Birthday Festivities Part 1

Well folks, I'm officially 24 and boy do I feel old. But despite my paranoia over the fact that 24 is close to 25, which is close to 30, I had a great birthday weekend filled with great food, great friends and great fun. I'll be chronicling my activities over a few entries since I have so much to share. I'll also be updating my blog more frequently now that my HBS adventures are drawing near, so stay tuned!

On Friday night, my mom and I dined at Victoria & Albert's, the most elegant and upscale restaurant on Disney property, which is on the second floor of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (Disney's flagship resort). V&A's, as it's affectionately known, is the only AAA Five Diamond restaurant in central Florida and due to its exclusivity and price tag (the 7-course prix fixe menu demands $125 per person), I never thought I'd get there, but thanks to some Disney magic and a lot of hard work, we were able to make it happen for the night of my birthday.

Here we are at our table enjoying our first glass of Heidsieck Monople "Blue Top" Brut Champagne NV (we had two) before our dining experience began. Actually, this picture doesn't do the restaurant, or the experience, justice. The room was absolutely gorgeous -- there are two dining rooms, one with about 15 tables, and a second, more cozy room with a fireplace that has 5 tables (we were in the second room, which I had requested). The main dining room has a gorgeous domed ceiling painted ethereally with tables both surrounding and underneath the dome. When you arrive, each table is set with splendid china emblazoned with the Victoria & Albert's logo, along with red roses and a candlelit lamp. The lighting is dim (which means when taking a picture with a flash the ambiance doesn't read in the photo) and there is a harpist playing. And although it's a formal restaurant (women must wear dresses and men must wear jackets), it's not stuffy as I worried it might be. Rather, the staff was extremely warm, joking jovially with us throughout the evening and offering every courtesy.

As each guest enters the restaurant, they are greeted by the Maitre d'Hotel who knows who you are and what you are celebrating (one of my co-workers passed along the word that I was accepted at HBS, so in addition to the normal happy birthday I was congratulated for that as well).

Upon being seated, the waiter and assistant waiter greet you promptly, pour that first glass of champagne and present your personalized menus for the evening (those are the small black "books" on the table in the first photo). These are personalized with your name, the date and the reason for your dinner (if it's a special occasion). Once you make your selections from the menu, the 3+ hour adventure begins.

After the champagne we were served a quartet of bite-size appetizers sent over by the chef -- unfortunately these aren't printed on my personalized menu so all I remember was a pineapple square with balsamic drizzle, a chilled melon soup and pickled watermelon, which was actually very tasty (from here on out I have the official, hard-to-understand-what-you-are-eating real names of the dishes and wines we enjoyed).

Our first appetizer was the Jumbo Lump and Dungeness Crab with California Asparagus Salad. The crab was wrapped in radish and served on top of the baby asparagus -- delicious! I also chose to do the wine pairings for the night, so I enjoyed this with a Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre 2006. For our second appetizer, we tried the Poached South Carolina Quail with Black Mission Figs and Fuji Apples, paired with a Dr. Zenzen Valwiger Herrenbery Riesling Auslese, Mossel 2001, which was by far my favorite wine of the night. My mom and I were both a little nervous at ordering quail, but it was surprisingly good, not gamey at all and very tender. And before I begin to sound like a lush here with the wine, each was a 2-3 oz. pour (although I did get a little tipsy when I attempted to maneuver my way to the restroom mid-evening!).

For our first entree, we ordered the Florida Pompano Amandine with Bean Ragout and Marcona Almonds paired with a Rosenthal "The Malibu Estate" Chardonnay, San Luis Obispo 2006. The fish was very light, flaky and buttery and with the crunch of the almonds, absolutely amazing. I could have eaten two of these (see below for the visual magnificence of this dish)!

Before receiving our second entree, the chef sent over a half portion of Pan Roasted Foie Gras with Georgia Peach Tart and Mostarda di Cremona paired with an unknown, very sweet wine. I was in heaven as I tried -- for the first time -- this buttery, melt-in-your-mouth meat (I later found out that not only had I enjoyed duck liver, but that it's also a controversial dish. At the time, however, I was literally in love.)

At this point, my mom and I started to get full, but had to brace ourselves because we still had our second entree, two dessert courses and an after-dinner treat sent over by the chef. This was our one and only complaint about the restaurant -- there was way too much food (perhaps they can do smaller portions on the two entrees or maybe it was just my mom and I's lack of control since we loved the beginning courses so much). Unfortunately, the pleasure of eating started to creep into the displeasure zone as our clothes tightened and our bellies stretched, but we made room to enjoy the rest to at least some degree.

Our second entree was the Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin with Braised Veal Cheeks and Burgundy Poached Sweet Breads paired with a Prior d'Scala Dei, Priorat 2003 (this wine I didn't care for much and only sipped).

For our first dessert course, my mom and I ordered both of the options and shared them. The first was a cheese plate with three kinds of cheeses, baby champagne grapes, a piece of date bread, etc., which we only nibbled on. We gobbled up the White Chocolate Gelato with Fuchsia Petals and Lindt chocolate shavings (they placed an edible flower on top of the gelato, which I ate upon a dare from my mom and actually found to taste much like you'd think a flower would. It was very fragrant and sweet, but a little grassy!). This course was paired with a Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2001, which I could not drink since it was so strong (I expected this of a port wine, but tried it anyhow). We concluded our meal (or so we thought) with the most amazing chocolate trio of desserts (a sampling of each): Tanzanian Chocolate Pyramid, Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle and Peruvian Chocolate Ice Cream and Puff Pastry paired with coffee.

As our food settled (and our heads sobered up), the chef sent over what they call a "kiss goodnight": a trio of very small desserts to send you off with a sweet taste in your mouth. Unfortunately I was so uncomfortably full at this point that I couldn't enjoy them, but my mom praised the small butter cookies and bite-size chocolate candies.

Before we left, we were brought back into the kitchen to meet and compliment Chef Scott Hunnel, the Chef de Cuisine and mastermind behind this extravagant dinner. I had met him twice before on public relations photo shoots, but was happy to finally be able to congratulate him on his culinary wonders. My mom was also excited to tour the kitchens and say she met the chef (this was a special treat since I work for Disney, unfortunately not every guest is allowed this privilege).

After we paid, we were presented with our personalized menus, a small loaf of orange date bread (baked fresh in the Grand Floridian Bakery every morning and said to be a treat so you don't "go to bed hungry" as if that were possible after this meal!) and two long-stemmed red roses all in a beautiful gift bag. It was a lovely evening and despite being stuffed, we were sad to go, yet anxious to return in the future.

We had arrived at 5:45 and left the restaurant at 9:15 -- a 3.5 hour dinner (definitely the longest I've ever had), but well worth the cost and time spent. I would definitely recommend it to anyone celebrating a special occasion. And if you go, don't be afraid to try the more exotic offerings -- you may never have the chance to order quail or foie gras or caviar again!

Tomorrow I'll continue with the second day of my birthday weekend...see you then!

5 Responses to "Birthday Festivities Part 1"

Amanda responded on July 25, 2008 at 4:01 PM #

Sounds delicious, though I think I would be too picky to enjoy it. :( Riesling is my fave kind of wine, too -- twins! Also, you have a very amusing typo in the name of your first appetizer: "Jumbo Lump and Dungeness Crap with California Asparagus Salad." Unless that's what Disney calls it! :)

Gabrielle responded on July 25, 2008 at 4:34 PM #

LOL I assure you that it is not in fact officially called "crap." The error is fixed now :) Thanks for pointing it out!

Taush responded on July 29, 2008 at 10:50 PM #

ooo that menu sounds amazing! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

@ynsley NicoLe responded on July 31, 2008 at 12:09 AM #

So, does this mean that when you become a Disney hot shot after HBS, you will be taking all of your best buddies out to celebrate @ Victoria & Albert's??? :D

Gabrielle responded on July 31, 2008 at 9:00 AM #

I'm thinking rehearsal dinner location, what do you say? :)