Found a colleague of mine a couple thousand bucks of unclaimed money on the state controller's website so he and his wife took me to Valentino last night. (Check for your name as well and you too can take me to an expensive dinner, hehe)
Colleague is a major wine afficionado with a collection that must be worth in the seven figures, and brought a bottle of '90 cabernet that he said he had bought for $16.95 years ago. When we found the same label on the wine list, the '94 (a less expensive vintage) went for $250 a bottle! A bit wasted on a social drinker, but certainly much appreciated! The sommelier took the bottle, decanted it, and after it had cooled a bit we drank from it -- delicious! I'll have to find out the maker, think it was "De la Balle" or something like that.
Anyway...we decided on the tasting menu, which is $85 pp. First came a rather-large-for-an-amuse-bouche terrine of eggplant and roasted peppers in a basil sauce. Light and flavorful, a great way to start the meal.
The first course was atlantic fluke with chicory and some beans ("bortelli"?) that colleague's wife said looked like refried beans, and actually sorta tasted that way. Fluke was quite bland, chicory added nothing to the taste, and both were overpowered both in flavor and texture/thickness by the beans. A strange and sort of starchy-heavy combination that didn't go together well in my mouth.
The second course was another fish -- I'm blanking on it now -- with roasted pepper, fried eggplant and artichoke heart. Funny because colleague had mentioned at work how bleu cheese goes great with any wine and artichoke goes badly with any wine. Fish was a bit thicker and more flavorful but obviously not memorable -- we were waiting for something special.
It came in the third course, a garganelli pasta with lamb ragu and ricotta cheese. This melded perfectly with the wine and was delicious in itself, comparing highly favorably with the bland garganelli in our recent tasting menu at Spago. As well it should.
Next came another winner, the fourth course, a risotto of red wine, raddiccio and gorgonzola cheese with little pieces of raddicchio on top. Very yummy.
The fifth course was a salsify-crusted angus beef in an emulsion in the shape and color of an egg, with fava beans and pancetta. Very tasty and a wonderful complement of textures.
For dessert, vanilla semifreddo with mint-leaf infusion, garnished with glazed strawberries and basil. Very yummy.
We were in the first room as you walk straight from the entrance, and by midway through the meal (we had a 7:00 reservation) the room was mostly full. Service was excellent throughout the meal, though it took a little while to get the check at the end. (Probably a good idea considering we'd gone through a bottle of wine.) Decor is simple but elegant.
Overall, food was good but not truly memorable. Not a place to rush back to but certainly it's hard to understand how vituperative some are toward it.