Well, its been quite a week for me and the missus
we have had an astounding TWO nights out without the babies (both in diapers), blessed with very agreeable family members that have babysat for us this week. So what else to do but to splurge and eat? I already posted the review of our Wednesday night adventure with our pals at Melisse, and here goes the review of our Friday night experience at Valentino
To tell you the honest truth, I was more than a little concerned about how much I was going to enjoy the evening given the plethora of mixed reviews by other hounds, coupled by what was sure to be a BUSY night for the kitchen, but my concerns were absolutely without foundation, as I will say up front that this was truly a sublime dining experience twice in one week! I am positively giddy!
We arrived on time for our reservation at 7:30pm and were seated right away at a nice table in the center of one of there rear rooms and given a moment to order drinks and peruse the menu along with their telephone book sized wine list. I should point out that I am a little bit of a wine nut, and burgeoning collector with a few hundred bottles in my cellar, but for the most part have only really focused on California and French wines, with some forays into Southern Hemisphere products (Sauv. Blanc from NZ, Shiraz from AUS, etc ) and Spain, but have been woefully ignorant of Italian wines. This was one of the reasons we selected Valentino, as I thought I could order a few bottles here at the recommendation of the sommelier and begin my education on Italian wines I was not disappointed.
We originally planned on having the traditional Extravanza/Chefs tasting menu, with some wine pairings that they have by the glass, but decided to go the other way around after talking to one of their highly knowledgeable, and very charming sommeliers, Alessandro Sbrendola, we selected four different wines to try and they would have the chef build a meal around the wines now Im getting excited heaven is about to happen. The wines he selected were (apologies in advance for spelling nomenclature errors Im relatively new to Italian wines):
Gaia and Rey Italian Chardonnay
Muffato della Sala Antinori Sauternes type sweet wine (planned on having foie gras), compares well to YQuiem
Tenuta Dell Ornellaia Masseto WOW awesome Italian Tuscan Merlot (vintage 1988)
Gaja Langhe Sperss Incredible wine from Piedmont (vintage 1996)
Knowing very little of Italian wine, I am only assuming that these wines are top caliber, as they tasted as though they were, and I was mightily impressed, I would really appreciate it if any other Hounds could let me know how well rated/good/recognized these wines actually are thanks the vastness of my ignorance here is only exceeded by the kindness and knowledge of all you other Hounds J
I must really point out that the service from the entire staff was outstanding, our server, Paul and the sommelier took great pains to make sure we had a great experience. Another point is that I really dont think it was because we ordered expensive wine and food, because I really made an effort to see the level of service other diners were getting, and it was all very good. In fact a neighboring table order no wine, and actually very little food, didnt seem to be a celebrity and were very low key and on the younger side, but still they were very well taken care of so Im very happy that I didnt experience the poor service that some other Hounds posted.
Enough chatter, now the food here is what we ate
Amuse 1 Tuna Tartare capped with Osetra caviar very nice, and kind of funny that Tuna Tartare was the base amuse at both Valentino and Melisse this week.
Amuse 2 Crab salad atop Lentil medley with onions, tomato and cilantro (?) really, really good the texture of the crab was a fantastic contrast to the rustic flavor and texture of the lentils displayed great food sense.
First Course Smoked Swordfish and Lobster with a blood orange sauce excellent dish, paired very well with the wine, and the smoky full bodied flavor of the swordfish was a great pairing against the smooth richness of the lobster
Wine pairing for Amuses and First Course: Gaia and Rey
Second Course Seared Foie Gras with Poached Pears and mashed potato A very well done, classic preparation. Again (I am a texture freak) the textures melded very well together the rich, silky, molten Foie Gras with the crisp pear and the smooth potato fantastic. The flavors all added something unique to the combination.
Wine pairing for Second Course: Muffato della Sala Antinori
Pasta Course: Spaghetti with Ciopolloto (sp?) Onion and cheese a dry preparation with truly PERFECT al dente pasta. The cheese flavor contrast with the crisp onion was really great, but this dish really was a perfect setup for the wine OHMYGOD! This course really just added tremendous depth and roundness to the wine that was fantastic, the food was great, but I think it was really given to us to help us appreciate how truly great a wine we were drinking fantastic, cant say enough about it . With this as an accompaniment, I could easily and happily drink gallons of the wine and die smiling
Wine Pairing for Pasta: Tenuta Dell Ornellaia Masseto
Entrée: Lamb Osso Buco classic preparation of osso buco, but with lamb. Obviously this was something the kitchen didnt make just for us, as the braise had to have gone for at least 2 hours to achieve the tenderness that we experienced I mean perfect osso buco, fall of the bone, melt in your mouth tenderness, but with the great lamb flavor. Ive had lamb osso buco several times in the past, and this was definitely one of the best ones. Served with broccoli, carrots, pearl onions and (Im assuming) the braise jus.
Wine Pairing for Entrée: Gaja Langhe Sperss An incredible wine that was perfect for the lamb. Rustic in nature, forward in fruit and palate, and clean in finish. Serious wine no dainty crap here, this was definitely a first class, in your face, drink me and love me wine which we did just fantastic.
Cheese Course: OK notes are really deteriorating and Im losing focus fast, but I do remember (among the 5 cheeses served) a GREAT sheep milk cheese and the Basque Bleu was really awesome, but what really set it all off was the truffle honey they served with the cheeses that just highlighted flavors with perfect contrast.
Wine Pairing for Cheese: Muffato della Sala Antinori worked surprisingly well, especially with the truffle honey really enjoyed it.
Dessert: Chocolate Truffle Cake with gold leaf, fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce I think this was a variation (or not) of one of their standard desserts, but it was great. Not overwhelmingly rich, but smooth, almost mousselike in nature. Great dessert, capped off a fantastic dinner.
All in all I am having a hard time deciding whether we enjoyed Melisse or Valentino more, I really think it is a tie, and where Id rather eat on any particular night would probably be decided by whether or not I wanted a French or Italian flair its like choosing between a Porsche Turbo and a Ferrari Modena not a bad choice in by book and I feel highly fortunate that I was able to experience both in the same week.
One thing I would like to reiterate is that the service levels that we experienced at both Melisse and Valentino were incredible. I would say that the service was perfect at both places and truly added a great deal to our enjoyment of the evening. I would also say that if you are spending this kind of money I feel that you should get this level of service and was VERY gratified that it was delivered. One final note (kind of in line with a recent thread in the General Topics board about tipping), I did tip more that 20% of the total food and wine bill at both restaurants, because I really did believe that the food and wine service was impeccable and did add greatly to the enjoyment of the evening.
Sorry for the long post, and my ramblings, but I thought I just had to share my positive experiences at places which had received mixed (good and bad) reviews recently.