We used to go out on Valentine's Day. We used to suffer the crowds and the exorbitant prices and the food that was cooked two or more days earlier and reheated. We put up with the curt we're-getting-tipped-anyway-ha-ha-ha service and the sullen reservations where they put a hold on $200 on your credit card. We had a memorable meal at the Inn of the Seventh Ray where it was 48 degrees but we were seated outside and the next table had taken two heat lamps for themselves; we had the two-hour wait WITH reservations at Ca' del Sole.
No more. A few years ago we declared that Valentine's Day was a Jewish holiday and as such began at sundown the previous day. Valentine's is now from about 17:45 on February 13th to 17:45 on February 14th. This allows us to have a nice, quiet, relaxing meal without the ridiculous prix-fixe you-eat-what-we-give-you nonsense.
And so I called a week ago for a reservation at Napa Rose and got an 8:00 timeslot, no problem. We expected it would take a while because the park was closing at that time, so we left a bit early and ended up at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel.
You pull up to the gate of the Grand Californian and give your name and business to the gate guard. "You are going to have a terrific meal," he said, "you just wait!" He radioed up to the hotel and as we pulled up to the canopy, two valets came running over to let us out of the car and take charge.
You walk into the hotel through some astonishingly beautiful painted-glass automatic doors -- you have to wonder how many people stop, as we did, to watch the doors open and close -- and through the lobby. Step outside into the hotel's cloister and on the opposite end of the courtyard is the restaurant.
We were relieved of our coats and the hostess led us to our table, despite our being early. She did ask what kind of water we wanted, to which we responded that tap would be fine while we made up our minds.
They offer a four-course tasting menu ($80) with wine pairing ($45 extra), but as we wanted to taste from each other's plates and not everything appealed to both of us, we opted to order a la carte.
I started with grilled rabbit bratwurst with fennel, fingerling potatoes and squash ($15). It was very good, though I wish the sausage had tasted more "grilled". Mrs Ubergeek had Kona Kampachi with ahi tuna tartare and avocado mousseline and grapefruit ($17). I have to say, that was the sweetest grapefruit I've ever eaten, but it was still some acidic. The avocado mousseline, which tasted mostly of avocado (surprise!) was definitely necessary to cut the acidity. The fish was very good, nicely sliced and not too thin. There was a surprisingly good salad of cilantro in a salty dressing that just worked for me. It was off to the side -- so if you're one of the "cilantro tastes like soap" people, you can safely ignore it.
I had ordered a glass of Canard-Duchene champagne ($17.50) while we looked over the menu and just continued sipping it with the first course -- wine-by-the-glass is my domain since Mrs Ubergeek does not drink wine or beer.
We skipped the salads and had our mains next. Mrs Ubergeek had a New York steak over spinach and potatoes ($39); I had a maple-glazed pork "porterhouse" with red cabbage, sweet potatoes and pear puree ($34). The steak was well-cooked but was not that exciting. It wasn't bad -- don't get me wrong -- but a $39 steak might as well come from Mastro's where they do it better. The spinach, though, was excellent -- I swore there was cream in it, but there wasn't. My pork, done medium at my request, was incredibly tender. The cabbage was pleasantly tangy and well set-off by the pear puree (some might call that puree insipid -- I would agree if it were meant to be eaten alone, but it was clearly meant to be akin to a sauce). I don't like sweet potatoes very much outside of pie, so Mrs. Ubergeek ate my sweet potatoes.
With dinner I had a glass of 2005 Tantara Pinot Noir ($17) which was quite good -- our waiter said it was their single best-selling wine by the glass -- but nothing truly memorable.
For dessert, we had a "Napa pick-me-up" which was chocolate-espresso mousse cake with a mocha "pudding" topped with Bailey's foam, and a tangerine creme brulee cake with fresh raspberries. The mousse cake was quite well-prepared and Mrs Ubergeek liked it a lot, but I found it too rich. The "pudding", which came in a tall shotglass, though, we fought over -- it was too good! The tangerine creme brulee was very good but the shortbread crust on the cake was a little hard to break through. I would have preferred it without the crust. The raspberries were ENORMOUS and very, very sweet, which was surprising in February. I preferred the creme brulee; Mrs Ubergeek was all about the chocolate. With dessert I had an espresso ($3.50) and after dinner I asked about digestifs. The dessert menu had lots of cognacs and armagnacs and ports, none of which I love, so I asked after Calvados.
"We do, actually," said our waiter. "One of our regular guests loves Calvados after his meal so we keep a bottle."
He returned with the thing that made my night -- a snifter with a very generous pour of 1970 Coeur-de-Lion Grand Reserve Calvados. The last in the bottle, he said (sorry to the regular -- perhaps they'll buy another bottle for you). It was... fantastic. He hadn't told me how much it was, so I was a little nervous -- this is a drink that goes wholesale for over $200 a bottle -- but it was only $12.75!
The service was very professional and not fawning or falsely friendly. The only thing that grated on my nerves a little bit was the fact that all the servers were wearing Disneyland nametags. I know why that is, and I expected it, but it was surprisingly jarring.
All told, the meal came out to about $200 plus tip. Annual passholders (and Cast Members), don't forget to ask for your discount, which will be applied to all non-alcohol. I feel like it was well worth it for the meal we ate. We'll definitely be back, but not too often, because honestly $200 on a meal is a lot for us.
Napa Rose Restaurant
1600 S Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802