Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Big Dinner in Little Washington

It seems every year that I outdo myself.  I try to plan an amazing culinary experiences for my beautiful Angel and myself.  The first such experience was a poolside dinner at Bartollota, an amazing seafood restaurant at the Wynn in Las Vegas.  That was an amazing dinner, the highlight of which was the whole branzino that had been flown in from Italy within the past day.  I did not think that I could arrange a better experience. A couple of years later, I arranged for a dinner at Picasso, a restaurant in the Bellagio, another casino in Las Vegas.  We had a table right next to the famous dancing fountains, which provided the entertainment as we enjoyed an amazing, multi-course meal.  I did not think that I could arrange for an experience that could top that meal.  But I did.

Clare asked me to make arrangements for our babymoon, a weekend where we could just enjoy ourselves in advance of the birth of our baby boy.  Although little Baby Bolek is not due until April, I have been working on making our little baby a gourmand, by preparing tasty dishes for Clare and by going out for great dinners.  I also wanted to have a truly special weekend.  So, what did I do?  I booked us a weekend at the Inn at Little Washington.  And, of course, I made reservations for a meal at the restaurant.


The initial offering from the Chef was a duo of pork belly and a play on chips and dip.  The pork belly was served with an apple jelly.  The pork belly was cooked perfectly, with a crunchy outside that gave way to tender sweet meat.  The play on chips and dip was a homemade potato chip "stuffed" with a chive sour cream and topped with some caviar.  It was an interesting play on the traditional chips and dip and, as expected, very delicious.

The next offering from the Chef was a White Bean Soup with Virginia ham.  It was served with a shooter and was accompanied by a chive "puff."  (Of course, it was not described to us that way.)  The soup was amazing.  I was particularly taken by the texture of the white bean soup, which was infused with the smokey and sweet taste of the ham. 


My First Course: The Lemon-Line Lobster Largesse: Chilled Maine Lobster with Caramelized Endive and Citrus-Sake Gelée.  Three words in this dish initially caught my attention ... "Chilled Maine Lobster."  Clare and I spent a week last June in Bar Harbor, Maine.  During our vacation, we had the opportunity to take a trip aboard a working lobster boat.  That experience provided me with a new appreciation of the work that goes into catching lobsters.  Six months later, Chef O'Connell provided me with a new appreciation of how one could enjoy that very special ingredient.  The lobster was perfectly cooked, with each bite bursting with sweetness.  This dish brought back memories of every lobster dish that I enjoyed during my stay in Bar Harbor.  As I finished the dish, three other words helped to create new memories ... "citrus-sake gelée." The flavors of the gelée or jelly complemented the lobster perfectly. 

Clare's First Course: Beet Trinity: Three Iterations of the Garden's Beet Harvest with Caromont Farm Chevre, Beet Sorbet and Orange Essence.  As we sat at our table, Clare admitted, "I don't like beets."  This dish, however, completely changed her view of the much-maligned root vegetable.  For me, the most interesting aspect of this dish is the beet sorbet.  The combination of beet and sorbet is, quite frankly, genius.  The pairing of the beet's with the sweetness of a sorbet is probably the best way to win over even the most skeptical of eaters.


My Second Course: A Marriage of Hot and Cold Foie Gras with Sauternes Gelée and Plum Preserves.  I do not ordinarily eat foie gras, because I am conscious of the debate behind the practice of gavage, i.e., force feeding the geese and ducks to increase the size of their livers.  However, as some chefs have pointed out, the conditions under which these geese and ducks are raised are far better than the conditions of cows, pigs and chickens on farms.  (By the way, that is why I do my best to buy meat from sources where the animals are free to roam and are fed properly.)  In any event, I do order foie gras on special occasions. I have to say that this particular "marriage" represents probably the best preparation of foie gras that I have ever experienced.  The cold foie gras was very delicious.  The pairing of the foie gras with the gelée and preserves were very interesting and delicious.   The hot foie gras was also very delicious, even decadent.  I purposely took my time to eat the hot foie gras, so that I could enjoy the dish for as long as possible. 

Clare's Second Course: Aged Gouda Macaroni and Virginia Ham.  You know a dish is going to be very good when the first words out of the diner's mouth are, "I don't want to eat it because it looks so beautiful."  Indeed, Clare took a good look at this dish; and, why not, it is a culinary work of art.  The components -- cheese, macaroni, ham, frisee, chives and every other ingredient -- are perfectly placed and cooked.  I could see my wife's dilemma, although it was short lived.  She enjoyed every bit of this course.


My Third Course: Curry Dusted Veal Sweetbreads with Gala Apples, Virginia Country Ham and Pappardelle Pasta.  This dish shall remain nameless in Clare's presence, because she does not like sweetbreads.  Most people do not eat this ingredient.  However, like foie gras, I order this dish on special occasions.  And, like the marriage of hot and cold foie gras, I have to say that it is the best preparation of veal sweetbreads that I have ever had.  I mean the BEST preparation of sweetbreads.  The dusting of curry spice on the outside of the sweetbreads provided a nice flavor to the dish and made its way into every bite of the dish.  The reason why I say that this is the best preparation of the dish is because it was cooked perfectly.  The outside was seared and crisp, while the inside was juicy and full of flavor.  One last note, the pairing of the apple puree with the sweetbreads was very good.  I would not have thought of apples and sweetbreads going together, but it worked.  The apples provided a sweetness, which completed the spice from the curry and emphasized the sweetness of the sweetbreads.   As they say, it was -- hands down -- one of the best dishes that I have enjoyed in 2012, and, perhaps, since I started this blog.

Clare's Third Course: Tortelli of Spinach with Virginia Oyster Mushrooms and Bambino Eggplant Puree.  Clare continued to choose the artistic dishes.  Every component in this dish was perfectly placed.  The chefs did such a great job, because this dish catches your attention and holds onto it.  Apart from appearance, the tortelli were perfectly shaped and cooked.  The spinach filling, paired with the mushrooms and eggplant created a triumvirate of ingredients that worked perfectly together.


My Final Course: Chateau Latour Blanche, Sauternes, France (2006).  For those who know me, they know I love my desserts in liquid form.  In this case, I chose a very interesting and tasty drink in the form of of a Sauternes. This particular drink had a double personality ... one one hand, there was a bitterness, such as the bitterness from a Granny Smith apple, but, on the other hand, there was a sweetness that comes from the sugar in the grapes.  In the end, this may not have been the best pairing for a dessert, but it is definitely a good sipping digestive.  

Clare's Final Course: Grandmother's Warm Local Gala Apple Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream.  Clare's choice for the dessert provided the kitchen with an opportunity to express their congratulations and best wishes for the reason why we were dining at the Inn at Little Washington ... Baby Bolek.  And, I cannot express how grateful we were for the kitchen's sentiments. We were also very grateful for the opportunity to taste an amazing dessert (this coming from someone who is not very interested in desserts).  The tart was perfectly baked.  Each bite provided a taste of some perfectly baked pastry, along with the most delicious apples that I have tasted in some time.  This dessert was so good that I almost ate the best wishes and congratulations.  (I was hoping that it was fond or something else that was edible.)  I did not do that because, by the time we finished the tart, I was too full to continue eating.

After having enjoyed one of the best meals of our lives, we had the additional honor of a brief tour of the kitchen at the Little Inn of Washington.  As we walked into the kitchen, we were greeted by the chef, Patrick O'Connell.  Chef O'Connell welcomed us into the kitchen and thanked us for dining at the Inn.  We were then given a brief tour of the kitchen, which was designed by Chef O'Connell.  Both Clare and I were particularly impressed with the center island, which includes the American-made Vulcan stoves and refrigerated compartments. 

In the end, I have to admit that the weekend was truly a life-changing event when it comes to my cooking and this blog.  Chef O'Connell's focus on technique led me to reflect upon how I have approached my own cooking.  I realized that I need to pay much more attention to my techniques if I want to become a better cook, let alone a better chef.  I hope that I am able to achieve this goal. Only time will tell ...


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