The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Inn at Little Washington (And other Travels)

Whew! What a week! Sorry I haven't posted since Friday, but there's been a lot going on. Birthday weeks are always like that - and you throw a business trip into the mix, and it makes for a whirlwind.

First, a bit of news - I'm going to Morocco! I'm going to give the details in a separate post, but really couldn't hold off on telling everyone. It was up in the air a few weeks ago, and got cemented the week of the 13th, really. I'm going as part of a USAID-funded trip to consult with the Moroccan government on improving their economy by reducing regulatory burdens on small and medium enterprises (that's a mouthful!).

So, I got shots on Thursday. This, after a quick turnaround trip to St. Louis to give a speech on eminent domain. Really hit some culinary extremes this week - the Inn at Little Washington early on to grabbing some belly-bombs at a White Castle in St. Louis on my way to my hotel. Thank you again to the hotel shuttle driver who graciously agreed to my request (and the request of another shuttle passenger) to stop.

I don't indulge in White Castle's very often - especially since they moved out of DC and now out of Philly - but you want to talk about sense memories?

But really, this post is about my trip to the Inn at Little Washington. My wife arranged this for my birthday, and got us a table in the kitchen. I'd done this once before as the guest of an inn regular, but this occasion was tremendously special - for reasons not the least of which was that Chef Patrick O'Connell was in the kitchen that night.

There's nothing like being in the presence of greatness, and it was somewhat overwhelming. But here is a picture of me with Chef O'Connell at the end of the meal:

What's amazing is how calm the Chef's kitchen is. Mondavi called him, "The Pope of American Cuisine" and this kitchen is his cathedral (complete with gregorian chants). The staff works seamlessly, without the clanging and yelling that you find in a lot of other kitchens.

The meal started with a rosewater hand-washing ceremony, taken straight from Moroccan custom. Upon telling our waiter about my upcoming trip, he went straight over to the Chef, who returned to our table to talk about his travels to Morocco, one of his favorite places.

The meal itself was amazing from start to finish. You start with two small snacks of tempura green beans and some parmesan crisps. The green beans come with this asian dipping sauce - and the first time I tried it, I was taken back to some distant memory. I'd had this sauce before, but couldn't quite place where.

Eventually, I realized that this was really similar to the dipping sauce my friend's mother, used to make. It was Boze Casten's birthday one year that his mother, Judy Casten, had some of us over to make spring rolls - and I had the task of helping her make the dipping sauce.

From that course, we went to an amuse bouche course, with five tiny bits - a tiny barbecued rabbit empanada, for instance, and a tiny ham biscuit. Then our first courses. I had a trio of seafood appetizers - tuna tartare, a ceviche, and a lobster maki, all just a few bites themselves. My wife had the "fire and ice" -sashimi grade tuna, seared and sliced, arranged in a ginger-soy-daikon sauce, with a dollop of cucumber sorbet masquerading as wasabi.

Then there was the white bean soup, served in tiny tea cups, for just a few sips. The intermezzo course was stunning -my wife had the signature scallop dish that can now be found on Chef O'Connell's new cookbook. I had the sauteed squab lettuce wraps - and had the treat of watching one of the chef's debone and chop up the squab in front of us.

Dinner. Sigh. Truly amazing. While my wife had the sea bass in an incredible broth, I had veal done two ways, pictured at left. That's braised veal cheek at the 11 o'clock position on the plate, unctuous and perfectly tender. At the 2 o'clock position is a roasted veal tenderloin, succulent and flavorful. Below the veal cheek are two virginia ham ravioli (one of the reasons I got the dish in the first place). The sauce was based on a veal stock that takes three days to make, and you'll notice that there are a variety of different mushrooms throughout the sauce. Those mushrooms have the dish a woody, almost rustic quality. And take a good look at the carrot cubes - these were sauteed, and marvelously carmelized on one side.

And then dessert. It was a tought choice, complicated by a wonderful surprise...

As we were sitting there, having ordered our dessert choices, all of a sudden our waiter signals to the Chef, and there appears this intricate spun sugar cage. With a flourish and a smile, the Chef lifted it up to reveal a perfect present inside.

The present was a gold-infused fondant ribbon-festooned chocolate ice-cream cake. Below, you can see what was revealed when our waiter cut it in half: there is a checkerboard of vanilla and pistachio ice creams within.

But dessert didn't stop there. I tried uploading the video, but still haven't worked out the kinks. My preferred dessert is pictured at left - it's a white chocolate ice-cream sundae with a warm dark chocolate sauce. It is delivered with a disc of white chocolate covering the top, and the waiter pours the warm chocolate sauce on top of the disc.

As you can see, as the warm dark chocolate reaches the edges of the white chocolate disc, the heat from the sauce melts the white chocolate below, and the two fall delectably on top of the white chocolate ice cream below.

All in all, it was a truly spectacular meal. The breakfast the next morning was incredible as well (at some point I'll have to write about the perfectly-cooked cubes of potato that were served as minimalist home-fries - heck, I'll explain now. Eight cubes of potato, stacked into pyramids of four, with perfectly-crisped exteriors and unbelievably creamy interiors. The secret, according to our server, is that they are cooked in duck fat, and not turned en masse by spatula. Instead, using kitchen tongs, each tiny cube is turned individually, by hand. The result is perfect home fry control.).

My first meal at the Inn last year was, at that point in time, the finest I had ever had. Chef O'Connell outdid that memory, and then some.

Of course, Nizam Ali at Ben's Chili Bowl made Friday's lunch meal a perfect bookend to the week. Sometimes a man can be amazed by a tiny cube of duck fat-cooked potato. Sometimes he can be amazed by a grilled half smoke and an order of chili-cheese fries.

- Andrew Langer


Blogger John and Andi said...

Remind me not to read your blog when I am hungry, again, okay?

I am happy to hear that The Inn lived up to its reputation...maybe I'll get hubby there sometime!

April 27, 2006 10:23 AM


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