Stepping off the monorail at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, it was impossible to hide the slight grin of knowing anticipation. This was a walk that I knew all too well, and one that was exactly two years in the making. Just a few steps away was our much awaited destination, but first we paused to admire the lobby from above, as one by one families took their turn snapping photos with Mickey and Minnie in front of the resort's incredible Christmas tree. After a few minutes of people watching, The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra counted out for their next tune which was our queue to keep moving. Finally, we reached the nondescript frosted glass door for Victoria & Albert's, through which awaited the best meal of my life.
As I reached for the door, there was a brief flashback to the day long ago when this story actually began. Four years and one day earlier, MJ and I dined at Victoria & Albert's for the first time in celebration of our marriage which was barely 24 hours old. It was the most memorable dining experience of our lives, which prompted us to create our first tradition as husband and wife. We made a pact to return every other year on our anniversary to this place where in some ways it all began. Fast forward four short and happy years, and it was time to open that frosted glass door once again.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Welcome, and Happy Anniversary!
The familiar greeting from Israel, the restaurant's longtime Maitre 'd, reminded us right off of why Victoria & Albert's is so special. How he manages to remember us on sight with two years in between visits is beyond me. Perhaps they keep CIA type files complete with photos, birthdays, and our driving history, or maybe they're just that good. I'm pretty sure it is a combination of the two, still the warm welcome from Israel always manages to make this five diamond restaurant feel like home.
There are three unique dining experiences available at Victoria & Alberts. The first is the traditional dining room where a 7 course pre-fixe menu is served along with optional wine pairing. In addition, there is the Chef's Table, a one of a kind experience where parties of up to ten are seated in an alcove within the kitchen, and are treated with 10 courses of magic, sometimes more. Finally, after our last visit to Victoria & Albert's, we made yet another pact that this time around we would experience the restaurant's newest option: the Queen Victoria Room.
|The Queen Victoria Room|
Due to overwhelming demand for the Chef's Table - as in, you better be friends with Chef Scott to land it - the restaurant added the Queen Victoria Room as an option for those seeking a more intimate and unique dining experience. The QV is a separate space located adjacent to the main dining room, where a few parties can enjoy a similar ten course menu as the Chef's Table. All the while, their majesties watch from a portrait high above the room's gently burning fireplace.
|Our personalized menu...|
After a few minutes chatting with our old friend Israel - we aren't really friends, it just feels that way - we were escorted into the Queen Victoria Room and settled in for what promised to be four hours of heaven. That's right...four hours. The champagne was popped, and our servers got down to the serious business of walking us through the menu. They gave a brief overview of each course, including modifications which had been made on MJ's behalf since she has given up eating things that previously walked on land. When the introduction was complete, I still wasn't entirely sure of what plates were to come, because my memory had been wiped clean after learning there would be not one, but two desserts. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long...
First out was the Amuse Bouche, which was comprised of a poached quail egg topped with German caviar, a chicken liver terrine, cauliflower panna cotta with Siberian caviar, and a Kabocha squash ravioli. Don't worry, I don't know what all of that is either, but did you catch the two doses of caviar? Needless to say, we were definitely amused.
Next up was one of my favorites...the Maine lobster salad. Yes, I just used "salad" and "favorite" in the same sentence, however in case you didn't notice I also said "lobster." Salad would make a daily appearance in my diet if it always came paired with poached crustaceans and freshly prepared croutons mixed with salts and oils from far flung locales.
The sixth course - that has a nice ring, doesn't it? - was an elk tenderloin paired with the one vegetable that Mom always threatened to serve when I complained about dinner...brussel sprouts. Somehow I managed to make it 32 years without being subjected to these vile smelling abominations, but alas that streak had come to an end. When it comes to Victoria & Albert's, my rule is if it comes on the plate I eat it.
By this point the food was beginning to run together, and we had only reached what might be considered the main course. I have fond memories of the dry aged strip loin from previous visits, but it's the potato puree which really gets me excited. Smoked garlic has that kind of effect on me...
|One of each? No problem...|
After eight incredible courses, it was time for dessert - where we were supposed to find room for it, I'm not altogether sure. Did I mention there were two desserts? The first was a blood orange timbale served alongside an array of fresh fruits. While I usually prefer an abundance of chocolate in my desserts, this was a refreshing transition from the other seven courses. Besides, the wait for chocolate was short lived.
|So colorful, there were even a few edible flowers...|
Finally, the magic number 10 arrived, and as if I should have expected anything different, Victoria & Albert's saved the best for last. The Peruvian chocolate cylinder satisfied my earlier craving, but it was the small, blob-like treat in the accompanying dish which stole the show. They called it a "Chocolate Oyster" and we were instructed to eat it just as if it were on the a half-shell. MJ and I both gulped in the oysters and then...magic.
|The chocolate cylinder with caramel caviar and edible glitter.|
The orb instantly exploded revealing a filling of chocolate cognac with a slight tinge mint. Both of our eyes lit up, and were they not filled to the brim with chocolate liqueur, our mouths would have also hit the floor. It is hard to adequately describe what the sensation tasted like, however try to imagine a large Junior Mint candy but with a paper thin shell and replace the filling with chocolate cognac. Jerry Seinfeld once called the Junior Mint the perfect candy...I'm calling the chocolate oyster the perfect everything...
|The single best thing I've ever eaten.|
As I always do after these once-in-a-lifetime meals that seem to come my way far too often, I sat back with my last bit of wine to reflect on this phenomenal evening. The first observation was how remarkably sober we both were. This might seem like an odd thing to point out, but it was a genuine concern heading into the meal. Ten courses means ten glasses of wine if you choose the optional pairing - which you really should - and the last thing either of us wanted was to wake up hungover, considering we had a four hour drive to Miami the next morning to board a cruise ship. The thing to keep in mind here is the glasses are more like 3/4 pours, and when spread over four hours along with an unholy amount of food, ten glasses really only feels like five.
|Unless you hit the tray of single malts that is...|
The next obvious question I pondered was whether the Queen Victoria was worth the difference in cost versus the main dining room. There is no denying the QV is an incredibly unique experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Israel and Chef Scott about his recent trip to Europe to go truffle hunting. This isn't something that happens in the main dining room - at least not in our two prior visits - and certainly helps set the Queen Victoria Room apart when combined with the more interactive presentations such as the smoked lamb, as well as the intimate setting.
|Even the coffee is a unique presentation.|
Still, is it worth it? To do it once, yes, especially if you have visited Victoria & Albert's before and are looking for a new experience. On future visits, however, I think we will return to the main dining room. The Queen Victoria was simply too much of a good thing. Ten courses and ten wines, with several unique bread servings in between, was just too much food - yes, I really said that - and we wound up leaving behind half of our desserts. This travesty showed us that 7 courses is about our limit.
|The truffle brioche...worth the cost of admission by itself.|
Three times in my 32 years I have declared a meal to be the best of my life. All three came at Victoria & Albert's. Chef Scott, Israel, and the rest of the team deliver a consistently great product, that like a fine wine, seems to only get better with age. Whether you are in the main dining room, the Queen Victoria, or the Chef's Table, Victoria & Albert's is an over-the-top experience that you won't soon forget. The price tag is equally memorable, but every once in a while it's good to blow the mortgage on something extravagant.
|A portrait with V & A.|
As MJ and I made our way to the door, Israel was there to wish us a fond farewell.
Good night Mr. & Mrs. Jones. We'll see you in two years.
Yes they will... Till death us do part.
Enjoy Your Stay