At the highest levels of fine dining, there are restaurants that could be called food churches—places that inspire reverence rather than relaxation or playful fun. Although chef/owner Patrick O’Connell has been called “the pope of American cuisine,” his 35-year-old Rappahannock County getaway is in the latter camp. How can you not smile when presented with a box of popcorn over which a waiter slices shavings of black truffle? Or an appetizer of sorbet-topped oysters inspired by 7-Eleven Slurpees?
The decorated-to-the-hilt dining rooms, with fringed-silk lampshades and jewel-toned tapestries, are a departure from the minimalist or farmhouse-chic spaces that now dominate the scene—tables in the alcove overlooking the garden are our favorite. And O’Connell doesn’t change his menu all that radically. But his brilliant whimsies—foie-gras-laden tuna “pretending to be filet mignon,” an array of desserts called the Seven Deadly Sins—are just as heavenly as they were more than a decade ago.
At the end of the meal, ask for a tour of the kitchen, tricked out with flickering cathedral candles and gleaming Aga ovens—you might even get the chance to chat with the affable O’Connell himself. Don’t miss: Tuna tartare with cucumber sorbet; lamb carpaccio with “Caesar salad” ice cream; macaroni and cheese with country ham; duo of hot and cold foie gras; blueberry-vinegar-marinated pigeon with a zucchini crepe; pan-roasted lobster with tomato butter; juniper-crusted venison; butter-pecan ice-cream sandwich; napoleon with bananas, chocolate mousse, and coconut sorbet; selections from the cheese cart. Open: Daily for dinner. Very expensive.