Monday, October 09, 2006

National Lampoon's Five-Star Vacation

Karen and I got a wedding present from my parents that really took the cake, or was the icing on the cake, or… well, you get the picture. We were excited when we were presented with a gift certificate for the Inn at Little Washington, and we're still basking in the after-glow now that we've just spent part of our weekend there.

We both knew of the Inn's reputation as one of the best restaurants in the country, if not the world. But the thought of eating there was always far off and probably downright unobtainable. However, my parents had eaten there before, and they knew how much it would add to our wedding to be able to have dinner there, and so they booked us a reservation not only for dinner, but also to stay the night as guests of the inn. You see, the Inn at Little Washington attracts diners from all over the country, and most of them drive in or stay at local bed and breakfasts. But there are 14 rooms at the Inn and staying there is an extravagance, similar to "royal treatment."

On Sunday, Sept 24th, just a week after our wedding, Karen and I drove into the town of Washington, Virginia, about 2 hours northwest of Richmond. We drove my beat-up 10 year-old Honda Civic that still featured "Just Married" painted on the back window. As we climbed a little hill into the center of town, a few bell-hops turned in unison, noticing our approach and then they darted in various directions. "That must be it," I said to Karen as I turned the blasting Green Day down a couple notches.

We pulled up to the front of the Inn and were basically swept off our feet by a busy handful of valets, a concierge, bell-hops etc. Our bags, car-keys, camera and whatever else we brought with us were quickly forgotten as a young woman named Lindsey had us follow her inside where she gave us an overview of our itinerary and a brief tour of the Inn. She and the other workers only slightly hesitated at the sight of our jeans and t-shirt attire, then we were off on a mission. The first stop was the "Monkey Room," where two champagne flutes waited for us containing a sparkling wine and passion fruit mixture. Yum! A mural of monkeys adorned one wall and other monkey decorations could be seen peeking out from nooks and crannies of the little sitting area. Then, it was a whirlwind - through the posh little intensely decorated and semi-Moroccan styled living room, the dimly lit- dining room filled with white table cloth settings, through a little window-lined and sun-drenched breakfast verandah, out into the enclosed garden/courtyard with koi pond and fountain, back in and up the stairs to the reading lounge, and then down the hall to our room - number 6.

In our rooms, we found our bags and oodles of comfortable amenities. Like the rest of the Inn, the decorations were similarly overdone - excessive, but with style enough to make us surprised by each detail and glad it was there to greet us. There were layers of richly embroidered fabrics, one on top of another, complex but classy wall-paper designs, and a whole array of curtains and unexpected drapings, and the furniture was like a Victorian museum exhibit. Not one more ounce of decoration or design could have been squeezed into this space. This was basically the approach that was taken with the entire Inn - eye-popping wow-factor everywhere.

As we poked around the room to notice the details, we found my dinner outfit already hung up in the closet. This was surprising since only 3-4 minutes had passed since we got out of our car. In all, it was a truly dizzying introduction to the Inn at Little Washington. Before Lindsey left us to relax in our temporary paradise, I tried to break the ice with a joke by asking if the Inn had a pool. She laughed at my half-hearted attempt to point out a shortcoming and said no, but that the city had rezoned the area and they will have the option to accommodate a pool in the next couple years. The real irony of the joke is that Karen and I are suckers for a swimming pool, as low-brow as it may be to admit this when staying at the Inn.

After taking inventory of the various products that our room provided, we decided that we should set out for a walk around the town to fully take in the setting. As it turned out, it takes less than 15 minutes to tour the entire four square blocks that make up downtown Washington. Maybe 20 if you actually have the money to venture into the few boutiques that we passed. On the way out, I asked a bell-hop about the tea-service. This was a treat that my mother had told me not to miss. My concern was that it might spoil dinner if we had it too close to our reservation time of 7:15. He didn't think it would be an issue. However, he's probably used to dealing with the rarefied types who gingerly partake of one or two morsels during the dainty tea time. But, Karen and I were not rarefied, but rather raring to go and gobble gourmet goodies every chance we got. I think we both felt like children who had wondered into Willy Wonka's candy factory, on the verge of falling into the chocolate lake like Augustus Gloop. With this small degree of self-consciousness, my instincts told me that we should be on the safe side. We headed back inside and decided to save our trip to the Inn gift shop until after tea.

Tea was served in the courtyard by the fountain and koi pond. We had several varieties of green, black, white, and herbal teas to choose from. It was perplexing to have to make the choice. Karen got peppermint, because she doesn't do caffeine, and I chose a Chinese white tea, because it's trendy I had seen some silly Snapple TV commercials about it. As soon as our personal tea pots were presented a woman stopped at our table with a tray of "tea treats" that looked like the most beautiful mini pastries we'd ever seen. Again, we had to choose. After a few moments of indecision, she volunteered that it is "quite all right" to have one of each. And so we did and it was amazing. Each piece of mini-desert produced an exclamation from both of us. "How can this cookie, taste so good?" "I dunno what this is, but it's the best I've ever had!"

After we melted into a puddle with each bite, our server returned to find us slumped down in our chairs, our bones all having turned to jelly. Unmercifully, she produced the same replenished tray of treats and offered us more of whichever items were our favorites. I looked at my watch. We had two and a half hours until dinner and so I loaded up with another lemon curd blackberry tart and some kind of vanilla panna cotta jigglie. Did I forget to mention the crème fresh? We had a little jar between us and we both loaded the stuff onto each bite as we went. These sweets were perfect with hot tea and neither of us saw fit to stop alternating between the sweets and a sip of tea until it became nearly impossible to take a complete deep breath. We were totally full and probably a spectacle not only of unrefined youth, but also uncouth gluttony.

Realizing that we had done the impossible, according to the bell-hop, and spoiled our dinner, we basically panicked for a while trying to figure out how to digest our food ASAP. First, we went back out for a walk around the town, this time faster and further, in the hopes of burning off some calories and working up an appetite. After going five blocks in one direction, we arrived at the highway where the view of the Shenendoah mountains was spectacular, but the car exhaust and noise was a bit harsh. So we beat the same path back to the Inn and spent time in the gift shop looking for stuff to give to my parents as a thank you.

The shop featured gobs of overpriced high-class knickknacks that were 100% not our style or my parents' either and mostly of no relevance to the Inn at Little Washington, except that it was expensive. The stuff was of the sort that seems to be created solely for the purpose of separating wealthy people from their money. At first, it didn't look like we would find anything that would compel us to buy or that we could even afford. However, with our room at the Inn came a coupon for $25 off any $75 purchase. So, this gave me a goal of maximizing our purchasing power, by scooping up only the items that were the best value until I had reached the $75 dollar threshold. Game on.

Now, what we really wanted at that moment was some sort of contraption that would make us hungry again - that is, something that didn't include vomiting. But no dice. Our best bet for value, and considering our foodie interests, was the gourmet food corner of the store. The fact that we were both totally stuffed restrained our excitement. This is where we found Karen's loose peppermint tea, a tasting spoon for our kitchen, coffee for my office, and a copy of the Inn's latest cookbook, autographed by the head chef, Patrick O'Connell for my parents. At $75.23, the cashier said that she had never seen anyone manipulate their gift shop coupon offer with such efficiency. Cha-ching! Our total was reduced to $50.23.

Speaking of the new cookbook from the Inn's renowned chef, I should point out that IT IS EVERYWEHRE, and the cover is emblazoned with a picture of a single Maine divers scallop dusted with black truffle, sitting in two pools of white/red sauces, with a translucent disc of potato sticking out from the top, with a green herb leaf encased in the potato chip like artful stained glass. They have stacks of the book in the lobby, in the hallway, the reading room, by the bar, and even in our room on the coffee table. And where ever you saw it, you'd also find a copy of their previous cookbook, also available for sale. At first, I didn't understand all this product placement, but slowly it would become clearer to me, especially during dinner. Now, I actually bought the first book for my parents a while back and made a batch of their decadent butter-pecan ice-cream before handing it over. The recipes require mostly expert-level techniques, queer-eye elegance in their delicate plating, and every one of them is heart-stoppingly rich in flavor and texture. Basically, every page makes you ache to be transported to the doorstep of the Inn to partake in their refined decadence, swimming in the luxuriousness of their cuisine. If you have the means, you will make a reservation and never even attempt the preparations yourself.

Back in the room, we decided to relax from our walk, test out the various soaps and lotions in the bathroom and try and figure out if we were going to be able to eat at 7:15. Before long, I was on the phone to the front desk asking if I could push the reservation back until we had more of an appetite. "Of course, Mr. Guard," said the concierge although I hadn't told him my name. They were happy to accommodate us, and Karen and I breathed an abbreviated sigh of relief, our bellies still somewhat distended from the tea treats.

We got ready for dinner a little early and showed up in the living room for cocktails. En route, a new concierge stopped us and affixed a white flower to my blazer, which he says is their custom for male guests. I asked him if the staff was wondering if we were going to change out of our jeans for dinner. He smiled with a hint of agreement and said that he approved of our new attire, but that "We would have served you happily anyway."

The furniture and decorations in the living room really create a cozy and eye-catching environment. We both took turns sitting in different spots and taking pictures of each other. I asked the servers more than once about the camera etiquette, but they said we could take as many pictures as we liked, although I sensed a degree of snootiness at the notion that we don't already know how to behave or that a guest should even have to ask about rules and protocol. Silly me, just trying to be polite.

At this point, I'd like to jump ahead and give a quick assessment of the customer service at the Inn. I had heard that the staff caters to your every need while remaining virtually invisible. Since these two things are seemingly at odds, I couldn't figure out what this would look like in reality. After spending nearly 24 hours at the Inn, I'm still not sure how they do it. But, the behavior of their staff was endlessly intriguing to me. Ask Karen, and she will likely express her annoyance with my constant character-studies of the Inn's personnel. For me, it was like trying to figure out what makes the Oompa Loompas tick (more Willy Wonka factory analogy). The short answer is money. Karen and I quickly came to the conclusion that each staff member at the inn makes more than the two of put together. Based on my presumption, that's how five-star establishments work. But, I couldn't help but see some mystery in their effort to create a fairy-tale experience for each and every person who enters the building.

Most of the employees walk and talk so carefully it's as if they were approaching a man-eating lion, half-expecting to be eaten alive, and even that fate would be a privilege. Their goal seemed to be to slip in and out of each situation unnoticed, leaving you with only the luxury and beauty of the Inn and all of it's treats to enjoy. Simultaneously, the staff all knew my name and seemed to be cheerfully expecting Karen and me every time we turned a corner.

If we left our room for a few minutes, someone would pop in and tidy up during that short period of time. If we stuffed a bunch of hotel products in our suitcase, there would be more by the sink when we came back to our room. It was almost as if to say, "We have more class than you have bad-manners."

In person, the workers practice a tip-toe and soft-speaking style that created a sense of care and delicacy around the entire Inn. Perhaps this is due to the compact size of the building and grounds. One boisterous encounter and everyone surely would take notice, so "shhhhh" was the unspoken rule and we followed suit. I don't think I've whispered so much in my life. But, always the information gatherer I did engage the staff frequently, nonetheless. Maybe some of my questions were painfully ignorant, but a few employees typically responded with a withering curtsy as they uttered a few painstaking syllables as if it were their last breath and after which they would gratefully expire for my pleasure. Once I'd had a few of these encounters, I half expected one of them to ask me to flog them so that we might both enjoy the hierarchy of our assigned roles. Maybe this makes people feel like royalty, to have servants in fear of the guillotine, walking on eggshells, and making themselves prostrate at your feet. I mean, I tried to appreciate the gesture and I even had fun pushing their buttons from time to time, but many of my interactions were simply unsatisfying because of the staff's staged performance that varied between over-humbling and the somewhat snobbish "presumption of excellence" as one review put it.

Overall, the service was fantastic, and every one of the players was utterly convincing that they whole-heartedly believed that they were preserving some kind of antiquated chivilry or decency. The end result was a sort of fantasy or fairy-tail air for the guest, and this really helped Karen and I feel like we were experiencing a continuation our wedding reception, only without the clamoring guests and this time we actually got to EAT! As my mother put it upon presenting the gift certificate to us, we were being "given a memory" that we would never forget. That is how we both feel in spades.


At 7:45, we were taken from the living room to our table. Karen sat in the booth against a pillowed wall with other diners immediately on each side of her, and I sat in an armed chair opposite her. And so it began, with both of us slightly buzzing from the stiff drinks. One after another, various servers visited out table with information, food, and menus to order from. Our menu said "Happy Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Guard" at the top. Funny, because we'd only been married a week. But another courteous detail that certainly made us feel special.

First, it was the bread. Really delicious poppy-seed roles and slices of salted rye toast. As I picked out a bottle of wine from a 50 page wine list, we were delivered a little tray of seven tiny bites of food, each one different. There was smoked trout, salmon, baby soufflé, and a few others. Within seconds, we had eaten them all and I'd forgotten to take their picture, perhaps feeling a little shy and awestruck by the surprise at the cuteness of their presentation. When the plate was taken away, our order was taken as well. By this time, I noticed that the two older women sitting next to us had been there before us, but still hadn't ordered. They were both the image of aristocratic old money, with faces pulled as tight as leather, one with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and the other with a conservative suit-coat and very severe-looking black and silver streaked hair. Not only hadn't they ordered, but the woman next to Karen (seriously, no more than 18 inches away) was speaking loudly and affected; probably drunk. She was complaining about something and next thing you know, she let out a blood-cuddling whistle that stopped the entire room, everyone craning their necks to see what was the matter. At first she was tickled with herself, but eventually, after receiving stern treatment from the staff she became a little embarrassed, explaining that the woman on the other side of her had dared her to do it.

As our bottle of Spanish wine arrived, we started taking sips, ignoring our obnoxious neighbors, and getting excited for what was to come. The first course arrived: a chilled seafood trio for me and peppered and seared tuna with cucumber sorbet and daikon radish for Karen. We were both bowled over. Every bite was perfection. This food in front of us was so special that we could hardly stop staring at it long enough to eat it. My seafood trio included a ceviche that made us swear to prepare our first ceviche as soon as we got home. The tuna tartare just melted in our mouths. And the lobster maki-roll tasted like the best riff on tuna salad I'd ever tasted, with loads of whipped aioli and a little pool of soy sauce. Mental note, put mayo and tamari together as soon as I get back to my kitchen. For Karen, the "Fire and Ice" tuna dish was all about the cucumber sorbet. The little kinnel on the side of her tuna ribbons was the brightest cucumber taste one could imagine, playing the role of wasabi, only cool instead of spicy. The fish itself was also a delicacy, soft and subtle, the sort that we've gotten accustomed to since the only meat I eat is seafood. So the prize goes to the sorbet.

Once our plates were cleared from before us, we were both presented with a big white plate featuring a little demitasse cup. "White bean soup," we were informed by the staff. This was an exciting surprise that warmed us up quick and white beans are one of Karen's favorite ingredients. Inside the cup was a thin but opaque savory broth that was rich with the warm flavors of garlic, pepper and beany-ness. Lucky for us, they limited the quantity to an ounce or two, because we drained our cups quickly and attempted to mop up the drips with bread.

Next-door to us, the drunken damsels were busy playing cards, drinking wine and ignoring their food. Somehow, they had roped the table opposite them into a card game while talking about their enormous fortunes. The man on the other side of them owned a few chains of upscale restaurants. I guess we can see where he goes when he wants a decent meal.

Our next course arrived and it was like déjà vu. Karen had ordered the Black Truffle Dusted Diver's Scallop on Cauliflower Puree and Red Wine Butter Sauce. Yes, this is a proper title, probably trademarked. The image before us was so ubiquitous, I felt like I was finally seeing Mickey Mouse in person after hundreds of miles of Disney billboards. Despite the contrived experience that we were lured right into, the plate did not disappoint. Every detail mirrored the cookbook cover. We tasted it and agreed, this was the best scallop either of us had ever tasted. The sauce combination was like heaven and the little potato chip sandwich framing an herb leaf was beautiful. We almost tried to take it home instead of eating it. The only shortcoming was the truffle-dust treatment. Neither of us could taste any truffle and we were both really excited to have our first fresh truffle experience. On the other hand, maybe the truffle flavor had cooked off in the preparation. Either way, the stunning presentation was very effective.

My plate was overshadowed by Karen's but also shockingly rich and delicious. I had a Maryland crabcake sandwiched between fried green tomatoes, corn salsa, gaufrette potato chips and pickled okra. The accompaniments were upstaged by the mini fried sandwich, but the whole thing was tied together with a sweet pink drizzling of very fresh tomato vinegrette. I'm temped to say that this is how crabcakes should always be enjoyed - with fried green tomatoes. But it was so heavy that I could hardly even eat my fancy potato chips. When they cleared our plates, we were both relieved to have a moment to recuperate.

By this time, the ladies next to us had begun their second course, but had rejected their crabcake and resumed the card game. The older, more drunk of the two was next to Karen, shivering in her shawl and continually asking, "Have I eaten yet?" Somehow I thought their state of confusion was an invitation. So during this intermission, I decided to strike up some conversation. But, just when I thought we were going to be verbally playing with two pliable people, they zeroed in on us and started picking us apart, asking loads of questions about our vocations, backgrounds, honeymoon plans and generally interviewing and critiquing us like a surprise entree. When they started to demand that we wager on their card game things got uncomfortable. I explained that we were here on a gift certificate and could only ante up with shampoo and conditioner from our bathroom, the woman under the shawl took this as a request for charity. Soon, her purse was out and she was fanning large bills in front of us and seeming to ask how much we needed. We both smiled and laughed and tried to politely decline, although I entertained a few scenarios that involved me putting several of those bills in my pocket. Then she counted out some bills and put them on our table before dealing some cards between Karen and me. As we spoke up about not really wanting to play, others intervened with the drunk lady, attempting to deflect her attention from us, asking her to let them play in our place.

Seemingly prompted by the awkward situation, our main courses were set in front of us and we stopped engaging the ladies next to us all together. I explained to the less-drunk lady to my right that this was a once in a lifetime meal for us and that we didn't mean to be rude by ignoring them. Despite the distraction, we were excited to be staring at these works of art before us (the food, not the old maids playing old maid). The main course selections had been so tantelizing and overwhelming, this was truly the moment we had been waiting for. So, Karen and I started talking about our food we could hear the woman next to Karen clearly becoming upset. She was offended by our inattention and began telling everyone around her how rude we were and complained about "kids these days" although she was using less polite language.

At this time, a server surreptitiously whispered in my ear that we could continue our meal at another table if we preferred. Although I should have asked Karen, who was getting uncomfortable with our company, I told him that we'd be okay. Then the staff began asking our neighbor table if they would consider taking the rest of their meal in their rooms. I think we managed to simply shut these people out of our consciousness, but eventually they did relocate.

So, where were we? The main course, that's right. Deep breath in. Karen ordered the Pan roasted maine lobster with baby bok choi, and grapefruit and citrus butter sauce. I ordered from the vegetarian menu, something called wild mushroom napoleon. This was something that I had seen in the cookbook and I was really taken with the list of exotic mushrooms (like chantrelles, morels, porcinis) that I had never even seen in person before. As the dish sat before me, it was a little smaller than I had expected, but after one bite I was already feeling full and overwhelmed with richness. The whole thing was surrounded by a cappuccino-like cloud of mushroom butter and the mushrooms themselves had obviously soaked up a great deal of butter or olive oil before being laid between sheets of cheese crusted filo dough. In other words, I just couldn't do more than nibble at it because it was so heavy. Part of me wanted to ask the server if I could swap it for something else, but realistically, I couldn't imagine eating anything at this point. Then, I traded with Karen, which is our tradition when we order different entrees anyhow.

Karen's lobster was light and cleansing by comparison. The claw and tail meat were soft and silky, while the citrus in the sauce cut through its butter base. Plus, it had greens and grapefruit supremes, both very refreshing. Karen couldn't eat more than a bite or two of the "napoleon of forest mushrooms," but we both agreed that we'd just had the best lobster of our lives. If it is possible to get drunk on the richness of food, then this is how we felt. Or maybe it was the wine. Or both.

Soon, the servers took our plates and brought us a dessert menu. At this point in the evening we were noticing sweets being delivered to other tables and we were both curious to see the descriptions on the menu. On the side of us that wasn't making a fuss, a gentleman had some kind of ice cream sandwich set in front of him while another server spooned piping hot caramel on top of it. The sight made Karen and I swoon as the sauce cascaded all down the sides of the desert and around the plate. Meanwhile, we kept hearing a sound of a cow mooing and a cowbell clanking among the tables. It was the cheese cart, which was festooned with twenty or so cheeses. But the cart itself was the spectacle, as it was in the shape of a brown and white plastic cow. According to the menu, the cow's name is Faira. Although neither of us wanted cheese, we understood that this was intended to go along with an after dinner drink like port wine.

At any other restaurant, we would not have ordered dessert by this point. We already felt that we had over done it. However, dessert was included and the whole thing was already paid for (thanks mom and dad!) and we could not turn down another chance to marvel at the Inn's cuisine. So, we proceeded with something called Seven Deadly Sins, "A sampling of seven of our most decadent desserts", and a trio of chocolate desserts, black forest mousse bombe, chocolate crème brulee, and bitter chocolate soufflé. So, despite the fact that neither of us wanted any dessert, we ordered ten deserts. And to help put us in the mood, I ordered a snifter of Benedictine and brandy and asked if I would be allowed to carry my drink around with me for the rest of the night. "Of course, Mr. Guard." Karen, however, explained to the sommelier that she didn't know what she wanted, but that she usually goes with gin and tonic when she does drink hard liquor.

In short order, he appeared with a snifter that was nearly so full of B&B that I couldn't put my nose in it and a little taste of something for Karen. "Tell me if this is to your liking, Mrs. Guard." We both smiled at the sweetness of his service and Karen agreed that the drink was perfect. "What is it?" "Grand Marnier." And so we toasted, something like "to our future together forever."

The desserts came and I think we both shook our heads trying to figure out where to start. By this point, we were drunk. The obnoxious woman and her friend had gotten up and left at some point between our main course and dessert, only to land five feet behind me at another table where they continued their card game, only slightly more subdued. Things were quieting down in the dinning room. And so Karen and I delicately picked at our miniature sweets. The chocolate was all too rich, save the crème brulee which ranked up there with the best flavors of the night. Of the seven deadly sins, we were excited to see that the butter pecan ice cream tasted just like I made it using the Inn cookbook. There were some other items that we enjoyed, but not enough to remember what they were.

By this time we had become preoccupied with getting a kitchen tour. We noticed others doing this and our server encouraged us to ask for our picture with Patrick O'Connell. When we gave up on dessert, he lead us to the kitchen door and gave us some mumbo jumbo about when the living room was once serving as the kitchen until they built the addition, etc, and then we followed him into a brightly lit octagonal room that seemed to be gleaming gold and silver from every corner. A large tray of chicken fingers was sitting on top of one of the counters and we didn't see anything from the menu in production or teaming line of sous chefs, nor did we see anything being expedited by a barking chef at the kitchen's helm. That part of the night was over and the crew was preparing to feed themselves some cheap fare. In case you were wondering what the chefs eat when they're done preparing the best food in the world… it's chicken fingers. When we came to our senses, Patrick O'Connell was shaking our hands and putting his arms around the both of us. Our guide had taken our camera and quickly snapped a picture. Behind us we caught a momentary glimpse of a chef meticulously decorating a couple plates of desserts in a little room that we were told was the "dessert kitchen." Go figure. And then we were asked if we had any questions. This part of the night was kinda hazy, and we felt out of place, so we marched back out into the living room to breathe a sigh of relief that our dinner experience was finally over.

Back in our room, we found all of our things put away and the bed remade. We also found a little care package on our nightstand that consisted of a tiny bottle of port wine, two little thimble cups, and two tiny cookies in the shape of dog bones. A note next to this said "With best wishes for sweet dreams. X O X O JoBe," and had a little doggie footprint. One detail of the Inn's origin that I neglected to mention are the two Dalmatians that the innkeepers share and consider to be the mascots of the business. In fact, all of the chefs wear spotted black and white pants in honor of the dogs. I didn't say anything about it before because I didn't think it was worth mentioning, being a simple little cutsey ploy to make the place more endearing. However, considering that the dogs had brought us more booze and sweets and signed our greeting card, I figure they should get their due. Before falling asleep, Karen and I surfed the cable television while sinking into our very luxurious bed.

In the morning, we found ourselves in a great deal of pain. Our insides were still totally overwhelmed by the previous night's meal and both of us had throbbing headaches. We had managed to sleep until nearly 10 am and Karen said she planned to take a shower. "Whoa whoa, hold up," I said. We've got to have breakfast and they stop serving it at 10:30. Neither of us were hungry, but we agreed to get dressed and go downstairs that very instant to take advantage of another perk of our Inn at Little Washington experience. Although we didn't really want more food, we knew that the Inn wouldn't steer us wrong and would intuitively know how to soothe our reeling bodies.

Once down the stairs, we were lead through the dinning room where we vaguely remembered eating just twelve hours before and into a seating area facing the garden that was bathed in sunlight. Whereas the dining room was dim and covered in dark shaded fabrics, this area was all cheery and spring-like. The softness of the pastels and the cushiony walls and drapery was soothing, providing the ideal comforting environment for our impaired conditions. We were seated in a corner where we could lean against the wall for support and flutes of orange juice were placed before us. A few other guests were seated down the wall, but they weren't loud or obnoxious. The collective energy in the room was slightly above whispering and soothing tones. No one seemed in a rush for any reason whatsoever.

Karen and I sipped the OJ. Wow. This had to be the best orange juice I've ever tasted. I imagined that someone was in the back, tasting each orange before deciding if it was sweet enough to squeeze. I almost felt guilty that I was in such poor condition to appreciate the meal that was to come. Looking over the menu, we were both relieved. There was list of items listed as "a la carte breakfast selections" at $25 additional, but neither of us wanted to risk being presented with more richness. However, there were some curious items, like silver dollar cottage cheese pancakes with fresh huckleberry sauce, or a trio of classic American breakfast favorites in miniature, oatmeal souffle with rum soaked currants and warm maple syrup. The thing that tempted me the most was the lobster omlette with rainbow salsa and hash brown potatoes. I mean, how does the Inn at Little Washington do hash browns? Aren't you curious?

The good news is that the house breakfast came with the price of our room and it was just what the doctor ordered. It began with red, white and blue yogurt-granola parfait. Fresh raspberries and blueberries contrasted with the yogurt for the French flag look and the granola was somehow sweeter, chewier, and fresher than any either of us had ever had before. We were both surprised to find ourselves back in connoisseur mode. A basket of various homemade breads came out and when we opened the napkin a wonderful warmth wafted out of the basket. Karen went for the croissant immediately, while I preferred some kind of whole grain toast to soak up whatever alcohol was still in my system. Just then, a cart was brought to our table with five kinds of homemade jam. We picked the strawberry rhubarb, raspberry vanilla, and local apple. We alternated between these three and the various breads until we felt obscenely stuffed again. The raspberry was the biggest hit and then the apple for its subtlety and the fact that it was completely transparent save for a slight golden hue. After several refills of coffee, we went back up to our rooms to freshen up.

While Karen showered, I walked back through the courtyard. My head was still reeling from overindulging the night before and I probably seemed out of place due to my age (most folks there were middle-aged or better) and my careless swagger (which may have actually been from still being tipsy). At this point, I looked at the Japanese koi and thought for a second that even the fish have more refined manners than I do. As I walked through the courtyard, I found myself at the back of the building where a large garden of flowers lined with apple and pear trees extended out to the road. After walking through the garden for a minute, I decided to get Karen and make sure that she got to see this too.

Back in the room, I called the front desk and told them that we would be leaving in 15-20 minutes, once we had walked around the grounds one last time. They said that they would have our bags at the front desk and my car pulled up front for me. So, Karen and I took one last batch of pictures of our room and headed out. We did a lap around the grounds, taking more pictures and that was about it. When we were ready to check out we stopped in the lobby and dropped off our room key with the concierge. Two young fellas darted past us with our bags and clothing on hangers. The man behind the desk looked briefly at a computer screen that was tucked way behind some Victorian molding and said, "You're all set Mr. Guard. Your car is ready out front."

And so it was. We hopped in and rode off.


  1. Hate to break this to you, but it is customary to take the minister with you on your first trip as a married couple. This would have given you several more options on how to deal (sorry for the pun) with the card carrying weenie dogs at the next table. And I would have side-moused to keep the over-gorging at bay. Since you seem to have forgotten this, I will get you to pay in treats at your dining room table at a later date.

  2. What a great account of your vacation! I do agree that the staff are very low-key, they attend to your every need but not intrusive. I almost think they have a hidden camera watching your every move. The rooms are really time hubby and I will just stay at a B&B nearby and save the money for dinner.

  3. maybe post-exams I'll have time to read this but even better -- hopefully one day I'll eat at this place. I grew up 2 blocks away from it in Little Washington!

  4. Anonymous1:31 AM

    hey arielita... i grew up there too... hmmm. Davids cafe always hit the spot for me. Maybe one day I'll try the Inn. :)


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