The Inn at Little Washington: My First Michelin Star
I chose one of the most awarded and decorated restaurants in the US as my first Starred experience. Go big, or don't go, right?
If experience has taught me anything, it’s that food critics have a different experience at restaurants than ~civilians~ do. The food media industry, like many others, is small. Hunter Lewis’s experience at any of the restaurants he recommended I visit while I was in New York is going to differ from mine, because he is the editor-in-chief of Food and Wine magazine. Bonjwing’s experience at most restaurants is going to differ from mine, because he quite literally invented food-blogging and every chef knows who he is. I am not plugged into this industry. I’m just a woman who loves a good meal, and whose friends follow her Instagram tag (#MaacahEats) for restaurant recommendations and dinner party invitations. I usually roll up solo, wearing whatever outfit carried me through the day. I think that people are often so excited to “get” to go to these places that when they share their experiences, their retellings are rooted in the fantasy and not the reality, which means their reviews can't always be trusted.
I don’t make promises for who I’ll be in the future so, when it comes to restaurant visits, I am not likely to book a reservation 30-days in advance; if I can't book a table within days or hours, or get a seat at the bar the night of, I’m probably not going to go. I don’t have a “dream” restaurant. I arrive at a city, ask the locals for recommendations, and follow my stomach from there. With the Inn, I had to reach my verdict myself because of course I chose the one restaurant that even Bonjwing, my most trusted and prolific foodie friend hadn't visited or written about yet and therefore could not vet for me—because *of course* I did.
Honestly, while the food was good, I don't think it's worth three Michelin stars--and, before you skewer me, keep in mind that I'm not the only one who thinks not. Between the surprise excitement of finding out I'd gotten a grant--more on that later--and the various overstimulating audio-visual elements of the restaurant, I was entirely too distracted to complain that my truffle popcorn was stale and, I genuinely didn't mind because here's the thing: you're not going to The Inn at Little Washington for the food. This is the restaurant that went to the effort of staging real food and wine in front of impeccably dressed mannequins to populate the dining rooms during a pandemic--I think one of them even had a functioning cell phone, and a friend I sent a video to admitted it took her a minute to realize that the room wasn't completely full of 'people,' per se.
You're going to the Inn at Little Washington for the sheer fun of it; for the delight of having a fromagier wheel out a giant life-sized ceramic cow named Faira and make terribly "cheesy" puns as he offers you a selection. You're going for the flawlessly choreographed food delivery. You're going for the cheeky chaos of the place: inside the appropriately baroque bathroom which begs to elevate your typical millennial mirror selfie, audio of Dan Aykroyd's SNL parody of Julia Child plays while, outside, the hallway boasts pictures of all the dignitaries and important people Chef Patrick O'Connell has hosted over the years (including Ms. Child herself.) I wasn't expecting the dining room's playlist to switch from trilling French music to Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani, yet there we were. You're going for the detail of a cheesecake that's been sculpted and hand-painted to look like a pear. Most of all, you're going for the service: everyone I interacted with was a genuine delight--staff and patrons alike. The Inn at Little Washington is for celebration.
Would I go back for the food alone? Not unless the kitchen agreed to make me a pint or gallon of that yuzu sorbet--which would likely not happen, especially if Chef ever caught wind of this review 😂However, I absolutely would take a friend who had never been before, just to watch them experience the delightful absurdity for the first time.
fun story: In true sitcom-life fashion, the universe knew something I didn't. When I booked my reservation two weeks beforehand and the hostess asked if I would be celebrating anything, I said, "Nope, it's just a regular Friday." Except, it was far from it because, right as dinner began, I received an email confirming that I was the recipient of a major commitment from the Ford Foundation to expand the scope of my independent philanthropic grant program, The Garden Grant. Who knew I'd end up having something to celebrate after all. So, it's like I said: this experience was never entirely about the food.