Last Saturday night we celebrated my birthday a bit early (and Valentine's Day a bit late) by checking a big, big item off our Disney bucket list. We had dinner at the Grand Floridian's Victoria & Albert's.
For a family that rarely makes a reservation more than 2 hours before the meal, setting this up 6 months out was pretty amazing. Set on the 2nd floor of Disney's Grand Floridian, just beside Citricos, it's almost impossible to remember that you're at Walt Disney World while you're inside its doors. Not a meal for the rushed or faint of heart, dinner here is an experience in and of itself, crafted to build in intensity as it progresses – and brought to you slowly, by waitstaff that has somehow managed to master its craft without an ounce of pretension or arrogance. Which is saying something for an establishment that has won AAA's Five Diamond Award every year since 2000, along with the Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Award and countless other accolades.
When you walk into V&A, you are immediately cut off from the world behind you. Whether you are in the main dining room, the more private Queen Victoria room, or at the Chef's Table in the kitchen, it is virtually impossible to remember the world that you left behind when you walked in the door.
Perhaps the only reminder that you're in Walt Disney World is the impeccable service and the fact that the harpist's music occasionally dips into Disney movie songs like Tangled's I See the Light or Pocahontas's Colors of the Wind.
Every person on staff, from the Maître d' to the hostess to the waiters and waitresses know your name without seeming effort. When I left the table to use the ladies' room I was greeted back by name as I returned to my table by everyone on staff that I passed.
Even the menus are personalized.
The 10-Course Chef's Dégustation Menu at Victoria & Albert's is fixed, at a set price of $235 per guest, with an optional wine pairing available at $150. Our take on the meal was that we were going to do this once and experience it completely, so we opted for the wine pairing and shared every add on that was offered on the menu.
I cannot recommend the wine pairing enough. While it is an enormous amount of alcohol (seriously – plan to Uber) I cannot imagine experiencing the meal without the wine to accompany it. Each wine pairing complimented its course so perfectly and the boldness of the drinks built to a crescendo right alongside the dishes.
And really – you're already splurging. Might as well do it right.
And now. The food.
Amuse-Bouche – Imperial Caviar with Ocean Kiss Oysters, pairing: Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV
Rich fried oysters in a bed of cream sauce and caviar under a thin filo-style crisp decked out in flowers. Smooth and stunning beside the Brut champagne.
Galilee Osetra Caviar with Traditional Garnishes
Fresh olive, egg, crème fraîche, soft biscuits, and some of the best caviar in the world. Heaven.
Maine Lobster, Celery Root and Petite Lettuces, pairing: Domaine Costal Vaillons 1er Cru – 2016
This is art. Stunningly delicious art.
Glacier 51 Tooth Fish, Haricot Tarbais and Savoy Cabbage Broth, pairing: Matthiason White Blend, Napa 2015
This was buttery perfection. And served with our first warm dinner roll and butter to make sure that none of that broth went to waste.
Wild Turbot with Toasted Capers and Preserved Lemon
There are very few things that I love more than capers and lemon. This was light and flaky and so rich in its sauce. I put the rest of the dinner roll to good use to make sure that nothing went to waste.
Chef's Compliments – Chestnut Gnocchi and Soft Quail Egg
There are a handful of things that I've been dreaming about since this meal. Some of them are so simple. Like chestnut gnocchi. As many extraordinary things as we ate at V&A, the chestnut gnocchi has stuck with me as one of the most special. I would love to try to recreate it at home.
Honey Lacquered Rohan Duck, Sweet Potato Mosaic and Walnuts, pairing: Pulenta Estate, Gran Malbec X, Mendoza 2014
My G-d. This duck. And this walnut cream. And this trio of sweet potatoes crafted into a mosaic. Unreal.
The wine has gone red at this point and is building along with the food.
New Zealand Elk Tenderloin, Borscht Consommé and Huckleberries, pairing: Jarvis Cabernet Franc, Napa 2016
According to the waitstaff, our chef spent all summer gathering as many of these huckleberries as he could and then pickling them for the express purpose of serving them with this particular cut of elk. I choose to embrace this story.
Austalian Kobe-Style Beef with Bone Marrow Pain Perdu and Hedgehogs, adding Miyazaki Japanese Beef, and Tagliatelle Pasta with Winter Black Truffles, pairing: Jayson Pahlmeyer Bordeaux Blend, Napa 2016
I'm not going to get into a full steak lesson here, but by adding the Miyazaki to this course we were presented with a “showdown” between the Austrailian Kobe-style beef and the Japanese Miyazaki. Miyazaki beef is a type of wagyu (wa=Japanese, gyu=cow) from the Miyazaki prefecture of Japan that has actually been rated higher than Kobe. Here it was up against a Kobe-style cut from Australia and, while both were out of this world amazing, in my humble opinion (ha) the Miyazaki blew the Kobe-style out of the water. The Kobe-style was more of a traditional excellent steak – while the Miyazyaki was a marbled phenomenon that actually melted in your mouth. Absolute first round KO against the Kobe.
The tagliatelle and truffles redefined pasta. Nothing more to say.
It all starts becoming a bit blurry here and I don't have the menu for reference since this was compliments of the chef. I know goat cheese was involved. And perhaps an apricot panna cotta? I don't even know. I vaguely recall that it was really, really good. So…moving on…
Colston Bassett Stilton Cheesecake with Burgundy Pears, pairing: Famille Perrin Muscat Beaumes de Venise, Rhône 2015
Holy mother of life changing desserts. This was a BLUE. CHEESE. CHEESECAKE. How is this not everywhere?? It's genius!! And those little puffs of what look like cream? They are actually orange blossom honey whipped to a whipped cream texture.
Insanity. I cannot stop thinking about it.
And the Muscat was like an ice wine without the heavier syrupy finish (which I admittedly like…but I was getting a little lightheaded already…). A perfect pairing.
Chocolate Bolivian Tart with Crème de Mint and Chambord Black Currant Sauce
Thank G-d. Finally something sweet to finish off the night.
I'm not even a chocolate lover but this was divine.
And last but not least…
Clearly sensing that we were still starving, the cast was then kind enough to come to the table baring an assortment of truffles – from mimosa to cherry cognac to bananas foster to rum caramel to marzipan to orange rind. You are offered as many as you'd like to enjoy at the table or take home.
Being pretty sure that we would never eat again after leaving, we chose a few to taste at the table before sleepwalking out of the restaurant and directly into bed to sleep for 42 hours. (Or until our kids woke us up in the morning, whichever was first.)
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I am so incredibly grateful that we were able to enjoy this experience. Will we ever go back? I don't know. It was a borderline religious experience the likes of which I have never experienced (and I've been to a LOT of very, very excellent restaurants) and I will never forget it – but I'm a simple girl who's very happy with a slice a good pizza and well aware of the other things that could be accomplished for the price of a meal at Victoria & Albert's. An absolute bucket list item for us and an experience I'll never ever forget, though. With all of my heart I think that everyone should experience it at least once if it's at all possible.