100 Very Best Restaurants 2014: The Inn at Little Washington

No. 1 on this year's list
Pigeon breast is marinated in blueberry vinegar and served over a zucchini crepe at the Inn at Little Washington. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Most diners, decked out and awaiting their moment of transcendence, arrive with an air of breath-holding solemnity. Understandable—this is a mecca for gastronomy, one of the most written-about and revered restaurants in the country for decades. But solemnity is exactly what Patrick O’Connell is determined to pierce with this highly orchestrated exercise in countrified camp. No other world-class restaurant would have the audacity to summon an afternoon tea at Grandma’s —the dining room is a masterpiece of overembellished kitsch—and the meal is punctuated with groaning set pieces (pushing a cow-faced cheese cart, a server intones, “This is a moo-ving experience,” while another, clearing your table of debris, cracks, “I’m kind of crummy at this”).

Just some goofy fun out in the sticks, you think—until you settle into your meal and begin to see the other side of O’Connell’s insistence on singularity. The degree of precision on the plate, akin to that of a Swiss watchmaker, is evident in everything from the marvelous poppy-seed rolls to a piece of seared tuna topped with a massive lobe of foie gras (“tuna pretending to be a filet mignon,” as the menu has it). The wonder is that, after 35 years, the dishes are not just beautiful to look at and well executed but also soulful and immensely rewarding. Open: Wednesday through Monday for dinner. Don’t Miss: Heart-of-palm salad with Virginia crab; herb-crusted baby-lamb loin with Caesar-salad ice cream; duo of hot and cold foie gras; grilled breast of pigeon with a zucchini crepe; plum tart with sweet-corn ice cream; butter-pecan-ice-cream sandwich.

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