100 Best Restaurants 2008: Inn at Little Washington

No. 6: Inn at Little Washington

Cuisine: Country ham and caviar share pride of place on chef Patrick O’Connell’s Modern American menu, which mixes his classic signatures—foie gras two ways, tuna pretending to be filet mignon—with newer delights, such as a deconstructed veal Parmesan. The fireworks begin with the amuse-bouche, a parade of 12 porcelain spoons bearing miniature masterpieces of flavor.

Mood: Despite a year that started with some strife—the personal and professional split of O’Connell and former co-owner Reinhardt Lynch—the show goes on at the inn, still a paragon of baroque-meets-bucolic grandeur. The dining rooms are ornate, with striped-silk wall coverings and tapestries. Servers, thanks to pop quizzes, know the menu and the place’s history in and out. It’s a lavish but tightly controlled experience: You’ll be in and out in 2½ hours.

Best for: Special-occasion celebrants who want to go all out; toasting a really big promotion.

Best dishes: Stellar crab cakes with puréed sorrel and red pepper; kingly macaroni and cheese gilded with black truffles; a tender, prosciutto-wrapped veal loin in an intense Parmesan broth; peppered bluefin tuna with foie gras, an O’Connell signature; creamy port-braised sweetbreads with huckleberries and house-made pappardelle; cappelletti filled with a silken purée of artichoke; apricot tart with sharp Taleggio cheese.

Insider tips: The loveliest tables are the tucked-away banquettes overlooking the garden. And ask for a peek inside the state-of-the-art kitchen—it’s a marvel to watch the brigade of cooks, clad in dalmatian-spotted pants, quietly moving around the induction cooktops. But not everything is fabulous: The mostly ice-cream-based desserts feel simple compared with what precedes them, and flaws such as tepid entrées become glaring when you’re tallying up the dollar signs.

Service: ••••

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.