Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Cocktail hour at the Chesapeake Bay home of Ellen Charles, located on a windswept point of land, with frontage on the Bay and a marsh.
by Carol Joynt

The Fourth of July holiday weekend in Washington began with spectacular weather that pulled people out into the sun, the breezes and the leafy lovely nights that made it a vacation even for those who didn’t hop on planes, trains or the highway. By Monday they were driven back inside by a crushing heat wave. Though the stock market had abruptly dropped by 5%, the number of people traveling was way up over last July 4th, when the U.S. was deeper in the trough of recession.

This weekend they came to Washington by the thousands – to view the national fireworks on the Mall – and traveled to everywhere else, too (but the Gulf Coast), with a willful spirit that seemed to say no matter how tight the budget, it is important to sample the good in life.
Georgetowners, and others, watching the national fireworks from the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
Washington's national fireworks viewed from the sea wall of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
The woeful economic reports make it easy to get caught in a rut of discouragement, to stay too long at the pity party. I’m as guilty as the next person. But while I worry, I’m open to enchantment. In the last week enchantment came forward with open arms, reminding me of the sweetness out there and that one can be poor in the bank but rich in the company and generosity of friends.

The week began with a getaway an hour or so to the West and ended with a getaway an hour or so to the East. First we headed to rural Virginia, to The Inn at Little Washington, where a dear friend, Patrick O’Connell, is the owner and chef extraordinaire. He invited us for dinner and an overnight as part of a family celebration. As if that wasn’t luxury enough, he “upgraded” us to the Inn’s spectacular V.I.P. digs – the Claiborne House.
Claiborne House in summer's glowing late afternoon light.
Arriving at Claiborne House.
At the weekend we headed to Maryland, to the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, where another dear friend, Ellen Charles, hosted a July 4th holiday house party that, like the Inn, was intimate and special.

The Inn at Little Washington is a gem of a restaurant and small hotel in the heart of Rappahannock County, VA. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide the backdrop. In an earlier NYSD column I wrote about the town and the Inn at Christmas, but the story doesn’t end there. Summer also offers unique pleasures, particularly hiking in the nearby mountains. A less than half hour drive from The Inn puts you on the Appalachian Trail.
The entry hall with a view toward the living room.
The entrance hall looking from the living room to the study. The front door is on the left.
In the entry hall at the base of the stairs. A housekeeper quietly finishes a last minute bit of work.
Claiborne as a boy.
The study with its elaborately studded ceiling, books and culinary memorabilia. A classic Claiborne book and a Claiborne family photo.
The Claiborne House dining room. Good for breakfast or a private dinner.
Patrick O’Connell is a host and culinary master of such sparkling talent you assume he attended all the world’s great hotel and restaurant schools. He didn’t. Starting as a teenager, he taught himself how to cook. For what served as the graduate course he sampled and observed the world’s great hotels and restaurants during whatever time he could take away from his own business.

He still does. He applies the best of what he learns to The Inn, and over three decades the results have earned him every award in the culinary and hospitality pantheon, and many times over. Delighted customers, loyal and devoted, travel from near and far.
Flowers abound in the many rooms of Claiborne House. Orchids in the master bath.
An arrangement on the living room coffee table.
Some consider an interlude at The Inn to be an opiate of luxury. A portrait reflected in a mirror.
Upon arrival at The Inn, guests are served afternoon tea. Another option is champagne.
The tea service.
During tea time a couple plan a future wedding with special events manager Chris Castle.
A section of The Inn's dining area in the quiet time before dinner service.
Many of the tables have views of the garden, which is a lush sight in summer.
Among the most devoted was the late Craig Claiborne, the critic and writer and former food editor of The New York Times. He was also a friend and mentor, and after he died Patrick converted a former residence into the luxury accommodation that is dedicated to Claiborne. In the study and other public rooms there are photos and memorabilia from Claiborne’s life and work. Claiborne House is often assigned to visiting celebrities, but its available to anyone.

At almost $2000 a night, it’s certainly not one’s every day hotel room. It has a large living room, cook’s kitchen, dining room, handsome back porch and garden and can sleep as many as six people. For that special occasion, that night like no other, the ultimate getaway, a warm soak in the pool of luxury, it’s the ticket. It’s probably no surprise The Inn is a popular wedding destination, with a variety of places of worship only steps away.
The Claiborne House garden.
The back porch.
A side view of the porch.
Summer pots.
A view from the dining room out to the side garden and fountain.
A guest may not use it but just in case, Claiborne House has a sophisticated cook's kitchen.
A kitchen detail.
A kitchen cupboard. The upstairs hall outside the master bedroom.
The master bed with its elaborate ceiling detail.
The master bath, ready to go. The perfect accompaniment to a bubble bath, bubbly champagne.
One of two vanities in the master bath. The shower is to the left.
The second bedroom at Claiborne House, which has its own bath en suite.
Claiborne House is across the street from the Inn. Close enough that guests need take only a short walk through the 18th century kitchen garden to be at the main house for dinner in the dining room or, better still, at one of the two private and charming kitchen tables.

We – my brother, Robert Ross, Sally Hosta, and my son, Spencer – dined at a kitchen table, where Patrick and his staff served us the evening’s “Tasting Menu” – a feast of seven courses plus seven wines and cognac to match.
Dinner time at The Inn.
A cozy corner table in the main dining room.
The kitchen tables at The Inn at Little Washington.
Before dinner cocktails are accompanied by popcorn. The popcorn gets a topping of fresh-shaved summer truffle.
Another cocktail treat: excellent cheese crisps.
The ceremony of arriving in the kitchen for dinner.
The staff stand at attention.
Chef Patrick O'Connell greets Robert Ross, Sally Hosta and Spencer Joynt.
There are two kitchen tables, on either side of the hearth. This one is set romantically for two.
Our party of four at the other.
Patrick and his staff get back to work. Chef Patrick O'Connell puts finishing touches on a dish.
Orders from the busy dining room.
At the beginning of dinner Chris Castle serves beet mousse and other tiny bites to ignite the palate.
Champagne to start; the first of six wines. Our first course - fine Petrossian Malassol caviar served with a secret.
The incredible Maine oyster "slurpees."
The Pecan Crusted Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Italian Mustard Fruit.
With the oyster course, Bodegas O'Ventosela, Ribeiro, Gran Leiriña, Galicia, Spain (2008). With the soft shell crab, the 2007 Jermann Pinot Grigio from Italy.
Potato Wrapped Tuna Wellington with Sauce Bearnaise.
Pan Seared Four Story Hill Farm's Pekin Duck Breast on Sweet Corn Pudding with Local Cherry Sauce.
With the tuna, Domaine de Bel Air, Chinon, La Croix Boisée, France (2005). Vinya Selva de Mar, Empordà, Mas Estela, Catalunya, Spain (2004), served with the duck.
The Limoncello Souffle with Lemon Ice Cream.
This popular dessert is called "Seven Deadly Sins" for obvious reasons.
Amazingly, still upright after a seven course meal with wines to match, and cognac.
Sally Hosta, praising the "Cuvee Speciale Cent Cinquantenaire," from Grand Marnier, which is made with 50-year-old cognacs. After the feast, Godson and Godfather.
Robert Ross with Chef Patrick.
One of the last acts of the evening, Patrick O'Connell autographs copies of his book, Refined American Cuisine.
Breakfast the next morning was equally delicious and beautiful, though I’m not so sure my head was the same. Good coffee, an assortment of fresh juices, crisp bacon and toast can work wonders, however.
A quartet of fresh juices, including pineapple, Granny Smith apple, strawberry, and blood orange. Yogurt, fruits and granola.
Souffle pancakes before the Blueberry Sauce and...
...with the Blueberry Sauce
The drive to and from Little Washington, after getting off the highway and onto some back roads, is a treat of views, especially as the hills begin to roll and grow tall and taller. The drive to the Chesapeake Bay home of Ellen Charles is also a treat of back roads and good views, but the Maryland landscape is flat and flatter. There are a few old tobacco farms, the occasional horse farm and the broad, bright green acreage of sod farms. The closer you get to the shore I swear the air begins to smell magically of brine and Old Bay.

Ellen’s home is on a windswept point of land, with frontage on the Bay and a marsh. Basically, its water, water, everywhere. Just like the Chesapeake Bay itself, the home is made for all seasons. It is bright white with a cherry red roof, a clean and sharp match for the water and natural landscaping. Because the star attraction is the panorama of water, the design generously exploits the views, but is also comfortable for entertaining and accommodating friends, children and grandchildren.
Ellen Charles' Chesapeake Bay hideaway.
A dock on the Bay, literally.
For the July 4th weekend Ellen entertained some of her closest friends, including Beverly and John Fox Sullivan, coincidentally visiting from their home in Little Washington, where John just became Mayor. Also, long-time Capitol Hill and political pro Susy Elfving Smith and her husband Terence Smith, the former New York Times, CBS News and PBS Newshour correspondent, who live down the road; Marion Burros, the food writer and, like Craig Claiborne, the former food editor of The New York Times, my son and myself. It was a food centric group.

We had cocktails and canapés on the lawn, spotting sailboats on the horizon and watermen pulling their crab pots while also keeping an eye on Ellen’s champion toy poodle, Maddox, who had his eyes on the cheese plate. Ellen has passions, like show dogs (mostly poodles) and racehorses (she prefers to own the very fast kind) and finding as much time as possible to spend at her hideout on the Bay.
A tranquil guest bedroom, with views.
A marsh view.
A Bay view with a Martin House designed to match the human house.
A room with views.
Ellen Charles.
Terry Smith tells a story.
Beverly Sullivan with Maddox. A rare photo of Maddox sitting still.
Susy Elfving Smith and Spencer Joynt, catching up.
Delicious canapes
Cheese plate with dog.
Table set for dinner.
Just as at The Inn at Little Washington, dinner Chez Charles was at the kitchen table. Susan Gage prepared a menu that was all about summer: a salad of fresh golden tomatoes, a main course of crab cakes with green beans, and peach pie for dessert, with white wines from France and pinot noir from Oregon. As I said at the beginning: a little bit of enchantment, a reminder of the good in life.
Sitting down to a kitchen dinner with a menu of summer and seafood.
John Fox Sullivan, Marian Burros, and Susy Elfving Smith.
Two sizes of yellow tomatoes with herbs and mozzarella.
Sugar crusted peach pie with ice cream.
After dinner dish.
The source of the laughter undoubtedly was Maddox the dog.
As for the pillows in the laps, well, you had to be there.
Man, and woman's, best friend.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.