By: Laurie Wallin
Capital Cooking Contributor
There are so many restaurants opening every day in the DC area, it’s hard to keep track, let alone try each one! However, as much as I love spending time eating my way through the city, I also enjoy visiting the Virginia countryside. There’s just something about getting away from the daily hustle and bustle and truly immersing yourself in the tranquil ambiance. One of those places is the rural town of Washington, VA; barely an hour from DC, Washington, VA is a town most renowned for its exceptional culinary experience - The Inn At Little Washington. My husband and I recently dined at The Inn for my birthday and made a weekend out of exploring this quaint town along with the VA countryside.
The Inn stands as my #1 restaurant experience. You know you’re going to get amazing food, but it’s all of the little extras – the exceptional service, the whimsical atmosphere, and the sense of humor – that truly make the Inn magical. The Inn has several dining rooms, and this particular evening, my husband and I were seated in the garden room in a cozy booth overlooking the Inn’s beautiful gardens. It was a chilly night, and adding to the cozy atmosphere was the large bonfire that was going in the garden. Our (personalized) menus were presented to us and after perusing the menu, we decided on the Gastronaut’s menu with wine pairings.
The Gastronaut’s menu is a 10-course journey highlighting the seasons and features many ingredients from the Inn’s own gardens. We started with several “snacks," which was followed by the truffle-dusted popcorn – love how the server shaves the black truffle right in front of you! This is one of the things I love about the Inn – while it is a formal atmosphere, Patrick O’Connell definitely knows how to have fun – who would think you’d start your meal off eating truffle popcorn with your hands? Next, we were brought a shot of apple rutabaga soup – a reminder that winter wasn't over quite yet!
Our culinary journey really kicked off with four seafood courses. First, “A Savory Panna Cotta with a Caviar Surprise,” followed by Chilled Maine Lobster with Heart of Palm, Blood Oranges and Pistachios. Next, we enjoyed the Nantucket Bay Scallops with Chanterelles, Curried Cauliflower, Sultanas and Pine Nuts, which was absolutely phenomenal and really highlighted early spring vegetables. To follow was the Antarctic Sea Bass in an Asian Inspired Broth Perfumed with Ginger.
Then it was time to switch to meats. The Truffle-Stuffed Breast of Pheasant on Savoy Cabbage Braised in Champagne was incredibly rich and flavorful, and the Herb Crusted Jamison Farm Lamb with Winter Vegetable Stew on Celery Root Puree was one of the most beautifully prepared pieces of meat I’ve ever eaten. Seared to a delicious medium rare, the spicy crust offset the sweetness and tenderness of the meat. A pear sorbet followed to cleanse the palette, and then instead of dessert, I opted for Faira the Cow, the Inn’s version of a cheese plate (literally, over 20 cheeses are brought out to you via a mooing plastic cow – did I mention the Inn knows how to have fun?). After the meal, we received a tour of the kitchen and were fortunate to meet Patrick O’Connell, who was in the kitchen that night.
While the Inn is also a B&B, the town of Washington, VA actually houses several B&Bs. On a visit several years ago, my husband and I stayed at the Foster Harris House and have been hooked ever since. It is a true gem in every sense of the word and in and of itself a reason we love to visit this area. The Foster Harris House boasts an amazing culinary team of their own, owners and innkeepers John & Diane MacPherson. I can’t say enough about their four-course breakfasts – there’s no better way to start your day. Our first morning there, our breakfast began with dark chocolate scones followed by a fresh fruit parfait with yogurt and homemade granola. The main breakfast course consisted of a puff pastry topped with a poached egg, avocado salsa & chipotle cream sauce accompanied by “paradise bacon.” As if this wasn't enough, breakfast always ends with a sweet treat – that morning, John featured a Lemon “Liebechen” with berry coulis. Accompanied by coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice, this breakfast was filling, delicious, and really shows off John’s culinary talents.
While there are a number of wineries close to the town and other things to do during the day, on this particular trip I really wanted a massage, so my husband and I headed off to the new Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, VA, about 45 minutes from where we were staying. The Salamander just opened this past winter so the facilities were brand-new and beautifully appointed. The massage was excellent and left us feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
For our second dinner of the trip, we decided to dine at the Foster Harris House. Once just a B&B, John and Diane have recently expanded and now offer 5-course dinners on Fridays and Saturdays (available to guests and non-guests). We had the pleasure of eating dinner at the Foster Harris House late last summer and knew we couldn’t return to the area without a return dinner visit. Although the dining area (also where you eat breakfast if you are a guest) is small, it’s charming and cozy. To begin the meal, we were treated to a glass of Trump Winery Blanc de Blancs with a bit of Elderflower liquor.
The first course was a Seared Colossal Sea Scallop, oven roasted tomatoes, and wild boar salami, followed by a Fennel Veloute. Next was the wild mushroom and truffle ravioli with peppered Piave Alfredo, which was my favorite course of the night – the mushrooms and truffles paired wonderfully and were smooth and creamy enough to offset the spiciness of the alfredo and parmesan, with the pasta prepared to a perfect al dente. Because spring was just around the corner, John also prepared lamb for the main course – Lamb Persillade with cauliflower, mahogany carrots and toasted almonds. Our meal concluded with a smoked chocolate soufflé with wood ice cream (yes, homemade ice cream made using real wood chips from a local distillery!) and toasted marshmallow. Each course was delicious and presented beautifully.
Although I wasn’t quite sure how I’d possibly eat anything else, we still had one more four-course breakfast to look forward to. After enjoying the scones and fruit/yogurt/granola parfait, we indulged in a roasted red pepper, goat cheese and scrambled egg crepe with crispy Prosciutto. The crepe was prepared beautifully, with the Prosciutto adding a salty, satisfying crunch alongside the mild goat cheese eggs. The breakfast concluded with French toast talons with peach-vanilla whiskey sauce. Whiskey in the morning? On top of my French toast, I’ll take it!
This trip truly reminded us of the wonderful culinary and recreational experiences that await outside the DC metro area. If you have the opportunity to experience the Inn at Little Washington, you will be in for an unforgettable experience and I cannot emphasize enough the allure of the Virginia countryside. You can have a quiet, romantic, and relaxing getaway without driving for hours or hopping on a plane. The ambiance and charm of Virginia is only personified through quaint, rural towns like Washington, VA, and I cannot wait for our next Virginia getaway!