The 100 Best Restaurants 2013: The Inn at Little Washington


Adam Silsby prepares the dining rooms for evening service. Photography by Scott Suchman

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.

100 Very Best Restaurants 2013

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.