Photos courtesy Brandon Fox
We didn't get lost on the way to the Inn at Little Washington until the very end of our trip to Rappahannock County: We drove right past the hotel and had to circle the block. When we came around the corner, one of the staff waved, and as he opened the car door, he greeted my husband and me by name.
How did he know that? Are they psychic? Or are they just very good guessers? Does the Inn at Little Washington ( 540-675-3800 or theinnatlittlewashington.com ) quickly run your license plate as you drive up? Is that even legal? However they might do it, it's very, very impressive. And it sets the tone for the rest of your visit.
Establishing a Pattern
As I stepped from the inn's porch into its small lobby, the first thing that hit me was an overwhelming sense that I'd just walked into a battle between stripes and fleurs-de-lis. Or maybe a war between toile and plaid. Everywhere I looked, on the walls, on the furniture, often even on the ceiling, there was a pattern. In fact, I think that may be the secret to the Inn's design aesthetic: When in doubt, remember that another pattern might just solve your problems. A little chinoiserie is good too, because who wants one Chinese urn when you could have three? Another tip: Gigantic gilt mirrors can really make a space shiny.
No Place Like Home
More importantly, all of this over-the-top design reminds you that you are in a place like nowhere else. My husband and I were shown all around the hotel and then informed we'd been upgraded to a bi-level suite because it was our anniversary. I privately think it was because our suite was all the way at the top of the building (complete with private captain's walk and rooftop deck), and when they (allegedly) ran our license plates, they noticed we were the youngest guests. Not that we had a problem with that.
Our suite comprised a small living room, a hallway with steps leading up to a loft bedroom and a bathroom with a Buddhist-temple vibe that I would consider moving into. The whole suite was, in fact, bigger than most Manhattan apartments. And most Manhattan apartments don't come with two full ice buckets (we called about ice, and the horrified person on the other end was ready to come up and apologize personally for failing to provide it — then we actually looked inside and found them brimming), nor does anyone give you a glass of champagne and passion-fruit juice to sip upon entry. And it goes without saying that a New York City landlord rarely leaves you a nice, handwritten card thanking you for staying, like owner Patrick O'Connell does.
The Main Event
Then we went to dinner, and I forgot all about everything else. Would I have the chilled Maine lobster in a sherry vinaigrette or the American Ossetra caviar with a crab and cucumber rillette? The pepper-crusted tuna capped with foie gras or the Elysian Fields loin of lamb on parsley risotto?
I ended up choosing Beef Two Ways as my main course. A tender, sweet and smoky short rib came paired with rare filet mignon made perfectly circular by a wrap of Swiss chard. It bore an eerie resemblance to an enormous tuna sushi roll and was just as soft and pink. At the end of our meal, we ordered the Painter's Palette of Seasonal Sorbets, and tiny glasses with even tinier spoons arrived with a cookie paintbrush on a palette-shaped tray, each filled with a sorbet that detonated the essence of fruit all over the inside of your mouth.
M y only regret was — well, actually there were two. I wish I'd known you could book a table right in the kitchen — a sort of mini, streamlined Harrods' food hall full of smiling chefs — so that I could watch how they pull off O'Connell's trademark culinary brilliance all night, every night. My other regret is obvious. I wish I could have found a way to hide under the bed or behind a bronze bust or a large, feathered flower arrangement so that I could have stayed just one night longer.
A few months back, I was standing in a shop in France and nearly had a mental meltdown. I couldn't decide which brilliantly colored Jacquard tablecloth to take home with me, and so, defeated by too many choices, I went home with none. Fortunately, R.H. Ballard Art, Rug & Home ( 540-675-1411 or rhballard.com ) imports tablecloths directly from the French manufacturer, so I was able to choose one at my leisure. The shop is also filled with lovely soaps, rugs, lamps, gourmet food and an entire art gallery on the lower level.