26 Hours Of Historic Hedonism in Washington, Va.
Dinner at the storied and five-starred Inn at Little Washington is surely on every foodie’s Bucket List. Problem is, once you’ve drunk from that particular and pricey well, you thirst to go back again and again because, yes, it really is that good. But it’s not just the food. No, it’s the entire description-defying experience.
Following is a little taste of why driving 10 hours for dinner no longer seems extreme and why charging $178/person for dinner seems tantamount to giving it away.
12:30 p.m. My husband, Joe, and I departed Virginia Beach on Good Friday, bound for Washington, Va., a tiny village surveyed by George Washington in 1749. Our four-hour trip took six thanks to relentless traffic.
6:30 p.m. Arrived at the Foster Harris House, as there was no room in the Inn. We slid into dedicated off-street parking and entered the intimate front foyer where we were warmly greeted by chef and innkeeper, John MacPherson, who has co-owned the bed-and-breakfast with his wife, Diane, since 2004. Built in 1905, and an inn since 1984, the two-story home with its welcoming front porch wears its historic character well. Decorating restraint and tasteful modern upgrades prevent the charm from becoming cloying. The overall vibe is simple, fresh, warm and comfortable, with a few luxe touches.
John led us upstairs to our Meadow Room so that we could shower and change before our 8 p.m. reservations. Tucked at the back of the house, the well-appointed, unfussy room is accessed from its own anteroom for added privacy. My road weariness evaporated when John unobtrusively re-appeared at our door with complimentary large pours of tasty wine.
7:45 p.m. Set off down quiet Main Street for a short, pleasant walk—even in heels—to our destination at Middle and Main: the legendary Inn at Little Washington, a Virginia country manor with English roots.
8 p.m. Warmly greeted as we were seamlessly handed-off from one staff member to another between the front door and our corner table for two, we were instantly swept up in the rhythm of what would be a perfectly-timed cadence for the next two hours. And we fell under the spell of the inimitable fusion of service and atmosphere that has contributed to the mythical status of this culinary mecca. Polished and professional, the servers are warm, witty and unpretentious. And the extravagantly patterned ceiling and fringed rose-colored silk lampshades glowing over each of the restaurant’s 30 tables are more whimsical than gaudy, tempered by crisp white tablecloths, tailored seating, and small vases of fresh flowers.
Having been warned that the Inn offered little for vegans, I found the opposite to be true. I was invited to cherry pick my four courses from anywhere on the menu, while Joe was perfectly happy to choose from the regular menu, which is anything but. As plate after plate was placed before us, the strikingly playful, artful and imaginative presentations appeared constructed without being contrived; the perfect packaging in which to deliver each exquisitely balanced course. (See sidebar for our selections.)
10 p.m. Invited to tour world-renowned Chef Patrick O’Connell’s kitchen. A pioneer of the local/artisanal food “movement” when it wasn’t a movement, but a rural necessity, Chef O’Connell’s name is synonymous with refined regional American cuisine. Still gracious near the conclusion of a busy service for a packed house, O’Connell—self-taught, yet one of the most decorated chefs cooking today—personally greets each guest in his bustling but relaxed, orderly, beautifully appointed and inviting kitchen.
10:30 p.m. Walked back to our comfortable room to rest up for the next meal, though we were satisfied, not stuffed.
7:30 a.m. Took a 45-minute solo walk through town past impossibly tiny cottages, inns, galleries, shops, cafes, restaurants, government buildings, churches and a theater surrounded by farms and manor houses. The highlight was the Inn’s half-mile Perimeter Pathway that circles past its garden and charming chicken house, looping around the pasture where two llamas guard a herd of sheep.
9:00 a.m. Seated by Diane at a private table in the sunny Foster Harris dining room for one of John’s beautiful breakfasts of bold flavors, bright colors and artful plating: a shimmering fresh fruit parfait; candied ginger scones (vegan look- and taste-alikes for me); black rice with mango-avocado salsa and a swish of arugula-basil-cashew pesto (Joe’s entrée sported a poached egg and thick, spiraled bacon); and miniature liebchen filled with lemon curd and a swoosh and dot of elderflower sauce (again, vegan for me).
10:30 a.m. Packed, loaded the car, and ducked into the understatedly deluxe Inn at Little Washington Tavern Shops before departing for a mere four-hour drive home.
Our schedules dictated that we spend only one night away. Had we to do it over again, we would stay a second night in order to treat ourselves to one of John’s gourmet dinners and savor more of what the historic region has to offer.
From heart-pumping hiking and biking amidst the breath-taking scenery of the Shenandoah Mountains to wine-tasting, antiquing, gallery-going, historic site-seeing, and pampering at the Little Washington Spa, there is no shortage of memorable ways to enjoy a weekend getaway to Rappahannock County.
One thing is certain: your trip to the “first” Washington won’t be your last.
Foster Harris House
189 Main St., Washington
The Inn at Little Washington
Middle and Main Street, Washington
Note: both establishments’ websites offer leisure activity suggestions with helpful links.
Betsy’s (Vegan) Meal
Amuse Bouche: Bloody Mary Gum Drops
Intermezzo: Vegan Asparagus Bisque Shooter
Course 1: Beet/Beet Sorbet Salad
Course 2: Hearts of Palm Salad
Entree: Cauliflower Steak with Candied Medallions of Eggplant, Indian Yellow Curry Sauce, and Black Rice “Salad”
Dessert: Selection of 6 Colorful Sorbets in Diminutive Glass Jars on a Glass Artist’s Palette
Amuse Bouche: “Chip and Dip” and a Savory Cannoli
Intermezzo: Asparagus Bisque Shooter with a Savory Cheese Puff
Course 1: Lamb Carpaccio
Course 2: Mac and Cheese with Virginia Ham
Entree: Filet of Veal
Dessert: Ice Cream Sandwich with Buttery Caramel Sauce and Chocolate Dollops
Dry martini and Lebanese red wine