THE SCENE. If the Inn at Little Washington had never become so big and famous and self-aware--if it had remained a decidedly local treasure--it might resemble this storefront restaurant off Main Street in downtown Culpeper that mingles small-town charm and big-city ambition. If these comparisons between a culinary institution and a six-month-old upstart are premature, they're also inevitable--both the sous chef and sommelier hail from that justly revered temple of haute cuisine.
WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. The Continental cooking of chef Frank Maragos, a former sous chef at the Inn, favors clarity over pyrotechnics. It also favors conscientious, smart shopping, often with local sources, including the butcher across the street (which supplies a wonderful Virginia ham). Sommelier Tyler Packwood is less interested in upselling than in introducing you to the often-unusual, nicely priced wines on his short list; he also oversees a waitstaff that makes up for its greenness with its enthusiasm. The dining room has a diffused warmth to it, even when the fireplace isn't going.
WHAT YOU WON'T. The restaurant's ability to handle the chaos that comes with its newfound crowds is still to be determined.
BEST DISHES. A beet-and-goat-cheese salad with stunningly fresh ingredients; vanilla-poached lobster in a Chardonnay reduction with half-dollar johnny cakes that yield more sweet-corn flavor than some cobs; succulent breast of duck with a small lobe of foie gras; a semi-deconstructed cassoulet over white beans, dubbed Lamb Three Ways, with a superb house-made log of lamb sausage; banana-and-coconut tart; crepes suzette.