100 Very Best Restaurants 2015: No. 22 The Inn at Little Washington

Patrick O’Connell (center) mans the kitchen at the Inn at Little Washington. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

How in the world has our number-one-ranked restaurant for the past two years fallen so far so fast?

We’ll get to that, but first we want to point out that one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s that there’s simply no experience like this in the region. No staff is more prepared to please you (if you show up with the sniffles, they’ll bring over a pot of ginger-honey tea in no time). Chef/owner Patrick O’Connell has long understood the importance of the little things, which is why he employs two full-time florists (yes, really) and insists that the ornate rooms be dusted twice a day.

So what’s not to like?

Start with the recent shift to a tasting-menu format, which strips away a lot of what made the restaurant so memorable: its too-muchness. If any dish captured the over-the-top indulgence of dining here, it was a thick, peppered steak of tuna (flown in that morning from Hawaii) capped with an outsize lobe of foie gras. In its shrunken state, it loses its grandiosity and excitement.

A new vegetarian menu is great in theory; in practice, it looks stinting, particularly when you compare the constituent parts—half a beet, a slice of cauliflower—with the luxury ingredients on the other menus. The new format is largely to blame, but not only to blame; recent meals exposed flaws that seemed out of character: an oversalted foie gras torchon, a gritty scallop.

Don’t miss:

  • Lamb carpaccio with Caesar-salad ice cream
  • Bourbon-glazed sweetbreads with pappardelle
  • Butter-pecan ice-cream sandwich

More from Food