The 116-year-old Paris-based Michelin Guide launched its first-ever guide to Washington D.C. last Thursday — and it included the Inn at Little Washington, awarding it two stars.
The rating made it one of just three restaurants in the D.C. area to earn Michelin’s two-star distinction, which is also the highest rating of any restaurant in the D.C. guide. Eight D.C. restaurants earned the guide’s one-star rating, which Michelin describes as “a very good restaurant in its category.”
Only 23 restaurants in America have two Michelin stars; only 13 restaurants have Michelin’s coveted three-star rating.
“This is a lifelong dream come true,” said chef/proprietor Patrick O’Connell. “When the Inn at Little Washington opened in 1978, we had no role models in America comparable to a Michelin-starred restaurant in the countryside. Every year we made gastronomic pilgrimages to the starred restaurants of Europe for inspiration and measured the gap between what they were doing and what we were doing here until one day our well-traveled guests told us there was no longer a gap. Michelin’s acknowledgement is a wonderful affirmation for our team, as well as for the city of Washington D.C., and America.”
O’Connell told The Washington Post that he was about to step into the shower when he got the surprise phone call from Michelin — a surprise to him, and to many others, since Michelin had earlier announced that it would focus only on restaurants in the District in this first year of the D.C. guide.
Michelin Guides’ international director Michael Ellis reportedly spent a fair portion of his day last Friday explaining Michelin’s decision to make an exception for the 38-year-old Inn. “The impact that Patrick O’Connell has had on a whole generation of chefs” factored into inspectors’ decisions, Ellis told The Washington Post. “It’s an iconic restaurant.”
The Inn at Little Washington has been for decades, and remains, Rappahannock County’s largest private employer and its most-visited tourist destination. O’Connell formally announced the Michelin award to the Inn’s 100-plus employees in a celebratory meeting at the Little Washington Theatre last Friday afternoon, and celebrated with staff and families at a private, casual-dress party this Tuesday night at Tula’s Restaurant just up the street (see the box below).
Among its many accolades The Inn has received five James Beard Awards including Best Restaurant in America and Best Chef in the U.S. It is the longest-tenured Forbes 5 Star restaurant in America.
As defined by Michelin, a two-star award indicates “excellent cooking, worth a detour.” Since announcing Washington, D.C.’s inclusion in its guide in May, Michelin deployed anonymous inspectors throughout the city’s restaurants to objectively assess the quality by applying five criteria, as defined by Michelin: product quality, preparation and flavors, the chef’s personality as revealed through his or her cuisine, value for money, and consistency over time and across the entire menu. These fields of criteria are the same ones used to assess every restaurant in the international guides, which includes culinary destinations like New York, Paris, London and Tokyo.
A starry night
There’s been much cause for celebration this week after word reached Rappahannock County that the Inn at Little Washington earned a prestigious two Michelin stars.
And to show his heartfelt appreciation to his highly skilled team, chef/proprietor Patrick O’Connell threw quite the bash Tuesday night — albeit around the corner at Tula’s Restaurant and Bar, where O’Connell not only invited the inn’s sizable staff but their spouses and guests to share in the honor.
From what we could see through Tula’s windows, there were silver trays of food and assorted refreshments, a substantial celebratory cake, a toast to O’Connell’s 40-year culinary “odyssey” — even a DJ set up his music machine and had the happy crowd singing and dancing into the unseasonably warm night.
According to one partygoer, the esteemed chef took the time to greet virtually everybody who filled Tula’s dining room, bar and patio, thanking them for their hard work that resulted in the awarding of the two stars.