Image: The Inn at Little Washington via Inside Edition

For your consideration: a restaurant, freshly reopened following a deadly pandemic. Everything is as it was before — polished service and tables full of contented diners. But look more closely at your dining companion. If she looks a little rigid and is unusually quiet, that is because she is a department store mannequin. Tonight’s dinner comes to you courtesy of a kitchen in the Twilight Zone.

With apologies to Rod Serling, the intro above is not fantasy. It’s an actual description of dinner at Virginia’s highly acclaimed three Michelin-star restaurant The Inn at Little Washington in the post-COVID-19 era. After a brief hiatus, Chef Patrick O’Connell is back at the helm, churning out culinary memories that justify the $228-per-person cost for five courses. The dining room, with its spiffy white linen and tapestries is as inviting as ever.

But in keeping with a requirement that the space in the dining room be limited to 50%, half the seats are occupied by life-size dummies. According to Inside Edition, Chef O’Connell himself came up with the idea with an eye toward keeping “things interesting.” But for diners spending the night in one of the rooms upstairs, the expression “things that go bump in the night” may take on a new meaning.

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