I have no idea where to begin. The experience delivered by Chef O'Connell is so singular, so unique and so perfect, you can only marvel at how they can possibly pull it off. They think of everything...everything...so that you don't have to. They know what you want before you want it. And deliver it with such ease and joy.
I just kept thinking "This is utopia. Literal utopia."
Our utopia started long before the meal. We arrived early - which I urge you to do - so we could walk through the town (most of which is owned by O'Connell) - shops, stores, inns, eateries and the glorious fields with goats, alpacas, bees, a vegetable garden, chicken coop. Everything is perfectly manicured and prepared with signs assuring your welcome into the space.
I noticed that the Adirondack chairs around the property were all in the shade of a nearby tree. I commented "I'll bet they come out and regularly move the chairs to wherever the shadow is at that time." They won't have you sitting on a chair in the sun. Or even that has been IN the sun. Much less you having to move the chair yourself.
It is this level of attention to detail that pervades Inn at Little Washington. The food. The service. The rooms. The decor. Everything.
Here's another example. We dropped the car to the (included) valet. He asked our name and then whisked it away. No claim check. Nothing to keep track of. You're immediately into relaxation. (The car will return to the experience later on...)
After about an hour of walking, this same valet saw us across the street. He jogged over and said the following:
"We own pretty much every building you see. And they all exist for your enjoyment. It's warm out. That building over there features a large sitting room. There's a bar with snacks and cokes. Please, go enjoy, make yourself at home and take a load off before dinner."
We followed his advice. Click on the photo to the right to see how beautiful this room was. The bar was there with everything he had promised.
We are 30 minutes before our reservation and already feel the warm, broad hand of their hospitality.
This is 3 star. This is brilliant.
This is utopia.
You are then served a meal that is sumptuous and delicious. From the first bites through dessert, everything is just so engaging and thoughtful and wonderful. The lobster dish goes down as one of my favorite dishes of all time.
But while they take everything they do with such seriousness, you can't find an ounce of pretention in this place. They take your experience SO seriously. But they do not take THEMSELVES seriously. Check out the video below of the cheese cart - a cow - making its way through the dining room, complete with mooing its accompanying noisemaker. It's such a brilliant and unique combination. One that represents Chef O'Connell's own sensibilities.
Some other notables:
We gushed about the honey. "Is it for purchase somewhere?" The server said "It is available online and in our shops, but they are closed now. I will be sure we have some waiting for you as you leave."
"Can we have both main dishes?" "Why yes, of course. We are so excited you'll enjoy both." We not only got the other dish, but an additional wine pairing with that dish. No charge. No fuss. Just a focus on our ability to have the exact and best experience that they can deliver.
I asked to see the kitchen. "But of course. That won't be a problem at all." Towards the end of the meal, that same server said something that sounded kind of final. "Will we still be able to see the kitchen?" He turned with a gleam in his eye. "It's already all set up. I haven't forgotten about that." I knew we were in for something special.
And boy were we.
Entering the kitchen, Chef O'Connell himself is standing there ready to welcome us. With a broad smile, he announces to the team: "They're here!" The entire kitchen staff stops what they are doing to face us and cheerily replies "They're here!"
Charming. Easy. Welcoming. Fun. So happy to see us. He's exactly what you think. I asked someone how frequently he is in the kitchen. They looked at me as if they didn't understand the question. "Every night. He is here every night." Nobody does that. And Chef O'Connell is pushing 80 years old.
Yet another firm communication that serving you is indeed what they love to do.
As we left the building, the hostesses handed us our gifts (and, of course, our honey). We exited to find our car already there - backed in and ready for us. That same valet had removed the garbage and placed two cold bottles of water in the cupholders for our drive home.
It's magical. It's emotional. In fact, I'm feeling the same emotions I did then as I write this almost two weeks later.
That's exactly the way they want it.
This place is perfect.
This is utopia.
After watching the Amazon special on The Inn at Little Washington and learning about Chef Patrick O'Connell, how could you not want to come here? It's an incredible story of fortitude and forging a path which, certainly when he began, seemed a bit insane.
The Inn (and the few blocks it takes over) is well out of town in a rural part of Virginia outside Washington DC. I kept thinking "It can't be out HERE...can it?" But turn a corner and you're in a magical place with beautiful buildings and pristine landscaping.
Unlike many restaurants of this caliber, the menu is posted on their website. To be honest, I was underwhelmed by it. 5 courses? Duck OR veal? Why not both? My expectations were fairly low.
They should not have been.
The hospitality of this place can not be understated. It starts from driving into the small "town" that they are - where you feel that every building has been painted and flower planted for your enjoyment. It continues into the building where staff seem to have lived their entire lives for the moment to interact with you - hold a door, show you your table, pour your wine. Everything speaks to the idea that you are doing them the favor by being there.
The food was also stellar. Really, really stellar. Well conceived. Memorable and whimsical. Executed at such an extremely high level.
I asked for both dishes (duck AND veal), so curious to see how their hospitality would handle the request. Without a blink - "Of course sir. Which would you prefer first? The kitchen has no specific recommendation." Wondering if the additional meal would be added to the bill, the waiter (anticipating my question when he brought the bill) said "Chef O'Connell is delighted you enjoyed both main dishes. No charge has been added." Perfectly handled.
I am looking forward to returning here. It's unique and different and makes you feel special every single second, a feeling that stuck with me for days.
Replying to Steven Smith