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May 17, 2004 08:37 AM

Dinner at the Inn at Little Washington (long)

  • b

Hello all,

My best friend is leaving the DC area for grad school and it's also her birthday. One of the things on our list of things to do was have dinner at ILW so we checked that off the list last night.

One word can describe our experience there: exquisite. Traffic on the Beltway conspired against us but once we made it past 66, we were alright. The rest of the drive was perfect and we arrived on time for our 5 PM reservation. Two gentlemen greeted us outside, asked for the name and seated us at once in the front room when you first walk in. Some of the tables were close together but we were on a two-top spaced a foot away from a round four-top....plenty of room. There was a bit of buzz from the conversation but never intrusive. The lack of music helps keep the din low.

While we perused the menu, a waiter brought over a tray of amuses...a small smoked salmon, cream cheese and pumpernickel, mini-BLT, red wine arancini, two puff pastry pieces and a mini sandwich on a tiny bun. I sampled all but one of the puff pastry pieces and they were delicious, perfect little bites with just the right balance of flavor.

The bread came next, which was also great. A medium size poppy sead breadstick, nice and crunchy on the outside and soft inside, as well as thin slices of raisin walnut bread with a salty exterior. These were my favorite...I could have eaten an entire loaf but cut myself off to save room for dinner.

Another amuse was a tiny tea cup filled with asparagus soup, which was creamy and salty, with the perfect essence of asparagus.

Since my friend got in to grad school, I let the restaurant know this and the menus wished her congratulations on top, which is a wonderful touch. For my 1st course, I had the grilled shrimp on roasted onions with mango-mint salsa and she had the crab, mango and avocado tower. My shrimp were three perfectly grilled pieces on sweet roasted onions, which I could have made a meal of. The salsa had cilantro in it, which I don't really like but it wasn't overpowering and did not detract from the dish. The crab, mango, avocado dish was also great, with fresh lump crab playing off the creamy avocado and the sharper mango.

2nd course was tempura soft-shell crab with pecans and mustard fruit for me and the boudin on a tangle of greens for her. I've never had mustard fruit before, it looked almost like a piece of candied kiwi to me and after one bite, I was in heaven. The candied sweetness of the fruit was a great foil for the salty, crunchy soft-shell. The dish also came with a caraway-flecked slaw, which was simple but good. The boudin was excellent, with small spicy peppercorns throughout.

Main dish for me was the roasted lobster with orzo, grapefruit, spinach and citrus butter sauce, and angus tenderloin with red wine risotto, morrels and fiddlehead ferns for her. The lobster was by far my favorite dish, with the sweet citrus and butter sauce...I could have licked the plate it was so good. Two perfect claws and the tail, cooked just so, on top of a scattering of orzo. The bitterness of the greens was a nice addition, and cut through the sweet, richness of the sauce. The angus tenderloin was also great, cooked perfectly medium rare and the risotto still with a bit of bite to it.

Dessert was also a high point. Friend ordered the chocolate pistachio souffle with pistachio creme anglaise, which came with a happy birthday/congrats ribbon of sugar at the top, a wonderful touch. I had the seven deadly sins, which consisted of a panna cotta with passonfruit coulis (my least favorite), small apple tartlet on puff pastry (crunchy, buttery and sweet), coconut ice cream in a chocolate shell with little flakes of coconut underneath (delicious), lemon meringue tartlet (loved the lemon curd and shell, friend loved the mini tower of meringue), butter pecan ice cream with caramel sauce (good but not great), a chocolate and white chocolate roll cake with dark chocolate sauce (the sauce was heaven and the cake was wonderful too) and my favorite...a molten chocolate pudding cake. Had that been on the menu as a main dessert, I would have ordered that as it's always one of my favorites. The center was perfectly soft and rich. Heaven. Coffee and tea were also excellent.

The meal was topped off with the tiny baskets of cookies and fruit jellies, which was unexpected for my friend and she was delighted.

The service was perfect, with the glasses refilled at appropriate times and we were never interrupted mid-bite. Plates were cleared accordingly, the maitre d' stopped by to wish my friend congrats and the pacing was excellent. I watched the waiters in the room and noticed lovely touches. For instance, a couple at a table nearby had someone up to use the restroom and the food came in the meantime. The waiter brought a small dome to place over his plate so the food stayed warm while the patron was gone. He waited nearby and when the gentleman returned, the dome came off and they were left to eat. A nice touch.

A few weeks ago, I posted my experience with 1789 concerning the service I received and some felt it may have been age related. At ILW last night, we were never made to feel any different from any of the other patrons and it was truly a 5 star evening. We were dressed appropriately (though I did see someone in jeans and a sloppy, untucked button down!) and acted appropriately as well. In returns, we received a spectacular experience that we'll remember for the rest of our lives.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. Great review. Did you drink wine and if so, how as the wine service?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mark

      Hi Mark,

      I didn't have wine as I'm not a big wine drinker and I had the drive ahead of me. My friend had a glass of the red (I can't remember which...I'm sorry) and the service was fine. She tends to know what she wants and didn't require any assistance from the waiter.

      1. re: Mark

        I always have wine with dinner and when we went to the Inn it was no exception. Ordered a 1986 Ridge MonteBello and the wine service was excellent. The somm. decanted the wine carefully and when I said that I would prefer to pour from then on, he had no problem. Reidel glasses, nice antique decanter, and superb service all around.

        1. re: dinwiddie

          Wine service at The Inn does not compare to the top restaurants in Europe. Although the prices do.

          At both the Michelin two star Bareiss and the three star Schwarzwaldstube in the Black Forest last weekend an ounce or so of the wine was first poured into the decanter, which was then rotated to coat the surface of the glass. After this the remainder of the bottle was emptied and the sommelier then poured an ounce or so in a small glass for his inspection. Studying it in either natural light or candle light he then sniffed, then swallowed the glassful.

          After this he poured a small taste/whiff for the host to sample.

          If the wine is older it is properly decanted with a candle. In all cases the bottle is "housed" in a cradle for the entire process.

          Stemware is Reidel. Decanters are exquisite Portueguese crystal from Topazio which retails for E 600 + in Europe (US $1000 + here).

          There is nowhere in the D. C. area, Maestro and Citronelle included that do this.

          Remarkably the markup on the bottles at these two restaurants was less than 100% of the EUROPEAN price meaning that wine cost the same as what we would pay for it in, say, Calvert Woodley or MacArthur. The Inn, having purchased Yannick's wine cellar from Le Pavillion, has annualy raised the priced of their wines to the point that now much of their list is 200% + what could be found elsewhere.

          I would argue that The Inn has the most expensive wine list on the East Coast.

      2. thanks for the great, detailed post. This board seems to have regular discussions about the Inn, does it meet expectations etc. So glad it was as wonderful as its reputation for you and friend.

        I've only had the pleasure of dining there once, this past Christmas day. Your description of food, service, all the little touches would have applied that evening for me and wife as well. I only have A+ things to report about my experience there, and look forward to my next visit.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Geoff

          Hi Geoff,

          Christmas Day sounds like it could be a wonderful meal at the Inn. Was the cost any different? Do you remember what the menu was? I won't be in town this Christmas but it would be nice to keep the Inn in mind for future ones.



          1. re: BluesA

            It was lovely - i recommend highly. Cost was same as any other night; i was actually amazed we could get a rezzie, since we called them on a lark only one week prior (must have been a recent cancellation). Menu was varied and I'm going to have to put on my thinking cap through the blur of the past five months. will do so in a separate. note

            1. re: Geoff

              $158 on Saturday night, $148 on Friday, $128 on weeknights for amuse (bite each of four) and four courses including dessert and pre dessert.

        2. Your evening sounds like it was lovely. We have reservations there next week (on a weeknight)...I'm unsure of what to wear. What is the attire, generally (by the way, I'm asking for both men and women)
          Thanks so much!

          2 Replies
          1. re: LKNS

            Oh, a t-shirt and jeans will do.

            just kidding! just kidding!

            While there is no official dress code, the restaurant deserves clientele that dress up.

            So, the men should certainly wear a jacket, if not a suit (many men there will be in suits). I can't comment on women's fashions (just ask Wife) except to say that the women should look stunning.

            Enjoy your meal and tell us all about it.

            1. re: LKNS

              Most of the men I saw were in suits, with some chosing the sport jacket and nice slacks route. My friend and I were both in flowered dresses and heels, and a lot of the women in the room were dressed similarly. I saw some in nice pants outfits but most in dresses or skirts with nice tops. The man in jeans was an anomaly.

              Enjoy your dinner!

            2. Does anyone know if the Inn allows you to bring your own wine, and if so what the corkage is?


              5 Replies
              1. re: Craig

                Corkage is illegal in Virginia, so you cannot bring your own wine. The Inn has an extensive, if expensive, wine list and if you ask them thy will fax it to you.

                1. re: dinwiddie

                  A VERY extensive cellar.

                  When I was there, I was admiring the cellar through the glass door. Having just had a long dinner, I wasn't thinking perfectly clearly.

                  It was a large room, but given the size of the wine list, it didn't seem quite big enough. When I inquired, a gentleman informed me that I was correct, that this cellar held only a couple or a few bottles of most selections.

                  In fact, he continued, they have an entire building across the street that houses the bulk of the inventory, which if I recall correctly, and haven't misplaced a comma, is nearly 4,000 cases, or over $1MM at original, auction/wholesale prices.

                  I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm off the mark. That long dinner was preceded by cocktails afterall.

                  1. re: Pappy

                    I doubt you are off the mark, I've seen novellas smaller than that wine list.

                    1. re: dinwiddie

                      Both The Inn and Galileo/Laboratorio have the Grand Award from the Wine Spectator which is their highest award.

                      1. re: Joe H.

                        And both deserve it.

              2. Do you mind if I ask the price of the meal. I am thinking of taking a friend and want to know how much I will be spending. Thank you!

                4 Replies
                1. re: jazzy483

                  From their website, since this post is almost 6 years old:

                  Dinner is $148 per person Sunday through Thursday. The Friday dinner price is $158 per person and on Saturday dinner is $178 per person. That excludes tax, gratuity and beverages.

                  1. re: reiflame

                    I wonder if the waiters still ask "Are we still enjoying?" when trying to find out if they can remove your plate.

                    1. re: reiflame

                      Each of the two six seat Chef's Tables add another $450 to the $178 prix fixe on Saturday night + wine, tax and tip. Essentially this is $253 prix fixe + wine, tax and tip per person if you have six people at these tables. If you only have two it is still the same $450 suppliment to sit at one of these two tables. http://www.theinnatlittlewashington.c...

                      I believe this is correct: say, a couple seated by themselves at one of the Chef's Tables on Saturday night will pay the $450 table charge + the $178 prix fixe menu + wine + tax + tip. Therefore, with a $125 bottle (perhaps average for this incredible winelist) the total cost would be $450+178+178+125 wine+46 tax+ 196 (20% tip) for a total bill of $1,173 for dinner for two.

                      There is over the top and then there is the belief that a market somewhere will always pay a truly premium price.

                      We've never eaten in The Inn's kitchen....

                      1. re: Joe H

                        I think I'm less offended by the price and more offended by the difficulty of figuring out how much it *really* costs!