I went to Valentino last night for the first time and especially since there has been some dissent on this board about service etc I wanted to note how very professional I found it to be, in spite of the fact that my table of 4 presented a lot of challenges. One of the diners has more money than taste but fancies himself an epicure. This meant, for example, that after an excruciating consultation with the sommelier we enjoyed a fabulous 1990 Barolo (not knowing much about Italian wines I am afraid I didn't retain the name of the producer) which he prefaced with several signature aperitifs: heineken on ice. Requested spicy marinara sauce and tiramisu and wondered loudly about what kind of an Italian restaurant Valentino could be, wanting such staples on the menu. Expressionless, the waiter said he was sure that the kitchen would be happy to prepare spaghetti marinara if that was what the gentleman wanted (the gentleman's brother added wryly that perhaps they might scare up some alphabet pasta).
I had arrived late and asked the waiter if they could do a tasting menu for one, and if it would be a real imposition. He encouraged me to proceed and I did, and the wait staff handled everything smoothly and promptly throughout the evening, and the only raised eyebrows at our table's behaviour were my own.
I started with a set of three amuses: smoked salmon and ricotta, a cone of deep fried potato puree-- sort of like a tiny arancino but potato-- and a smoked scallop. I was offered Zardetto prosecco but don't care for that so they went to a New Zealand sauvignon blanc which had a roundnesss and higher sugar content than I usually anticipate from NZ svs-- it was really terrific and so nice to enjoy at the right temperature. Then a twitchingly fresh Hawaiian tuna sashimi that looked like ono (same thing?), followed by sweet potato raviolini and squab ragu, then a gorgeous rare duck breast. There was an Icardi (Cortese d'Aurora?), a California pinot noir I'd never heard of (something with a C I think), and that Barolo. The white pairings were more dynamic than the red, but that may be because by the duck the Barolo had opened up and I was swooning to its supple leather and most any California pinot would have seemed flabby and obvious by comparison. There was a two-part dessert course involving sorbet and a meringue that I deferred to the others. Among other things, they had ordered a swordfish, chicken, branzino (the latter was a pretty skimpy demi-filet, and I wouldn't order it there-- much better at Drago and Osterias Latini & Angelini but then for me half the pleasure is looking my prey in the eye). I must say that I was reminded of complaints about the vegetables and find the reliance on the 'medley' an unaccountable aberration.
I was pleasantly surprised by the prices, which I had imagined to be much higher, and by the combination of informality and professionalism (I had imagined it to be more formal and unbending).
I am sorry it has taken me so long to discover Valentino and can't wait to return. Too bad they have only a service bar or (as a frequent solo diner) I'd soon be-- a regular. Or maybe that's a good thing.
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