Inn at Little Washington Suggestions
- Joe Nov 26, 2001 06:54 PM
My wife and I are going to be celebrating a special occasion at the Inn at Little Washington in a few weeks, and I was wondering if any of you could offer some suggestions as to dishes that we absolutely should not miss? In that same vein, do you recommend getting the tasting menu, or is the regular fixed price menu sufficient for a great meal? Your comments are appreciated...
I am one of the few people that believe this restaurant is one of the most over priced experiences available in the United States. If you are going on a Saturday night your meal will be $149 prix fixe with 300 to 400% markups on wine. Expect $450 to 500 at a minimum.
I have been to "The Inn" four times in the past ten years and have had two superb meals, one very good and, for my wife's 50th birthday, an absolute disaster. Neighbors of mine celebrated their anniversary there three weekends ago and felt that the food was excellent and the atmosphere "indulgent and luxurious."
They also felt the meal was no better than several D. C. restaurants (Citronelle among them) which charge considerably less and that despite the ambience they left with an overall feeling of disappointment.
Now "The Inn" has added two chef's tables with suppliments of $350 per table. For four people this means the prix fixe is now $236.50 plus wine, tax and tip or about $650 to 700 per couple.
My suggestion: last week on www.unitedairlines.com there was a fare of $249 round trip to Paris. Fares like this have been available almost every week. I would seriously consider flying to Paris and having dinner at a Michelin two or three star where the food will be better, spending the night in a modest hotel in the 7th or 8th arrondisement and flying back.
$249 plus $249 plus $150 (hotel) plus $300 meal plus spending. It is honestly not that much more than the chef's table at "The Inn."
It will be quite a bit more memorable.
I honestly believe that for $300 a couple "The Inn" is a wonderful experience. At $450 to 700 (moderately priced bottle of wine) they've let their success go to their head.
Most importantly there is absolutely no room for error or disappointment in what they are charging. They are NOT consistent.
I agree with the other respondent. I've only eaten there once, but it was disappointing, the food and the experience in general. I can't suggest what to order because I understand they change the menu all the time. If you do go, I suggest you request a table overlooking the garden , even in this season. Otherwise, they will sit you at a table 6 inches from the next couple. Not very romantic for your occasion.
I have been to I@LW twice, both for special occasions, and both times have been amazingly underwhelmed by the experience. The first time we ordered the tasting menu, all of which was fine, but none of which was worth the exorbitant price and concomitant hoopla. I found the service to be rushed and amateurish, the crowding of the room unreasonable and the whole evening a let down. However, we decided to give them another try when friends of our came to visit DC from their home in SC who really wanted to give the place a try. We were again unimpressed, and the couple ended up divorcing (I'm not saying the dinner caused the divorce, but who knows...?). I would reconsider.
Oh, you wanted suggestions, not a rant on the Inn at Little Washington? How silly of us. Seriously, I've noticed that there are certain things you can't mention on the Board without bringing down a hailstorm of comments. (Crabcakes, for example.) With what the Inn charges, of course, one not-perfect experience would be enough to turn me into a critic. And I have to state that I respect, if I don't agree fully with, the previous posters. (Hey, how could not respect someone who mentions New Haven when discussing pizza?). In my three visits to the Inn, however, I've only experienced near-perfection. Of course, I am a mid-week visitor (I've never gone on a weekend), so prices are lower and crowds diminished, so this may have effected my own perceptions. Further, there are a few places I prefer to the Inn, but they involve a plane ride, so I won't get into them. The Inn serves wonderful food in a lovely setting, and is worth a visit, in my book.
As for actual suggestions (before I start ranting too much myself), I honestly can't say there is any "must-have" dish. I've enjoyed the lamb and seafood there more than I would have expected, and I like the Seven Deadly Sins, but to suggest any one dish would be unfair to all the others. Plus, I've seen the menu change with the seasons. The best advice I can give is to talk to the waitstaff, let them know what you like, and use them as a resource.
If the previous comments have deterred you enough to forego the Inn (which I still think would be a mistake), there's no one place in the area I can suggest for excellent food and real "special occasion" atmosphere. L'Auberge Chez Francois has a cozy atmosphere, but there's so much better French food to be had elsewhere. Gerard's has the food, but none of the atmosphere. Citronelle is fine in it's own way, but it's not the full "special occasion" package. From what I've heard, Four and Twenty Blackbird might meet your criteria, but I haven't been there, so I can't say anything about it personally. Perhaps that's why, even with the inflated pricing, the Inn remains a destination: no other place in the area offers the full package.
Post a review afterwards. I'd like to hear your impressions.
If the waitstaff seems like they have just graduated from high school, if the "Seven Deadly Sins" taste like they just came out of the fridge, well, then maybe with these kind of experiences you would have an appreciation for my criticism. As for crabcakes I stand by my judgments. Pizza? Well, you haven't been to New Haven. A plane ride? I can't say that I would take Paris over Washington, VA because I think this is one of the prettiest places on earth. But I do think that it is more special to fly to Paris for dinner and return than it is to drive to "The Inn."
I do not apologize for my opinions. I am extremely appreciative for the experiences I have had. They almost compensate for the amount of time I have spent away from home. Almost but not quite.
Relax, I was complementing your reference to New Haven in a prior pizza thread (I have been to New Haven, a many a time, and the pizza there IS probably the best I've had, of the thin crust variety). Indeed, I'd actually describe you personally as having some of the most useful posts on this Board for those of us who are insane enough to travel for food (and I do travel for food), and I would often agree with you on most local options.
I disagree with your opinions on the Inn, however, and my experience certainly doesn't match that of yours or other posters. The waitstaff I experienced and the food I ate seems light years from your experience. Why? I can't say, although I offered some possible suggestions.
The question still remains, however, is there anyplace local besides the Inn that offers the "full package"? I'd be more than willing to explore an alternative, especially since (1) the Inn is expensive by most standards, and (2) assuming that the consistency problems are genuine (and it's hard to ignore at least three different bad experiences), it would be good to have a safer bet for special occassions.
Thanks for the response and the nice words. I do appreciate them.
I've travelled heavily for twenty years throughout the U. S. and Europe. Although I love what I do I hate the time away. The 12th visit to Paris (where I might stay a day or literally travel over and back within 28 hours) is not the same as the first when you can stay a week. Having said this it allows certain indulgences, food, wine and occasional shopping being among them. (i.e. Lladro has a room at the factory in Valencia where pieces are about half the Spanish price which means that is about one quarter the American price!)
I have been fortunate to have meals at El Raco de con Fabes (a Michelin three star outside of Barcelona) and The Inn at Little Washington within 48 hours. I have been to Obelisk and Dal Pescatore (another Michelin three star in Italy) within 24 hours). I have actually gone out of my way to have these kinds of experiences with a subjective comparative analysis as part of the reason. Sort of another kind of pizza trip which I mentioned in another post.
"The Inn" pales in comparison to El Raco which I personally consider, along with Dal Pescatore, the best restaurants I have ever been to. In this particular visit the experience was one of the two totally positive ones that I had. El Raco was also approximately half the price for two people including a similarly priced bottle of wine.
In 1980 I shared an incredible experience with five friends at Jean Banchet's Le Francais outside of Chicago on a Thursday night (about the time of an article in Newsweek which called it America's best restaurant) and two nights later had dinner at "The Inn" which then was about four or five years old yet already had a regional reputation.
There was no comparison. Even then "The Inn" was as expensive.
For me, perhaps only for me, I do not consider this to be one of the great restaurants of the world. Excellent, creative, indulgent, yes. But one of the best anywhere, no.
But as you mention with Jean Louis gone (....) there is no real comparison for a simiilar experience. Although I believe the food at Citronelle is equal and Michel Richard among the best hosts/chefs in the world it overall is not quite as special. Interestingly when he had his restaurant in Los Angeles my wife and I met him and he said that he "wanted to open an Inn in northern Virginia" similar to The Inn at Little Washington. For whatever reason he didn't but if he had it certainly would have challenged "The Inn" in every manner.
L'Auberge is a wonderful value and overall experience but, I agree, it is not the "big deal" experience. The Prime Rib and 1789 are worthwhile in D. C. but, again, not in league with "The Inn." Actually, I don't think there is anything to compare south of Le Bec Fin in Philly.
And this is exactly what Washington needs: an over the top "big deal" experience to compare to The Inn.
But one that is consistent and not greedy to the point of gauging it's customers to and beyond the limit of what they can or will spend. (I also object to their $750 a night rooms especially in a building 75 yards down the street from the main building.)
For all the reports on here about people who have celebrated special occasions there I know or have read of an equal number that feel that they will never go back. For myself, the last meal was $1,100 for four of us. It just wasn't worth it. Probably this time, the fourth this decade and maybe the 7th or 8th visit since they opened, I will not go back. I've given it too many chances.
Here I am, flying in from Phoenix, AZ, looking forward to The Inn at Little Washington after many mouth watering reviews, and I stumble upon your little bulliten board. What am I to think? Ia it really worth the trip or is it now just a shadow of it's previous reputation. Sigh! I currently spend $50-60 for a good dinner out with my husband before wine or martini's. Should I add the plane fare to the bill or just stay at home?
My hubby took me there for an anniversary (surprise, he knew i'd always wanted to go) a few years back and it was a wonderful meal. Top notch ingredients like lobster and truffles and wonderful prep. The 7 deadly sins was a wonderful finish to the meal. The complaints i do have, however, may be related to the time and day we dined: 5:30 on a sunday. There were children running around unsupervised (i would NEVER take a child to such a place), and the service was very good but not commensurate w/ the food. The tables ARE too close together and the decor is sort of early bordello. But the food was undeniably the best i have had in the US (and yes we have traveled extensively) except perhaps commander's palace in N.O. which comes close. If you can go on a night other than a weekend night you may find that it is more palatable (pardon the pun) because the price is lower. And perhaps not as crowded and chaotic. If you can focus on the food, in short, you will probably be happy.
I posted a similar request several months ago, before my 30th anniversary, and got a similar, lengthy rant about the Inn from Joe. However, my husband and I did go (mid-week). We had a lovely meal in a beautiful setting, enjoyed all of our choices from the prix fixe menu--I recommend the hot and cold fois gras, risotto with grilled shrimp and the seven deadly sins dessert, some or all of which may still be on the menu. The service was attentive and quite professional, and they bent over backwards for us, when they found out it was a big anniversary. We thought it was well worth while.
The regular price menu is suffficient unless you are a big wine lover.
One thing that put me off the tasting menu was that I didn't care for some of the selections. Now I know that the Inn will make substitutions for items you don't care to try.
The tasting menu is the best way to try as many dishes prepared by the Inn in one night. If you reserve a table in the kitchen, you'll probably try even more dishes although not in full portions.
Most people do not use the sommalier. That's a mistake. You'll have a better meal if you do. And they won't take advantage of you. They aren't stuffy so as for the wine price being recommended or as for a bottle in your price range.
During dinner, tell your server that you want a tour of the kitchen after dinner. They are happy to oblige.
Ask to have dessert on the patio in good weather. Or drinks. Or a cigar. Don't worry about cigar smoke blowing over you of you don't smoke.
I don't know how people can drive home late at night after dinner at the Inn. Instead, say at the Inn or at a local bed and breakfast. Try Fairlea Farm Bed & Breakfast.
Call a B&B and ask them to make dinner reservations for you. If you wait to make dinner reservations before you book a room, it may be too late to stay overnight anywhere locally. Plus, you can stay on hold a long time when making dinner reservations.
Also, after you think dinner is over, the Inn gives you a little something extra. Consider it a party gift and take it home with you. They will put it in their own "doggy bag"... look on the bottom of the bag!
So many rants ! Whew! If you are going to go there, what is the point in skimping? Stay at the Inn, not some other B&B. Order the the tasting menu. Yes, it is expensive but so what? Enjoy the total experience; indulge yourself. The food is among the top ten in the Washignton area and the service is superb. I have always enjoyed it thoroughly. If your goal is to do it inexpensively (staying somewhere else, ordering the least expensive prix fixe meal, etc.), I suggest staying in Washignton and go to Citronelle, Eve, Cityzen, etc. The food is as good and certainly less expensive (lodging considered). The point of the Inn is the total experience.
PS: The "Chef's Table"in the kitchen *is* a waste of money and detracts from the experience, IMHO. And as someone, noted, if there is something on the tasting menu that you don't care for, the kitchen will gladly subsitute anything else on the menu.
My opinions about The Inn have not changed since my above posts from the fall of 2001. (The very first post is not mine.) In fact this is a link to a thread when my wife and I celebrated an anniversary in the summer of '03 and had a similarly disappointing experience. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/168062 The response to that was quite surprising-we weren't alone. Patrick O'Connell is a fantastic chef with as much talent as anyone on this side of the Atlantic. With five visits now to The Inn I have just not found it to be very consistent. For a Saturday night dinner that is now between $500 and 600 (without the Chef's table but with a relatively modest bottle of wine which at The Inn is $75-100) for two there is no margin for error. Still, reading my posts above it is interesting that D. C. has come so far in a relatively short time: Citronelle has matured winning the national Beard award this year, CityZen already challenges it in many ways, the just opened Source already approaches a similar level of excellence and the past five years allowed us to meet Fabio who is now in Manhattan. Really interesting thread to look back then vs. now. Also, please note that in 2001 the US dollar was .83 to the Euro; today it is $1.429!!! My analogy to flying overseas no longer works! Thanks to whoever dug this up.
re: Joe H
Funny...everyone raves about Citronelle but my hubby and i had a very marginal meal there. We had the 4 course menu and the portions were tiny (fine for me but not for my manly man) and not nearly as good as 1789 for instance. It was Xmas eve, in all fairness, so perhaps the real "crack" staff wasn't there but still, i had big expectations after everything i had read and heard. The only saving grace was i felt very comfy wearing my sable coat there which is more than i can say for most of the places in DC that pass for fine dining establishments. What about CityZen...the food sounds a little strange on the menu, is it really good? Anyone?
CityZen is one of my favorites. The chef is a Keller alum and food is outstanding. We have eaten at all the top spots in DC and many top places in NYC and this place stands out among the best. We took my husband's grandmother, a dedicated foodie who lives in NYC and she was impressed.
I think it is the best in DC
Dh and I went to the Inn for the second time in August and had a wonderful experience. I believe it is worth the price. For me the biggest surprise was the lamb carpaccio...it was wonderful and lamb usually doesn't make my short list but I deliberatly ordered outside of my comfort zone. I also highly recommend the cheeses at the end of the meal.
Someone recently posted a review of the Inn with a link to pictures. I think it was in the past 30 days, you might try searching for that as there was an excellent discussion of the food and pictures.