Inn at Little Washington

A theatrical, grand culinary destination.

From January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants

THE SCENE. The rich and famous jet in on their private planes, the merely wealthy leave their Hummers and limos with the valet out front, and the wide-eyed wannabes park in the church lot across the street. Inside, all are treated like royalty at this legendary retreat whose over-the-top decor presages the decadent, magisterial experience that follows.

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. Chef Patrick O'Connell's cooking, rooted in rustic American traditions but adhering to the rigors of regional French classicism, is the very definition of gilding the lily. Where one sumptuous extra touch would suffice, he tosses on another two or three. It would all be too much if it weren't for the near-flawless execution–breads as perfect as any in the land, gnocchi that manage the trick of being both refined and rustic, a poached egg as quiveringly beautiful as a newborn fawn. Waves of waiters ensure that the meal is expertly paced and no need is left unanticipated.

WHAT YOU WON'T. The cost of all this indulgence could send you into cardiac arrest–the bottom line is easily double what any other fine-dining experience in the area will run you. Because of it, even plate-passing foodies might find themselves nitpicking at flaws–the relative disappointment of the desserts, say, or the presumption of excellence that can make dining here feel like a staged performance.

BEST DISHES. Oxtail consommé with a poached egg, strips of country ham, and threads of seasonal truffles; butter-poached lobster with gnocchi; meltingly tender slices of seared tuna, vacuum-packed and flown in that morning, with cucumber-jalapeño sorbet; a duo of foie gras with brioche, pairing a medallion of pâté and a seared lobe as crusted as a great steak and as smooth as a custard; exquisite veal sweetbreads with country ham and huckleberry.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.