The Inn at Little Washington goes all out for 45
Caviar tacos. Presidential pop-ins. Rooms that cost more than a flight to Paris. The Inn at Little Washington is celebrating 45 years of delicious, delightful excess.
Why it matters: Proprietor Patrick O'Connell has become one of the most influential chefs in America. And the Inn, a helicopter-worthy destination for VIPs (hence the property's landing pad), draws scores of Washingtonians who make the pilgrimage to celebrate anything big in "Little Washington."
Flashback: In 1978, O'Connell opened the European countryside-style restaurant in an old Rappahannock County garage that rented for $200 a month.
- Six guest rooms were added, costing $95 and up a night.
Fast forward: Three Michelin stars later, the Inn's 24 decadent abodes — many named for notable overnighters à la Julia Child — start around $1,500 a night, or $4,700+ for the Craig Claiborne House (O'Connell's old home, kitchen included).
We asked O'Connell about his big birthday plans and favorite, most outrageous memories.
VIP service: O'Connell's served everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Paul Newman. The most surprising? Barbra Streisand dropping in for lunch.
- "Did you tell her we're closed for lunch?" O'Connell recalls asking the reservationist. "'I tried to,' she explained, 'but it was President Clinton who called in the reservation.'"
- O'Connell says Streisand gave him the ultimate compliment after the meal, which included Lilliputian rabbit turnovers and pear-shaped sorbet. "Your work is just like mine. You went so much farther than you had to."
Birthday vibes: It's my party and I'll host a ten-course, all-caviar dinner if I want to! The Sept. 19 black-tie affair with roe royalty Petrossian will feature "huge kilos of caviar" from around the globe, says O'Connell. Also: caviar tacos, caviar ice cream cones, and more. (Reservations available by request).
- O'Connell's favorite way to taste the luxury? "A soup spoon is ideal. So often it's used as a kind of garnish, or what I call 'a doodad.' When you put a soup spoon of caviar in your mouth, you have a whole different appreciation."
- Keeping in the egg theme, O'Connell is the first chef to custom-design Fabergé jewelry: a 45th-anniversary pendant encrusted in diamonds and rubies with a tiny white gold inn tucked inside (price tag: $18,000).
Yes, but: That's tuppence compared to the Inn's 40th. First, O'Connell took over a historic French chateau and prepared a lavish Louis XIV-themed dinner with France's three-Michelin-star chefs, all dressed in 17th-century garb (periwigs included).
- Then, he took over Mount Vernon for a lavish Washington-themed dinner with vegetables custom-grown in the general's garden and colonial dancing (George and Martha impersonators included).
- "There's no better way to experience a historical site than to be entertained there, and bring it to life and see it as it was meant to be," says O'Connell.
What they're saying: "One of the joys of coming [to the Inn] as a guest is the theatricality — the heightened sense of reality — that's implicit in the DNA of this place," said Septime Webre, longtime head of the Washington Ballet. O'Connell brought him to the Inn to teach the waitstaff graceful, Nijinsky-like movements.
- O'Connell, a theater geek turned self-taught chef, often summons the stage. Most recently he invited a University of Maryland acting professor who "set up a little psychodrama" with the waitstaff to enhance their posture and elocution.
What's next: O'Connell recently expanded the campus with a playful bistro, Patty O's Cafe & Bakery, serving dishes from the Inn's early days including French onion soup. Now he's building a spa and pool for guests.
The bottom line: At 78, "the Pope of American cuisine" still rules the kitchen and isn't slowing down.
- "I had a writing teacher in college who said, 'If you're not embarrassed by what you wrote last year, you're not making progress.' So I like to continue to embarrass myself by what I've done a year ago and push it forward."
More Washington D.C. stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Washington D.C..