Dinner at The Inn at Little Washington is the gold standard of food. Chef Patrick O’Connell is a culinary genius — it’s impossible to get a bad bite of food. I’m convinced he could make a cilantro mousse and I’d find myself raving about it.
And I loathe cilantro.
On previous visits to The Inn, we’ve always ordered the a la carte menu. This visit, we decided to live on the edge (gastronomically and financially) and try the Gastronaut’s Tasting Menu. It’s 9 courses of food, 7 of which are served with a wine that is perfectly matched to the food. It’s four hours of eating and drinking that changed my life.
Incidentally, your brain is less likely to convulse at the price of the meal when it’s written out in words instead of numbers:
The first thing to arrive at our table was the Amuse-Bouche, which is French for “heads-up stomach, food is inbound”. This is Chef O’Connell’s take on Chips & Dip (a fried potato chip stuffed with chives and cream and topped with caviar. Yes, caviar. The other is Pork Belly Resting on Homemade Applesauce. Delicious little teasers . . .
Truffle Dusted Popcorn
It’s popcorn . . . with $342 worth of subterranean fungus grated on top of it.
What’s not to love?
A Shot of Apple Rutabaga Soup & Chive Gougère
I’ve made Patrick O’Connell’s Apple Rutabaga Soup at home. And I’ve always been pleased with the way it turned out. But after tasting The Inn’s version, I feel a little like a kitchen rube. And that Chive Gougère? I could have eaten 26 of them.
Alright . . . let’s get to the pairings!
Tin of Sin: American Osetra Caviar with Peekytoe Crab and Cucumber Rillette
Delamotte, Le-Mensil-sur-Oger, Brut Champagne, France (NV) from Magnum
This is the course I was most concerned about. I tried caviar once . . . and had the same reaction as Tom Hanks’ character in the movie, “Big” — there was some inelegant gagging and reaching for napkins. But this caviar was amazing! I expected it to taste like a salt water aquarium, but it wasn’t fishy at all. And now I know why Champagne and Caviar is one of those “and then magic happens” pairings!
Bonus: You can’t say “Peekytoe Crab” without smiling!
Spicy, Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna Tartare with Cucumber Sorbet
Antonio Caggiano, Fiano/Greco, FiaGre, Campagnia, Italy (2011)
Raw tuna with cucumber ice cream? Seriously? If I had ordered for myself, I’d have passed on that. And it would have been a big mistake. Big. Huge. This might be the best thing I have ever eaten in my life. There are teeny-tiny pieces of jalapeño mixed in with the A++ (the third + would have been excessive) grade tuna tartare. A bite of spicy tuna and a dab of cucumber sorbet in the same bite? Fireworks!
And just when I thought this couldn’t get better, I took a sip of the wine pairing. Wow! A highly acidic wine, perfectly balanced with the heat of the tuna and the coolness of the cucumber. Nirvana!
You had me at lobster . . . the rest is just bonus. Gorgeous lower acid wine from Spain worked with everything in the bowl.
North Pacific Cod in an Asian Inspired Broth Perfumed with Ginger
Domaine Bzikot, La Rousselle, Puligny-Mountrachet, Burgundy, France (2008)
This was my least favorite course of the night. Still delicious, just not my favorite. Maybe I was getting full . . . maybe it’s that I don’t just love ginger. I probably left $27 worth of ginger broth in the bowl . . . but there wasn’t a drop of wine left in my glass. Another home run pairing!
Black Truffle Stuffed Breast of Pheasant on Savoy Cabbage Braised in Champagne
Dusky Goose, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon (2007)
I can’t imagine how labor intensive it is to slip black truffle slivers under pheasant skins, but I sure appreciate the effort. The last time I made pheasant, we ended up with lead shot under the skins. The truffles are a better choice. And Dusky Goose Pinot Noir is going to find its way into my wine cellar ASAP.
Juniper Crusted Venison Loin on a Tangle of Tart Greens with Caramelized Endive and Mustard Spätzle
Martinelli Winery, Syrah, Terre Felice, Bussian River Valley, Sonoma, California (2008
The venison is “reclining” on a tangle of tart greens. Reclining. Anthropomorphic food descriptions are just one of the perks of eating at The Inn. I’ve never had venison like this before — tender and not at all gamey. I’d encourage my husband to hunt deer more often if I could make venison taste like this! A beautiful Syrah from Martinelli made the venison sing.
Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding and Almond Ice Cream Perfumed with Black Truffle
Broadbent, Malmsey, Colheita Madeira, Portugal (1996)
Seriously? Black truffle oil with chocolate? Yep. Totally works. Mmmmm . . .
And Madeira? Now I know why our Founding Fathers were so fond of the stuff. Acquiring Madeira immediately.
After our meal, we got to take a peek in the kitchen and meet Patrick O’Connell himself (I tried not to act like a tweenage girl meeting One Direction). We learned that the kitchen at The Inn is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I’m in awe. But wait, there’s more! I got to stand in the wine cellar while Wine Director, Jennifer Knowles, snapped my picture. Double awe. I raise my glass to O’Connell & Knowles . . . brilliant matchmakers of food and wine! And to everyone at The Inn who plays a supporting role in helping to pull off this symphony of food and wine every night. I feel like I’ve taken a master class on how the balance and acidity of a wine can make a great meal unforgettable.
The only problem is . . . now I want to do it again!