Every year, Jim and I try and spend one night at the Inn at Little Washington sometime between Christmas and New Year as a way to relax and spend some time together. This year, we decided to bring the entire crew (the kids, our exchange student, and Jim’s mom) to spend the night there. (Gift certificates are wondrous things.)
We stayed at the Claiborne House (named after Craig Claiborne, an influential food reporter and chef). The Claiborne House is an extremely cute, over-the-top decorated two bedroom house, complete with its own well-equipped kitchen. (Although why anyone needs a kitchen when they’re staying at the Inn is beyond me.) As an example of the Inn’s attention to detail, we discovered that the cookie jar in the kitchen is stuffed with cookies made at the Inn. (And they are quite delicious!)
Naturally, we had a lovely dinner. The Inn has changed its format somewhat and now offers three different tasting menus, including an excellent vegetarian one. You can swap out items between tasting menus to suit your own tastes. The portions are small, to suit a tasting menu. Much as we don’t particularly like change, we like this change very much. It matches well to our inclination to taste as many different dishes as possible, you can customize the menu, and you don’t feel uncomfortably stuffed at the end of the meal. It’s perfect for us.
At almost every meal we have there, we start with some off-the-menu appetizers, and I never remember to record them. This time, I did!
To start out, there is a new bartender at the Inn who does an amazing job with non-alcoholic drinks. This is only one example of the many concoctions he came up with that evening. They are sophisticated and delicious and worth trying, especially if you are the designated driver. This is the one time you won’t be sorry to be limited to non-alcoholic drinks!
equally attractive non-alcoholic alternative
Truffle popcorn is one of my favorite dishes at the Inn. This is no ordinary popcorn. It’s been tossed with a variety of spices and a little butter. But the crowning glory is that as the popcorn is being served, a generous amount of black truffle is shaved on top of it. I could eat nothing but a giant bowl of truffle popcorn and still consider the meal to be one of my favorite meals at the Inn!
The tasting menu starts with a shot of soup. For some, it was a white bean truffle soup and for others, it was apple rutabaga soup. Both soups are served with a fried risotto ball on the side. My preference was the white bean truffle soup as the apple rutabaga soup was a bit sweet for me, but that was definitely not a unanimous opinion.
white bean truffle soup
apple rutabaga soup
There are two raw fish dishes being served on the current menu. The first is a sashimi of Japanese yellowtail served with jalapeno peppers and dusted with espelette.
sashimi of japanese yellowtail
The second is ahi tuna tartare served with cucumber sorbet.
ahi tuna tartare
Both are spectacular, and the quality of the fish is superb.
Next up are Brussels sprouts served with honeycrisp apples, spiced pecans and Madeira-soaked raisins
Beet carpaccio accented with orange and vodka gelée
A marriage of hot and cold foie gras with sauternes gelée and blood orange marmalade
hot and cold foie gras
Off the vegetarian menu is a lemon pepper risotto
lemon pepper risotto
The best new item on the menu is a thinly shaved Australian wagyu beef “shabu-shabu.” The beef is beyond tender, and the shabu-shabu broth has a bite to it that is both unexpected and leaves you wanting more.
wagyu beef shabu-shabu
This is a truffle-stuffed breast of pheasant on savoy cabbage and braised in champagne
breast of pheasant
The vegetarian equivalent is a winter turnip gratin with a quail egg and parmesan broth.
winter turnip gratin
This is a sweet New England bay scallops dish served with candied yams and young coconut. A bit on the sweet side for me with the yams, but the scallops were delicate and wonderful.
The “meat” entrees included a pork chop with sauerkraut braised in Virginia Riesling, local apples and potato purée.
Duck breast served with foie gras and endive and wild rice.
And a cauliflower “steak” with yellow Indian curry, green grapes and candied walnuts.
As a palate cleanser, we were served a cranberry orange sorbet and hickory ice cream popsicle.
palate cleanser popsicle
Desserts included a Granny Smith apple tart with buttermilk ice cream
apple tart with buttermilk ice cream
A lemon meringue tartlet
lemon meringue tartlet
And the painter’s palette of sorbets
painter’s palette of sorbets
Even the lattes are beautiful…
A lovely way to celebrate the end of the year!