Culinary Quest: A Rose by Any Other Name…

| April 17, 2010

My wife and I recently celebrated our anniversary by visiting Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel at the Disneyland Resort. This was simply one of the greatest dining experiences we have ever had. I use the word experience purposefully. Dining at the chef’s counter at Napa Rose was a complete experience. If you are coming here to eat, you are wasting your time. If you go to Napa Rose to dine, then you are at the right place.

A friend of ours had recommended sitting at the chef’s counter, and we are glad we heeded her advice. It was a fun, tasty, and enjoyable evening. We made our reservation for a Tuesday evening about 30 days prior. The chef’s counter seatings are at 5:30 and 8:30 each night. The evening began with the waiter explaining to us how the Napa Rose menu is created and organized and how the chef’s counter works. Our party of two shared the counter with another friendly couple, so keep this in mind when sitting here. Obviously, the wine selection is extensive and outstanding. The waiter and chef both made sure to suggest great wines that went with our dishes perfectly.

The menu has some signature items that are always available, combined with dishes based on the fresh ingredients of the season. A four course prix fixe menu is offered, and guests may add a wine flight if desired. My wife and I chose items off the regular menu, but the other couple took advantage of sitting at the chef’s counter by having the chef choose all of the dishes for them. He asked if they had any allergies or aversions as well as what kinds of foods they enjoyed. This was not the only time we were able to interact with the chefs. In fact, one of our favorite aspects of sitting at the counter was getting to talk frequently with Sous Chef Alex and his talented staff. We asked questions, shared stories, and got to know each other in a way that is not normally allowed in a fine dining establishment. The chef’s counter allows for an up close view of a kitchen alive with activity and expertise.

This dining experience is definitely not rushed. Our outstanding waiter, Steven, asked us if we were in a hurry. We assured him we had all the time in the world, and he served us accordingly. We ordered all of our courses in the beginning of the evening, but he expertly used all three hours to ensure ample time between courses. In the words of Chef Alex, “This allows you to fully enjoy each others’ company.” The three hours were not only filled with dining and conversing, but the time is also spent watching a gourmet kitchen at work.

Our first course was the signature starter, Pizzetta. It has smoked prosciutto, red flame grapes, caramelized onions, and cambozola cheese. It was a perfect balance of sweet and salty flavors that were complemented by the light texture of the crispy crust.

Next, I had another starter, a warm California artichoke topped with American ham and pecans, basted Rhode Island chicken egg, and treviso radicchio. All of this was served atop a savory mini German pancake. After talking to the chef, he said it was a savory take on all of the tastes of breakfast. First of all, the presentation was so beautiful that I didn’t want to eat it. Of course that didn’t stop me. The dish had an interesting and delightful combination of flavors. One of its best aspects was the many different textures that could be found in one small dish. This unique combination of flavors and textures made a great second course.

My wife enjoyed the Portobello Mushroom Bisque “Cappuccino” with brandied thyme froth. This was a delightful play on cappuccino and served in a coffee cup. But this was no coffee. Instead it was a rich, earthy, and creamy soup. When my wife asked Chef Alex about the recipe, he actually commented on how easy the bisque is to make. In this case, the simplest of ingredients made for a perfect soup.

As if we hadn’t already eaten enough, it was finally time for our entrees. I had the grilled angus beef filet mignon with hearty ox tail mushroom ragu and blue cheese butter. Wow! It was grilled and seasoned perfectly and was extremely tender. The ragu had a great depth of flavor that complemented the meat well.

My wife chose the zinfandel braised angus beef short rib served on top of risotto of wild rice, pine nuts, and dried cranberries with English pea coulis. When it was served, the waiter brought her a steak knife. Fortunately, that was the most unnecessary steak knife ever. The meat was so tender and moist, the fork was more than adequate. The glaze had a sweetness that complemented the heartiness of the short rib. The accompaniments were outstanding as well.

Dessert was a perfect ending to a perfect evening. I chose the chocolate brioche bread pudding with caramelized bananas while my wife had the creme brulee served in a shortbread crust. If you have been reading this blog entry, you know how this story is going to go. Amazing, wonderful, outstanding…

The experience at Napa Rose is one we will never forget. One great thing to remember is that dining at the chef’s counter requires no additional charge. Dining at Napa Rose is a slow-paced culinary experience that should be expected to take a minimum of 1 1/2 to 2 hours. However, the chef’s counter can take up to three wonderful hours. Our evening at Napa Rose was a memorable way to celebrate our anniversary. Now, if only our anniversary came more than once a year…


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Category: Dining, Disneyland

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