature dish that was on the cover of his book. each taste of the oysters came as a surprise as they went from fresh to spicy which teased your palate.

i did say playful in the beginning – just look at the menu, there are “funky” dish names such as “crusted tuna pretending to be a filet mignon” which we did not try, or “lilliputian passion fruit dreamsicle” – passion fruit sorbet and vanilla icecream served like a popsicle, or the fromage course served on a faux cow – named faira - that actually mooed as it was being wheeled by the table. our first course – named the “tin of sin” – was served on a petrossian caviar tin with ossetra caviar overflowing the rim with layers of crab and cucumber rillette lying in the bottom. breath-taking – i think this will be the only time I would use caviar and overflow in the same sentence ever.

other dishes in our tasting menu included crusted tuna wellington with caponata ravioli, as well as braised veal cheek with saffron risotto. the décor followed the theme of a traditional country house with classical artwork, oriental rugs, silk wall coverings and plush fabrics. elegantly done.

the petit fours was served on a mini rattan picnic basket loaded with mini-cookies and sweets – consistent with the countryside atmosphere the surroundings brought. we also had a chance to tour the kitchen which “happens” to have the best view of the house - with large windows overseeing the garden – and a photo op with chef o’connell in his signature dalmatian-spotted pants. on our reluctant drive back to dc and reality after the supper, we savored what we have enjoyed and seen and eaten in our brief vacation and with small voices inside singing, “what a wonderful world”.

when? april 14 2008
where? the inn at little washington, middle and main streets, washington, va
occasion? vacation
menu highlights? a quartet of island creek oyster slurpees
drinks? 2006 weingut bründlmayer grüner veltliner

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