This evening we went for dinner to the I@LW. Having been there twice before (last time in 2000) and not been overwhelmed either time, we had decided not to go again, but we received a $250 gift certificate for Xmas and were certainly not about to see it go to waste.
We arrived exactly on time for our 6pm reservation and were greeted by blank stares when I gave them my name; apparently the reservation was not in the book. The maitre d' handled the matter smoothly though, and quickly seated us at a nice table with a view of the garden. Unlike the last time we were there, this time the table did not feel cramped, and we were in a nice little room with three other two-person tables, all of which were occupied when we arrived. (In fact, the restaurant appeared to be completely sold out, though I did not walk through the whole place to verify.)
We were quickly presented a plate of six canapes as an amuse bouche--a risotto ball, a parmesan tuile, a mini-BLT, a mini-smoked salmon sandwich, a roasted rabbit empanada and a sixth item that I do not recall. The sommelier then approached us to help us select a wine. This was odd, since we had not yet even really perused the menu, but we decided to choose our meal to suit the wine rather than the other way around. Our wine choice was a 1999 Stag's Leap "Ne Cede Malis" Rhone-style red, which turned out to be just what we were looking for. The sommelier also made some suggestions of items on the menu that would show the wine off to best advantage.
For our starter we had a porcini mushroom pizza and a plate of Virginia ham with shaved parmesan and slices of Virginia Rome apples. The pizza was the winner of this course, since the ham was rather uninspired (our alternate choice, which a neighboring table ordered, looked like it would have been a better bet--a dish of lamb carpaccio--but I was having a lamb main course so decided to avoid lamb overload). The pizza had a wonderful woodsy aroma and was very nicely seasoned, though.
For our second course we had the lobster with potato gnocchi and the Barolo risotto with truffle. Both of these were fantastic, though the former did not really go terribly well with the wine. The lobster/gnocchi came with a nice light and almost gingery sauce, while the risotto was incredibly flavorful and had a huge slice of truffle on top.
The main course was a bit less interesting than the first two, perhaps since we ordered relatively 'standard' fare, a veal tenderloin and grilled lamb chops. Nevertheless, both were excellent and really went well with the wine.
We wisely left room for dessert--a molten chocolate cake and a Marjolaine cake (the latter is a chocolate-hazelnut meringue layer cake with raspberries). Both were outstanding, and since we pointed out to the waiter that the molten cake was baked through the last time we ordered it, he made sure that this time it was really melty. Terrific.
The only really low point in the meal was the espresso that I had afterwards; why can restaurants not produce a decent cup of espresso, and since when should it be equal in volume to a regular cup of American coffee??
At the end of the meal, for reasons that we do not know, we were invited to visit the kitchen and meet with Patrick O'Donnell. To our delight (and surprise) he was very gracious and welcoming, giving us a pretty thorough tour of the facility. When he learned that I am a member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs the welcome became even warmer, with him taking us to see the various awards that the Chaine has given him.
Despite the $250 gift certificate, we still wound up spending nearly $300 out of pocket (prix fixe is now up to a ridiculous $158 on a Saturday night), still more than I think the meal was truly "worth". However it was an evening to remember and one that I don't regret. I shally have to stop bad-mouthing the place when people ask my opinion.