Saturday, August 29, 2009

Napa Rose - restaurant review (dinner)

Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel in Downtown Disney (Anaheim) is one of our favorite restaurants, so when a friend wanted to have dinner there on her birthday, we were more than happy to join her. She'd been to Napa Rose many times before, but she'd never sat at the chef's counter, and she wanted to try it this time. Ummm, yeah, twist my arm.

The chef's counter has two seating times - 5:30 and 8:30 - so we decided on the earlier seating, which is just as the restaurant opens. I had met up with her about an hour and a half beforehand, and we spent a little bit of time inside DCA before heading to the restaurant. We were a little bit early, so we checked in and then waited in the lounge and chatted. The husband joined us a bit later, and shortly after that, we were taken to our seats - seats 5, 6 and 7 at the counter, which are between the food pass (where the food is delivered by the kitchen to the runners to take to the tables) and the dessert pass (where the desserts are delivered for delivery to tables. Napa Rose has an open kitchen, so those seats also overlook the meat and garnish stations and the dessert station. Seats 5 and 6 are generally where the husband and I like to sit when we go to Napa Rose.

The Executive Chef of Napa Rose is Andrew Sutton, and shortly after we were seated, he came by to say hello to us. I introduced him to our friend and mentioned that it was her first time at the chef's counter, so he welcomed her there.

The husband ordered sparkling water for us and still water for our friend. The last time I was there with another friend and we had the still water, it was actually bottled Smartwater, which I like and so was happy with. This time, I noticed it was Dasani, which I decidedly *don't* like, so I'll have to keep that in mind for future reference.

We all perused the menu and made our dinner choices.

Napa Rose has a special four-course menu called the Vintner's Menu that changes every week starting on Friday and usually features whatever is currently in season. On many occasions, that's what we end up ordering, though I'll admit that sometimes, I go in hoping I won't like the Vintner's Menu so that I can have an excuse to just order off the regular menu.

Following is the Vintner's Menu for the current week. I definitely liked the selections, so I decided to have that, but I'm not much of a wine person, so I skipped that. The husband also decided to have the Vintner's Menu but with the suggested wine flights. The friend decided to order off the regular menu.

Vintner's Menu from Friday, August 28, 2009 through Thursday, September 3, 2009.

At Napa Rose, when you order the Vintner's Menu, you also get an extra little taster course, referred to as "amuse bouche". We've noticed that if a significant portion of your party orders the Vintner's, then the entire table gets the amuse bouche, probably so that the others don't feel left out, and the little extra taster also engenders good will.

The amuse bouche this night was a watermelon cube with basil sorbet surrounded by melon froth. I think this is the first time that I've experienced where the amuse bouche was closer to a dessert dish than a regular food item, but it was quite good. The watermelon was crisp and sweet and juicy, and the basil sorbet was really, really good - the friend jokingly wondered whether she could get a pint of that to take home - and the froth added a little extra flavor. Very nice indeed.

The first course on the Vintner's was prawns with a side of halibut ceviche. The prawns were nicely cooked and seasoned (with a tamarind rub on part of it), and the ceviche was absolutely delicious. And the presentation of the dish was quite nice.

For a starter, the friend had decided on the zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese. She really enjoyed the dish.

The second course on the Vintner's was a goat cheese tart topped with mission figs on duck prosciutto. The tart was very nice, and the fig added a really nice flavor to it. I love duck and I love prosciutto, so combine the two together - YUM!

Next up was a nice little gift from Executive Chef Andrew - Napa Rose's signature portobello mushroom "cappucino" bisque. If you really like mushroom, this is definitely something to order. There are lots of bits of mushroom at the bottom, and even the broth is rich in mushroom flavor - so much so that you can just smell it. I had been raving about it when I told the friend about the mushroom bisque earlier, so she had initially ordered that as her starter, but Andrew was listening in as the server was taking our order, and he had told her she couldn't order that because she was going to get it anyway because he was going to be giving it to her, so she had ended up ordering a different starter. So, we had known she'd be getting the bisque, but it was a nice surprise to get it ourselves as well. The serving was a taster portion of the soup - the appetizer portion is actually larger - but it's still a decent-sized tasting. And really, REALLY yummy.

The main course on the Vintner's was the Santa Barbara style barbeque tri-tip. After we got our courses, Andrew came by to explain what the Santa Barbara barbeque style was, and you could really taste the smoking in the meat. It was absolutely delicious and very tender, and the accompaniments went very nicely. The chili in the sauce also gave it a nice kick. The only "complaint" that I have about Napa Rose and the Vintner's Menu is that the entree portion is actually larger than it needs to be. The entree is pretty much the same size as a regular entree, but you've already had two courses (and the amuse bouche) at that point, not to mention dessert still to come. The tri-tip was four generous slices, and I ended up only eating two of the slices - I took the rest home.

The friend had chosen the duck breast for her entree. Andrew also explained how it was prepared and all the ingredients that were used in the marinade for the duck, all of which I've forgotten now, but it was pretty amazing. The friend loved her entree. She gave me a little bite, and it was indeed very tasty.

The dessert for the Vintner's was a root beer float shooter with root beer Baked Alaska. I am not a particular fan of root beer, but it did sound good, and I'm glad I had it, because it was quite nice. I had a drink of the shooter, and the root beer was quite tasty - I wish I could remember what kind of root beer Andrew said it was, and he mentioned that he quite liked it, because I would probably drink it myself. I ended up having the rest of it last, so by then, the ice cream had melted some, and drinking it was very easy - no spoon necessary. The float came with a rolled stick of white chocolate, but since I'm not a fan of white chocolate, I didn't eat that. The Baked Alaska was really cute when the dessert chef took it out of the freezer. It had root beer ice cream inside, and root beer granitas on top with root beer pearls on top of that. The husband referred to the pearls as "root beer ikura" because other than the color, they did look like ikura - raw salmon eggs used in sushi. It was a really delicious dessert all around.

Customarily, when you're celebrating a birthday, Napa Rose comps the dessert for the birthday person, so I wasn't surprised when the server, instead of actually bringing the dessert menu for the friend, just asked her what she was interested in for dessert. I had been extolling the virtues of their amazing strawberry ice cream earlier, so she decided to have that, coupled with a scoop of the mango sorbet. Her dessert came very nicely plated.

All during dinner, we enjoyed good conversation amongst ourselves and with the kitchen staff. From those seats, you have a very good view of what the chefs are preparing for the other diners in the restaurant - we noted that the walnut-encrusted rack of lamb and the short ribs entrees were quite popular. One of the line cooks working in front of us had various interesting things he was working with, and we couldn't always tell what they were, so a few times, we were able to ask him about them, and he very kindly answered our questions. There were a couple of things that the dessert chef was doing that I wanted to ask about, but she was so incredibly busy, and she was a little bit farther from us, so I didn't want to yell to her, and I didn't want to interrupt her work. We also had a chance to talk to Andrew about a few things, both related to the food and the restaurant itself as well as other related promotions.

It was another remarkable dinner at Napa Rose. They never disappoint.

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