ANTICIPATION, TREPIDATION, INSPECTION, FULFILLMENT, EVALUATION
Displayed prominently on the walls of Chef Patrick O’Connell’s kitchen, these words serve as the pillars for The Inn at Little Washington’s mission of extreme hospitality. I must immediately declare, before any further description, that Chef O’Connell and his staff gave my husband and me the most beautiful and pampered 24 hours of our 33 years of married life.
Please allow me to use Chef O’Connell’s pillars to share our experience.
First, Anticipation: A few years ago, I read an article in a regional magazine that highlighted some of Virginia’s top Bed and Breakfast spots. Naturally, The Inn at Little Washington was one of the featured destinations. Throughout our marriage, we have made it our practice to regularly get away and have fun together. I think it’s one of the reasons we have been married for 33+ years and we’re still happy about it. So, I immediately put The Inn on the short list of places we should explore while discovering our new Virginia home. I began researching The Inn and discovered that this was an experience for which we’d have to “save up”.
Which brings me to the the second pillar, Trepidation: I knew that I wanted to have this experience, but I didn’t know if I could justify that kind of a splurge while we were still paying tuition for the two youngest of our four children. I also didn’t know if I would ever be able to book a reservation in such a popular spot. The room rates generally begin at $649 per night and the likes of Warren Beatty and Annette Benning are among their vast array of high profile past guests.
I am a planner by nature. The third pillar, Inspection is a natural progression for me. I spent the next couple of years randomly checking The Inn’s website for specials and doing research about it’s history. PBS featured a delightful documentary about Chef O’Connell’s 40 year journey creating the beautiful fantasy/reality that is The Inn at Little Washington. YouTube offers Chef O’Connell’s presentation at The Welcome Conference: The First 40 Years, which details his personal odyssey to in his words, “find a clever way to avoid ever having to lead a normal life.”
As luck would have it, I happened to check theinnatlittlewashington.com and found that there was a significant reduction in price if I was willing to come during a week day. Huzzah! I planned a belated anniversary celebration that would also double as an early Valentine getaway.
And now for the fourth pillar, Fulfillment: If it were possible and in my power to give a hotel 6 stars instead of 5, I would bestow them on The Inn at Little Washington.
When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by a charming valet who took our car and promised to deliver all of our bags to our room. The concierge welcomed us and led us to what I call, the monkey room, where the bartender graciously prepared and offered us a champagne cocktail. We enjoyed our cocktail while our room was prepared. To our delight, the concierge informed us that The Inn had taken the liberty of upgrading our room since they had a light booking for the evening.The room was opulent. The view of the gardens, despite Winter’s sparse blooms was lovely and inviting. An extravagant little box of treats and a handwritten note from Chef O’ Connell awaited our entrance. Gorgeous magnolia aromas wafted through the air in the bedroom, bathroom and foyer. Bathrobes, slippers, heated towels, French milled soaps, BVLGARI toiletries also provided luxurious pampering.
After relaxing in the room, we decided to venture across the street to the gift shop where we were again greeted by charming, helpful staff. The gift shop offered the chance to recreate at home the beauty we were experiencing at The Inn. I confess, I took full advantage of the $25 discount…teapots, jams, granola, wine aerators, cookbooks, scented diffuser oils and reeds, stationery. By 3pm, we decided to enjoy the afternoon tea that was included with our stay. Our waiter asked if we had any dietary restrictions, and immediately made sure that every thing we would eat during our stay, met those restrictions. The tea menu was extensive and offered some of the teas we remembered fondly from our 2 years in China. The tarts, quiches, cucumber sandwiches, candies, dried fruit and wine jellies were fantastic little snacks that all paired well with the lemon curd, berry jam and herbed mayonnaise. All this we enjoyed as we overlooked the lovely courtyard garden.
On our way back to the room, we wandered through the lounge and enjoyed the hearth’s crackling blaze as the red, yellow and orange of the fire released all of the wood’s wonderful aroma. At the top of the stairs, a public living room offered comfy, overstuffed couches, books and magazines and plaques commemorating various dignitaries of the culinary world for which the suites had been named. EVERY space at The Inn welcomes, nourishes, nurtures, using beauty and luxury. It is evident that the “Pope of American food”, feels the same way about the healing power of beauty as the current Pope of the Catholic Church.
Dinner was a culinary marvel that will certainly be included as one of our most delectable food memories. Again from beginning to end, every person on Chef O’Connell’s hospitality team was charming, gracious, informed, enthusiastic and clearly committed to his vision of what it means to restore, nourish and make someone feel that life is indeed beautiful.
I chose the Gastronaut’s Menu and my husband chose the Valentine’s Menu with the wine pairings. I will let the pictures do the talking.
Amuse-Bouche and cocktail
Farah the cow was “udderly” delightful! Knowing my love for chocolate, my husband lovingly offered his dessert. It was the BEST dessert I have ever enjoyed.
Dessert after dessert
Afterwards, we were given a tour of the kitchen and honored to meet Chef O’Connell. What a gracious, down to Earth man!
Take note that Chef O’Connell doesn’t just look out for his guests’ experience, but also his staff’s experience. The kitchen staff has a wall of windows that let in light and overlook a courtyard garden while they work. The kitchen itself is beautiful and not merely utilitarian.
After our leisurely meal and kitchen tour, we returned to our beautiful suite to find our room tidied up, a list of nearby activities and attractions, the next day’s weather report, individual boxes of ear plugs and a night cap of sweet port and chocolate chip shortbread cookies with a paw-print goodnight message from Luray, The Inn’s mascot. The Inn’s astonishing attention to detail inspires me to up my game when we host monthly retreats for single moms!
After a great night’s sleep in a bed of downy comfort, I could have left The Inn feeling overwhelmed by all of the attentive pampering I had already received, but breakfast was included with our stay, and so the pampering progressed to an even greater degree. I love the philosophy The Inn has of using local purveyors and farms.
The A La Carte menu is extra, and well worth the additional cost. However, the Continental Breakfast of a juice flight, breads, jams, lemon curd, honey, butter, yogurt/mascarpone blend, sausage or bacon, berries and granola would have been elegantly abundant. We finished our stay with one last walk of beauty around the perennial and vegetable gardens, the sheep pasture, bee hives, and chicken coop.
my husband’s salmon omelette
my eggs bendict
Finally, the fifth pillar, Evaluation: Even with the reduced room rate, this is more than we have ever spent on dinner and a night away. However, we felt that the experience, albeit perhaps a once in a lifetime experience, was worth every penny because of how EVERY single person, EVERY single detail, EVERY single sensory delight fed our souls. I encourage you to stay, eat and bask in the world that Chef O’Connell and his staff have created, even if you have to save up to do it, even if you only do it once in your lifetime. My grandmother’s philosophy of life was governed by her maxim, “beauty feeds my soul”. Chef O’Connell and his staff fully understand my grandmother’s maxim.
photos of the front of The Inn and the summer evening shot of the courtyard garden belong to Gordon Beall 2012