30-con and the Inn at Little Washington - May 2007

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I met Brenda Wang and Larry Clough at Carnegie Mellon in 1975. Brenda and I were roommates in an apartment with two other women the next year. Brenda and Larry got married on May 21, 1977 in Pittsburgh, and Jim and I got married on May 22, 1977 in Massachusetts. While Brenda and I lost touch for a few years, I ran into her at a Disclave in the early '80s. At that point, her first book The Crystal Crown had been published.

Since Disclave was about the time of our anniversaries, we went out to celebrate our anniversaries together in 1997. That was the night of particularly awful rains in the mid-Atlantic area; it was also the night after the infamous "drowned Disclave" that killed off the convention. But we had a very enjoyable dinner at Old Angler's Inn in Potomac. That was my first-ever introduction to fine dining and I decided I really liked it.

Since the late '90s, Jim and I have gotten to a number of really excellent restaurants, including Le Bec Fin in Philly (excellent, our most expensive meal ever, but just too fussy to be really enjoyable), Aquavit in Minneapolis (now, sadly, closed), Locke Ober and The Federalist in Boston and Hyeholde and Eleven both here in Pittsburgh. I'd suggested to Brenda a few years back that we find a place in the DC area to go to for our 30th. Once I heard about The Inn at Little Washington, I thought that was a good place for us to go and Brenda agreed.

We also invited Julie Evans and Lawrence Watt-Evans to come along. Brenda and Julie had been friends at Carnegie Mellon, and while Lawrence was the only one of the group to not attend CMU, he did live in Pittsburgh for a time in the mid-70s. He and Julie were also married in 1977. So they decided to come along.

A few weeks back, Julie asked us if we'd like to play poker on the Friday night before our dinner and stay at their house in Maryland. While we haven't played much poker in a long time (and while I have trouble staying up much after 10pm), we agreed to join the game for the night.

I think the folks were happy for a little new blood...

Poker Friday - Roger MacBride Allen, John Bentancourt and Lawrence Watt-Evans

I knew most of the folks at the game, but, at one point looked down the room and thought I saw John Bentancourt. 'Except it can't be - I haven't seen him in 15 years, and this guy looks younger than John did then.' Turns out it was John Bentancourt. I wound up playing in his game most of the evening, along with Roger MacBride Allen and Lawrence Watt-Evans (and Beth Zipser and Peter Heck, not pictured).

I hadn't played poker in a long time, and the DC folks play a bunch of games I'd never played before. And, while I'd played Chicago many times 30 years ago, I mis-declared so badly at one point that I tried to withdraw my declare, my chair slipped on the hardwood floor and I wound up on the floor with my few remaining chips and a few of Roger's.

Laurie with the Dish of Disgust
Needless to say, I was the big loser of the night, so I wound up with a virtual copy of the "Dish of Despair." Normally, the loser takes it home, but since I don't know if or when I'll be playing poker in DC again...

From Maryland, we drove out to Front Royal in rural Virginia. I'd discovered that a Wine Tasting and Craft Festival was going on that day. It was crowded and warm and the other members of our party did the right thing and did not bother doing a wine tasting (they just attended the craft festival and had some lunch). The wine was generally warm and you had to wait in long lines to sample. The crafts were a little more interesting than the wine, and the food booths were OK.

After the mild disappointment over the festival, we were all pleased by the B&B I'd found - Hopkins Ordinary in Sperryville, just a few miles away from The Inn at Little Washington. Hopkins Ordinary is an ante-bellum building with wrap-around porches on both stories. The rooms were very pleasant, and the food was terrific. The innkeepers had thoughtful little extras, like cold beer in the public refrigerator, and cookies and port for an evening snack.

Finally, we got dressed and went to dinner.

Lawrence, Julie, Larry, Brenda, Jim, Laurie

Most of the prime-time dinner reservations are held for people staying at the Inn at Little Washington. So when I called to make a dinner reservation, I was offered a 5:15 or a 9:15 seating. I grabbed the 5:15 because I'm often quite tired early and really wanted to be awake for dinner.

We arrived right after 5 and were seated right away. The china was so lovely I nearly took a picture of it. But, I was so focused on dinner, I completely failed to take any photos while I was at the inn. We were adjacent to the patio, which was perfect given how mild the weather was that night.

The Inn printed a menu for each table, with the names of the people at the table and why we were there. The menu was fairly small but very interesting - it took a while to figure out what we were going to eat. I finally selected:

First Course: Prawns on Charred Onions with Mango Mint Salsa
Second Course: Roasted Eggplant Raviolis in a Tomato Basil Butter Sauce with Medallions of Maine Lobster
Main Course: Veal Parmesan Reincarnated. Prosciutto Wrapped, Pan Roasted Loin of Veal with Spinach Raviolini and Parmesan Broth
Dessert: A Trio of Chocolate Desserts: Black Forest Mousse Bombe, Chocolate Créme Brûlée and Bitter Chocolate Soufflé

Right after we ordered, our server brought by the first of several little extras. The "amuse-bouche" were tiny little tastes of chef's experiments. There were twelve soup spoons of little goodies. The waitress briefly explained what each one was. I grabbed the one that was something like "Parmesan cream." The chef really understands Parmesan (more on that later) and it was a very tasty bite. I waited before selecting the second (I knew I could avoid the ones with caviar, which I don't like) and chose a rock shrimp on something salty.

The bread was fresh, warm, and replenished way too often. They served small pieces of nut bread and small poppy seed crescent rolls. The crescent rolls were very good, and I probably went through about four of them during the course of the meal.

We each got a small cup of duck consumme. Consumme is often way too salty, but this just right.

The prawns on charred onions were huge and delicious, the onions complemented the prawns perfectly.

The lobster raviolis were very flavorful, but the eggplant was pretty tasteless.

The veal parmesan was tube-shaped rather than being flat. The parmesan cheese was carmelized. The raviolini was a very nice complement. While the portion sizes were appropriate throughout the meal, I would have liked a little more meat in the main course.

Dessert was a tough choice anyway. One of the other choices was a chocolate mint creation, which was very tempting. However, the multiple chocolate desserts were a great touch. The bittersweet soufflé was perfect.

I don't remember what wine Jim ordered, but he found a nice, inexpensive California red. I also had a glass of dry champagne with dessert while most of the rest of the party had coffee. If you don't want dessert, you can select from about 20 after-dinner drinks at no additional charge.

After a little walk in the garden, we rolled back into Lawrence and Julie's van and returned to Sperryville.

So, that's the story of dinner. It was the second-most expensive dinner we'd ever had - only Le Bec Fin back in 2001 was more expensive. However, I would definitely like to go back to the Inn at Little Washington and probably wouldn't go back to Le Bec Fin. Le Bec Fin was too stuffy.

Once we were back at the B&B, we sat in the living room. I'd ordered some chocolate truffles from Tammy's Tastings, Tammy Coxen's chocolate venture. They were very, very good. I also shared a bottle of Westport Vineyards Sparkling Wine. The B&B supplied port and cookies, so we had a very nice post-dinner snack.