Monday, April 28, 2014

Washington Social Diary

It was a secret, and will be kept. DC chef Dan O’Brien, CJ, and Patrick O’Connell, chef and owner of The Inn at Little Washington.
by Carol Joynt

The best party photos invite the viewer into the party. It may be an illusion but they almost seem to have sound effects — the laughter, the tinkling of ice, the din of the room, THE music, the punch line to the jokes. Just as with a good party, a good party photo has vibrancy, and spontaneity. For the photographer, the trick is to go as unnoticed as possible, or to get people to forget there’s a camera. Occasionally, though, the photographer must cajole the a shy one into a moment that cracks the shell. Whatever else, avoid posey-posey, because it risks turning out like a mug shot.

Party photos are on my mind because of the theme of this column but also the nearly out of control trend of selfies. Selfies are fun but their very premise excludes the observant photographer. The selfie is a celebration of self, with a total awareness of the camera, literally staring into it at arm’s length.

The famous Oscars selfie wasn’t the first of the genre, but it made these self-portraits as ubiquitous as the golden arches. I respect the cultural significance of the selfie. From time to time I indulge like a 16-year-old on prom night, and also enjoy the selfie playground that is Instagram, but the key with selfies, as with life, is self-control. I mean you, James Franco.

The past week stands out for parties that were different in form and location but lent themselves to the spirit of capturing the moment.
Luke Ives Pontifell welcomes his guests.
The first was last Thursday at the St. Regis Hotel and hosted by Thornwillow Press publisher Luke Ives Pontifell, who gives good parties. A full room but not crowded, a din of conversation but no need to shout, and delicious cocktails. I’ve only been to two of Luke’s parties, both in Washington, and both delightful. He appears to craft his soirées with the same measures used in his profession of creating handmade books, stationery, calling cards and other beautiful paper items.

The party was to promote Thornwillow’s new edition of Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and to thank Adam Gopnik, who wrote the book’s foreword. The photo I loved best happened the moment after Pontifell introduced Gopnik, who said something that was insider funny to both of them, and Pontifell cracked up. It’s attractive when men make other men laugh. I wish I could remember the joke, but I can’t and it doesn’t matter.
Men making other men laugh — Adam Gopnik reads, Luke Ives Pontifell cracks up.
They are listening to Gopnik read from "The Walrus and the Carpenter."
Luke’s got Harvard written all over him, and appropriately because he went to school there, but he’s not a stuffed shirt. He’s jovial and at ease. We talked about an off the wall idea, using his ancient, artisan methods to make a dictionary of modern urban slang (see “selfie”) which allowed me to try to explain the meaning of “throwing shade.” My unprintable definition made him laugh. “Ah, I get it,” he said.

This topic carried on when we sat down to talk with Gopnik and his wife, Martha Parker. They were slightly perplexed but also intrigued by the idea of “shade” and a Thornwillow version of Urban Dictionary.
Adam Gopnik and his wife, Martha Parker.
Martha Parker accepts a gift for her and her husband, Adam Gopnik, from Luke Pontifell.
A signature of a Thornwillow cocktail party — great drinks.
Late evening sun streams into the St. Regis hotel bar.
The new fully handmade Thornwillow Press edition of "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Limited edition, $40.
Who needs a flag lapel pin when Thornwillow offers beautiful engraved flag calling cards?
Friday evening brought a retreat to one of my favorite getaways, the serene town of Little Washington in Rappahannock County, Virginia, though getting there involved anything but serenity — ninety minutes of highway gridlock followed by thirty minutes of blinding thunderstorms. I knew that friends, food, wine and merriment waited at the end of the stressful journey.
After the rain, Main Street in Little Washington, VA.
The main event was a dinner party at the home of “Big Washington” developers Jim and Mai Abdo. They invited one of their favorite DC chefs, Dan O’Brien, owner of DC’s Seasonal Pantry restaurant and market, to prepare the dinner and to also be a guest. Rounding out our group was John Fox Sullivan, into his second career as mayor of Little Washington, and his always elegant and always smart wife, Beverly Sullivan; and, last but not least, Henry Harris, a contractor who is involved in various Abdo projects.
Smokey clouds on the mountains as we arrived at Mai and Jim Abdo's for dinner.
Table for six.
Chef Dan O'Brien, ready to rock and roll.
Henry Harris and Jim Abdo.
Henry Harris, in the kitchen with Dan O'Brien.
Mayor John Sullivan and Dan O'Brien. In the foreground is dessert: doughnut bread pudding. Beverly Sullivan.
Delicious salads to accompany Dan's delicious roasted chicken.
Mai Abdo and Dan as he explains some of the particulars of the dinner menu.
Chocolate sauce — the finishing touch on dessert. The Abdo's dog, Buddy, stayed close to the dinner table.
The Abdo’s also are innkeepers and I stayed at their just-opened White Moose Inn, which is on Main Street and only a short walk from the town’s famous Inn at Little Washington. The two inns are quite compatible — the Inn at Little Washington being the grand dame and the White Moose the hipster boutique B&B. Room rates are always negotiable in this emerging-from-recession era, but The Inn is more expensive, the Moose less expensive. While the Moose has a cook’s kitchen and does offer daily breakfast and occasional chef dinners, it is not a restaurant. The Inn, of course, is built upon one of the best restaurants in the United States. The chef and owner, Patrick O’Connell, is a close friend of more than 30 years.
The warm welcome of the front room at The White Moose Inn.
... and manager Christina Luke.
... and in the bedroom.
The lush view from room 3 of the Moose.
Haute design in the bathroom, which also featured a shower built for two ( or more).
At the Moose, the shower head has a bluetooth-enabled insert (see it?) that means you can play music off your smartphone. (You can't take a call because there's no cell reception in Rappahannock County).
Throughout The White Moose Inn there are classic photographs, black and white and color, by renowned photographers.
Next door to the White Moose main house is the cozy and romantic one-bedroom Ice House.
The breakfast table also becomes a dinner table for the White Moose's occasional guest chef evenings.
Design and comfort at The White Moose ...
After midnight, it's bedtime in room 3.
The White Moose in the morning, after the storm clouds passed.
Where it all began, the Inn at Little Washington, which is a short walk from the White Moose.
In the Inn's garden on a sunny Saturday morning. Do you see the tricycle?
The Inn at Little Washington is as pleasant outdoors as in.
Little Washington is a good town for walking and exploring the food venues, including restaurants and markets. A sign for Tula's, a new restaurant, and the White Moose in the distance.
One more new food stop, Wine Loves Chocolate.
After a delicious roasted chicken dinner at the Abdo’s, (and a never exhausted supply of fine wine) we piled into cars and drove twisty country roads through milk thick fog to bring chef Dan to meet chef Patrick. In the “living room” at The Inn our group of 6 quickly expanded to 12 as Joe and Lizanne Reger, who were staying at The Inn; and another young couple who were staying at the Moose; and then chef O’Connell, joined us.
The scene of our indulgence, a close up of the table and boxes of popcorn with shaved black truffle.
Patrick can’t help himself; he is a naturally generous host. He treated us to nightcaps as well as an assortment of cookies and other sweets plus his signature red and white striped boxes of fresh popcorn adorned with shaved black truffle. I swooned over the popcorn as those who had just finished in the dining room gushed about their dinners, in particular a quintessential Patrick creation – “Hot and Cold Foie Gras.” Dan got a private tour from Patrick of the major motion picture that is The Inn’s kitchen. And then more drinks.

All the photos from the evening are festive and tell a story. My favorite is one shot at the very end of the night, at midnight, of the whole crew of us. It was a rollicking good time. Lots of affection and laughter, and I hope that shows.
Lizanne and Patrick.
Men making men laugh! Whatever it was it had to be a good one.
Unmoved by our antics, but keeping a watchful eye from sideboard and the wall.
Chris Castle, the Inn's "ringmaster," who thought that at close to midnight the day's work was done. Nope.
Lizanne and Joe.
Dan and Henry.
Jim and Mai.
John and Lizanne.
Dan and Patrick.
Left to right in the "living room" of The Inn at Little Washington: Joe and Lizanne Reger, Jim and Mai Abdo, Rob and Ariel, CJ, Beverly Sullivan, Dan O'Brien, Henry Harris, and Mayor John Fox Sullivan.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt