Since we had our wedding reception at Victoria & Albert’s Restaurant, we return here every year for our anniversary. We prefer to eat at the Chef’s Table, even if we can’t get it on quite the right date, which happened to be the case this year.
Even though the Chef’s Table is in the kitchen, the dress code is still formal, with jacket required for men and a similar level of formality for women. Once seated at the Chef’s Table, though, men can remove their jackets, which is a big no-no in the main room. The primary advantage of the Chef’s Table is twofold: 1. You get to sample EVERYTHING and 2. You get to interact with the chefs and watch them at work.
On this particular evening, Chef Scott was off, so Sous Chef Aimee was our chef for the evening. My husband selected to go with the wine pairings, but we all started off with a champagne toast: Hiedsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut Champagne, NV.
Our amuse bouche course was incredible, so we began the meal with exuberance. The Cream of Cashew soup was sweet and incredibly creamy, and the candied cashews added an interesting crunchy texture that contrasted nicely with the thick creaminess of the soup. There were small pieces of squash in the soup that my husband could have done without; he felt that they didn’t add anything to either the flavor or the texture.
The next amuse was Lobster en Crepe with Vanilla Aioli. In contrast to the soup, this was very light and delicate. We wished that it had a bit more flavor; the strongest taste came from the vanilla. I wished that there had been more caviar, because there is usually a caviar-based amuse bouche.
Our final amuse was Monterey Abalone with Preserved Lemon. Neither of us had ever had abalone before, so this was a new taste for us. In my husband’s words, it tasted like “an awesome fried clam.” It was clean and tender, with a bright taste, and was fried delicately, so that it wasn’t greasy at all. This dish and the cashew soup both had that “wow” factor.
My husband’s first course was Seared Colorado Buffalo Tenderloin, Braised Fennel, Radishes and Blood Orange Vinaigrette. He could only taste the outside of the tenderloin: the sear and the seasoning. The inside wasn’t as flavorful, so it got lost in the stronger flavor of the crust, which tasted almost like beef jerky. The blood oranges had an exotic taste, like oranges with an interesting twist. The wine paired with this was the Cantina Del Taburno Falanghina, Campania 2005.
My first course was upsetting to me, mainly because it included *gasp!* prosciutto. As I’d specifically told them that I didn’t eat meat, and as Chef Aimee had confirmed this with me prior to the start of the meal, I was surprised that they’d made this glaring omission to their usually dietary vigilance. I peeled the prosciutto off and gave it to my husband, and then proceeded to eat the (no longer) Prosciutto Wrapped Gulf Shrimp with Melon Coulis and Pickled Watermelon.
This dish was very good, nice and light; the melon coulis gave a faintly sweet, fresh taste to the shrimp. Except for the pig, I enjoyed it very much.
Our next dishes were similar, yet different: two variations on one theme. My husband had the Crab Stuffed Tempura Squash Bloom with Grape Must Mustard. The tempura batter was light, not greasy, and the crab was sweet, which provided a nice foil for the fried batter. This dish was great. The mustard was creamy, not too pungent or strong, and it was light enough to pair with the crab without overpowering it. Every ingredient was beautifully matched. It was the kind of dish that, if we tried to make it at home, the mustard would be too strong, or the crab would be too tasteless, or the batter would be too greasy, but somehow the chefs at Victoria & Albert’s harmonized these ingredients beautifully. He ate it all, even the stem! His wine with this was one of our favorites, Caymus Conundrum, California, 2001.
My dish was a Vegetable Ratatouille Stuffed Tempura Squash Bloom with Tomato Broth. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this dish. I’d had the crab stuffed squash blossom before and had been a big fan, so I was at first disappointed to get a different version. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of tomato broth, but, again, every ingredient worked so well together. The faintly tart tomato cut through the light, fluffy, crispy tempura batter, while the bits of vegetable added an interest to the texture. My husband offered to half his squash blossom with me, but after tasting mine, I said that I’d prefer to stick with my own dish, though I did taste his.
My husband’s next course was a Pondichery Peppered Quail with a Four Grain Pancake, Georgia Peaches and Corn. He said that this was so nice. The best part was the cracked pepper on top of the quail egg; it tasted like no other cracked pepper he’d ever had, and it worked well with the quail. The theme was pancakes and eggs, and the pancake was okay. It was a nice background but didn’t really add anything to the dish. The quail was juicy, tender, and extremely flavorful. The egg was too small; he wanted more of it. It was cooked sunny side up just perfectly: a little past soft, so that it didn’t run everywhere, but still had a nice liquidity to it. The wine paired with this was a Grans-Fassian Auslese Trittenheimer Apotheke, Pfalz 2002, and it was off-dry. He liked this wine very much.
My next dish was a Vegetarian Consommee with Potato Gnocchi and Morels Mushrooms. I thought that this was the weakest of all of my dishes. The vegetable broth was very light, and, though it had some flavor, it was still lacking oomph. I was underwhelmed. The potato gnocchi was very light and fluffy, but, again, wasn’t as interesting as it could have been.
My husband’s next dish was a Ballotine of Poulet Rouge with Duck Consomme and Morels. This was his weakest dish. The duck and the consomme were both rich and flavorful, but the chicken didn’t go very well with the mushrooms. The chicken was too mild tasting, and didn’t pair well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. He thought it was a weak match. Boiled chicken by itself has a wimpy taste anyway, so there probably wasn’t much they could have done to make this dish interesting or exotic. The wine with this was a Newton Red Label Chardonnay, Napa 2005.
I had the Seared Wild Turbot with Brown Butter Sauce and Toasted Capers. Chef Aimee said that Turbot was her favorite fish, and I agreed that it tasted wonderful. The fish was deliciously flavorful, and the rich, creamy brown butter sauce contrasted beautifully with the tartness of the capers. Despite the rich sauce, this dish was not too heavy at all.
My husband then had the Duo of Pan Roasted and Chilled Terrine of Foie Gras. The foie gras had a great taste, but it was a bit greasy and weighed heavier than it normally would have, given how full he was. It was slightly over-salted, as well. In comparison with the foie gras he’d recently had at Per Se, this was a disappointment. It still had a great taste, but he’s had better foie gras there. This was paired with Royal Tokaji Azsu 5 Puttonyos, Mad Tokaj-Hegyalja 2000, which we’ve had before. We always enjoy this dessert wine.
The terrine was rich, and it tasted very much like a richer, gamier version of a chicken liver pate. It was heavier than the seared foie gras, and he wished that they’d just served him the foie gras, not the duo.
My next course was Virginia Beach Striped Bass with Oyster Sauce and Asian Vegetables. The bass was good, and the oyster sauce added a nice flavor to the mild taste of the fish. The sauce was enjoyable, but not outstanding; it tasted like standard oyster sauce.
My husband’s main course was a Tasting of Japanese “Wagyu” and Australian “Kobe” Beef Tenderloin with Oxtail Jus. This was paired with a Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc 2003.
The Australian “kobe” was tender like butter. He didn’t really need to use the knife with this. The flavor, also, was mild. He’s had this several times before, at just about every meal. The jus had an anise, licorice flavor to it and was very rich.
The Japanese Wagyu, in comparison, was like night and day. It had so much more beef flavor. It was extremely well seasoned and had more marbling, which is probably why it had so much more flavor. He definitely preferred the wagyu to the “kobe.”
The shortribs that accompanied this dish were the one of the richest things he’s ever eaten. They were nicely shredded, not fatty, but a bit greasy. They felt heavy in his mouth, and he could barely finish this dish, not because of the way it tasted, but because of where it was placed in the meal. The shortribs tasted great, though he has to give the preference to the pork shortribs that Chef Aimee does also.
My next dish was an Alaskan King Salmon with Bamboo Rice Blend,Coconut Broth. The salmon was great. It had a lot of flavor, and there were crispy, very salted pieces of salmon that tasted almost like bacon. I enjoyed it very much, especially since I’m a big salmon fan but don’t often get salmon of this quality.
The bamboo rice was flavorful. Again, it was very salty, but it tasted more like something that I could get in a good Chinese restaurant, instead of something truly special and unique.
We then each had a cheese course next: a Comte Saint Antoine, Pierre Robert, Monte Enebro and Fourme D’Ambert. Unfortunately, we don’t remember much about these! The Comte Saint Antoine was rather mild, as the first cheese, and the Pierre Robert had more flavor than the triple creme cheeses usually do. The Monte Enebro was a goat’s cheese that was very good, and the Fourme D’Ambert was quite mild for a blue cheese. My husband’s final wine was a Cockburn’s 10 year old Tawny Porto. I prefer a 20 year tawny port, since the flavor is just much richer, but this one was quite good also.
We then had a course of fruity desserts: Wild Strawberry Sorbet, Mango-Yogurt Panna Cotta and Miniature Banana Gateau. The sorbet was a nice palate cleanser, and we preferred this course of fruit-based desserts followed by a chocolate dessert to the meals from years past when we had a chocolate course followed by another heavy or rich dessert. The Mango-Yogurt Panna Cotta was also light and refreshing, and the banana gateau was very sweet and creamy, but still fairly light.
Our final course was the chocolate course: Tanzanian Chocolate Pyramid, Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle and Peruvian Chocolate Ice Cream and Puff Pastry. Of these three items, we’d had two before: the souffle and the pyramid. The ice cream and puff pastry was new to us on this trip, and I didn’t like the way it looked. It reminded me of a small, spiky animal. It wasn’t enough to keep me from tasting it, but I just didn’t find the presentation to be very appealing.
Of the three chocolate dishes, my least favorite was the Peruvian Chocolate Ice Cream. My husband agreed that it was nothing special, but he thought that it was the best of the three! He said this was probably because it was cold and at that point, he was so full that he wanted something a bit more refreshing. The chocolate pyramid was a deliciously rich mousse, though the Kona chocolate souffle was too heavy for me to eat at this point in the meal! Each time we eat at the Chef’s Table, we come with empty stomachs and try to do justice to all of the courses, but we never quite make it. Still, I’d prefer having too much fantastic food at Victoria & Albert’s than a few good courses and stingy portions at Per Se.
And, as always, we finished with a delicious cup of coffee, brewed in the Cona coffee maker:
Overall, this was an immensely enjoyable experience. We always appreciate the care and attention to detail that go into our meals at Victoria & Albert’s. The service was very smooth, and the only glitch was the prosciutto that found its way into my shrimp dish. This was disappointing, but not enough to prevent us from returning, and neither are the rapidly rising dinner prices 🙂