Dinner at Victoria & Albert's, July 13, 2007

Victoria & Albert’sOn Friday, July 13, 2007, I dined at Victoria & Albert’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel in Orlando Florida.

Victoria & Albert’s is an elite, intimate and elegant eatery recognized by the nation’s top food critics. This very-special-occasion romantic Victorian retreat offers nightly harpists, lavish décor, personalized menus and a long-stem rose for each lady. An exceptional prix fixe menu paired with world-class wines is prepared daily. Luxury ingredients and sheer artistry make any meal here a memory to cherish.

After nearly an hour’s worth of travel via Disney cartage (trams, buses, and monorails (oh my!)) in sweltering heat and humidity from my resort, I arrived at the stunningly-beautiful Grand Floridian Hotel about 15 minutes before my reservation, so I refreshed myself in the beautiful, cool, and comfortable lobby and let the worries of my journey ease before heading up to the second floor and the discreet entrance of the restaurant.

Upon entering the restaurant, all outside noises ceased and there was a dramatic decrease in the lighting level (don’t be fooled by the picture above or those on the website — it is dimly lit). After waiting for a brief moment in the lobby, I was greeted by one of the hosts. “Good evening, Mr. Vogel,” he said, without consulting the reservation book. Color me impressed, though in analysis, the arrival of a solo male diner at the appointed hour makes it fairly easy to guess my name as the solo male diner who was scheduled to arrive. Still, it is impressive. I was shown immediately to my table near the center of the large comfortable main dining room, close to the floral arrangement in the picture above.

I was greeted by Allen, my server for the evening who inquired if I would be enjoying the wine pairings tonight, and I said I would. He returned moments later with a glass of Heidsieck Monopole “Blue Top” Brut Champagne NV, which was light and delicious. The amuse included a special element — a taste of Chef’s house-smoked Buffalo Tenderloin, Braised Fennel, Radishes, and Blood Orange Vinaigrette, and it was outstanding — very tender with a perfect smoky flavor that wasn’t overpowering.

After discussing the menu with Allen (who was very knowledgable), I decided on the following dishes and pairings.

Prosciutto Wrapped Gulf Shrimp with Melon Coulis and Argula was a forgettable dish, not really rising above the watery flavor of the shrimp. The prosciutto didn’t contribute anything except chewy-ness. The wine and pairing, King Estate Pinot Gris, Oregon, 2005, were good.

Pondichery Peppered Quail with a Four Grain Pancake, Georgia Peaches, and Corn was an unexpected gift from the kitchen, and I thought it quite tasty. A bite containing a bit of each of the components demonstrated balanced flavors and textures. The wine, Dr. Zenzen Valwiger Herrenberg Riesling Auslese, Mosel 2001, was outstanding as was the pairing.

Pan Roasted Foie Gras and Fuji Apple Tart with Mostarda di Cremona ($15 upcharge) — this presentation won the award for “most confusing plate of the evening” — the plate on which the food was presented looked like upturned wings (if you imagine a manta ray in mid-flap, with wings fully extended up, this resembles what the dish looked like — the food was placed on the ray’s back). The plate was set down with one of the upturned “wings” nearest me (the manta ray would be travelling perpendicular to me) and I turned it 90 degrees but quickly realized that the original placement was the best (in fact, only) way to get to the food. I had an “aha!” moment when I realized that the “wing” provided a bib to keep the delicious foie gras from hitting the front of your clothing when it fell off your fork, and I decided that I liked the plate. This was a very nice presentation of foie gras, and I especially enjoyed the larger chunks of Fuji Apples in the tart. It went beautifully with the paired wine, a Royal Tokaji Azsu 5 Puttonyos, Mad Tokaj-Hegyalja 2000.

Seared Wild Turbot with Toasted Capers and Meyer Lemon ($25 upcharge) — I was of two minds about this dish. The wild turbot was very subtle (and, though prepared well, tasted just okay), but the Meyer Lemon buerre blanc was wonderful, and the toasted capers added another layer of flavor. Still, in the final evaluation, I don’t believe it was worth the significant upcharge. Graff Family Vineyards Pinto Blanc, Monterey 2004

Herb Crusted Lamb with Heirloom Tomatoes and Vegetable Ratatouille Ravioli — This was a very nice dish — the lamb cooked a perfect medium-rare, with tiny roasted heirloom tomatoes with a garlic carmel (delicious!) were placed around. The Ratatouille Ravioli was good, and I reflected that we’re seeing a lot more ratatouille in fine dining, no doubt owing to the success of Ratatouille! It went very nicely with the Cesari “Mara” Vino di Ripasso Valpolicella 2004.

Comte Saint Antoine, Fourme D’Ambert, and Pierre-Robert — a nice cheese course, though I am used to (and was therefore expecting) more than 3 cheeses on a cheese plate. However, the Pierre-Robert cheese (a lovely, runny, triple cream) was outstanding — a real highlight. Cockburn’s 10 Year Old Tawny Porto

Caramelized Banana Gateau — the most ‘architectural’ dish of the evening, it was presented as a large tower with banana and cream inside, surrounded and held together by the “gateau” (more of a large touille). The flavors were just okay… The Michele Chiarlo “Nivole” Moscato D’Asti, Piedmont 2005 was very nice.

I sat back for a moment, finished my wines, settled up, and went to the kitchen to greet Chef Scott Hunnel, who was very warm and engaging. As it turns out, he knew of Jean-Robert de Cavel because Chef Hunnel had recently been invited to GOURMET SENSATION, an annual foodie fund-raising event, so we talked about that a little bit. As I was leaving, Allen gave the personalized menu to me, thanked me for joining them this evening, and I was on my way back to my resort via Disney transportation (trams, buses, and monorails (oh my!))…

Once I got back to my resort, I checked my voicemail to learn that two of my students (who were attending the same conference I was) were in the nearby bar, so I joined them for a nightcap. Fortunately, they were tired from their day of travel, so after a quick drink we called it a night.

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