When it comes to finding a “special occasion” restaurant, you can’t go wrong by looking for one that has received a Five Diamond rating from AAA. Yes, the American Automobile Association. In addition to providing road side assistance to motorists around the country, they also provide resources for travelers and rate hotels and restaurants on a scale of one to five AAA Diamonds.
In order for a restaurant to earn a diamond, they undergo multiple, unannounced evaluations and a panel of experts meets to decide which ones get the coveted distinction.
According to AAA, in order for a restaurant to achieve Five Diamond status, they must provide “leading-edge cuisine of the finest ingredients, uniquely prepared by an acclaimed chef, served by expert service staff led by a maître d’ in extraordinary surroundings.”
Any restaurant that receives the honor of Five Diamonds is truly in a class all their own, as there are only 63 throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean as of January 2017. One of them happens to be a restaurant we chose to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and is located somewhere you would least expect to find a restaurant deserving of such an honor – Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Tucked away in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a Victorian-style hotel, Victoria & Albert’s has been a AAA Five Diamond recipient since 2000. Of course, the ultimate in dining at Disney World, and Orlando, in general, earned awards from other trusted sources such as Zagat, Forbes Travel Guide, the James Beard Foundation and more.
Reservations are tough to get, and they’re usually booked out several months in advance, but you can add yourself to a wait-list in the event of cancellations. For those dining at Victoria & Albert’s, there’s a dress code. A dinner jacket for men (no jeans, tie optional) and dress or pants ensemble for women. It’s also a kids-free zone, as all diners are required to be 10 years of age or older.
The restaurant itself offers three different experiences. The Dining Room offers either a seven- or ten-course meal served in the main dining room that has about 20 tables and a harpist. Queen Victoria’s Room is a private dining area that seats eight and offers a 10-course dinner. Then there’s the Chef’s Table, in the restaurant’s kitchen, where a 10-course meal is prepared for a party of two to 10 people.
For our special celebration, we reserved the Dining Room and had a 6:30pm reservation. We arrived a little before hand and were greeted by the restaurant’s maître d’, Boris, who welcomed us, offered congratulations for our anniversary and took us to our cozy table for two where we would spend the next three-and-a-half hours.
In short order, we were welcomed by our two servers, James and Danny, who would be providing us with that Five Diamond service for the rest of the night.
The first thing we were presented with was a water and cocktail menu. A selection of still and sparkling waters from around the world filled two pages of the book and included a $120 bottle of Svalbardu Polar Iceberg Water harvested from, you guessed it, an iceberg where the “vintage” was listed as “up to 4000 years.” Cocktails and wines by the bottle or glass are also available.
Before we were presented with the evening’s menu, our servers explained that Victoria & Albert’s offers either a seven- or ten-course menu in the Dining Room, each available with an optional wine pairing.
We ordered our choice of water as we awaited our menus to decide which option we were going to choose.
The menus were personalized with our names and “Happy 1st Anniversary” printed at the top. After being given a very detailed description of each course on both menus, we decided to go with the seven-course menu with the wine pairing. James took our selections for each course, answered any questions we had, then we were off and running.
The first course was the “Amuse-Bouche” which happened to be a smoked red-shrimp paired with a glass of Rol Roger “Brut Reserve” Champagne to begin our culinary journey.
At this point in the service, we could have opted for caviar service, where a ½ ounce of Galilee Osetra Caviar was an additional $105, or a full ounce for $200.
For the second course, we had the option of Maine Lobster with San Marzano Tomato Marmalade with Pain Perdu and Avocado, or Colorado Bison with Black Garlic and Charmoula. We both chose the lobster for this course.
As we waited for our third course, our server presented us with the first round of bread service that was paired with a heavy butter fat unsalted butter and sea salt.
The third course offered a choice of Sesame Seed Crusted Alaskan King Salmon with Black Radish Salad, Seared Gulf of Maine Scallop with Melted Red Cabbage and Shallot Jam, or a Wild Turbot with Toasted Capers and Preserved Lemon (the Turbot was a $35 upcharge).
It was this point in the meal, where a lady at the table not far from us was contemplating ordering a cocktail. As her server described the Manhattan, I couldn’t resist ordering one while my husband ordered a “Citropolitan” – their take on the Cosmo. Both were great!
The second bread service was presented along with a different butter.
For our fourth course, we had the option between Green Circle Chicken with Panisse, Fava Beans and Fresh Garbanzos, or French Quail with Rhubarb and Pomegranate.
Before our fifth course arrived, our third and final bread and butter service was presented. As the lady from the neighboring table pointed out, “thank God for the bread, because with all this wine, I’m buzzed.” While the wine pairing offers half-pours instead of full-pours, it’s still a lot of wine, so I can sympathize with her!
The fifth course gave us a choice of a Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin with Zellwood Corn Succotash and Arugula Pudding, Lamb Loin with Barley Porridge and Nectarines, Australian Kobe-Style Beef with Port and Rosemary Sauce, or Miyazaki Japanese Beef (for a $110 upcharge).
Each of the first five courses were simply delicious and elegantly presented. There wasn’t one dish that had us wishing we chose something different, however, there were a few we wish we could have more of!
The sixth course consisted of a cheese course where cheeses from around the world were presented on a trolley, or a Key Lime Ice Cream with White Chocolate Ganache.
Dessert didn’t stop there. There was a seventh course that included a Tanzanian Chocolate Mousse with Orange-scented Milk Chocolate Gelato, Limoncello Mango Dome with Blackberry Violet, Caramelized Banana Gateau, Grand Marnier Souffle, or Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle. This course was the hardest to make a decision on, but we ended up going with the Limoncello dome and the banana gateau.
As one last treat, our servers brought over a selection of hand-made chocolates presented in a display box that made for a truly sweet ending.
Throughout the meal, a harpist played, our servers provided attentive but unobtrusive service, and truly provided an evening of memorable experiences in an elegant and romantic setting.
Before we said our thanks and ended the night, we were presented with our personalized menus and a small loaf of Orange-Date Nut Bread to take home.
Dinner at Victoria & Albert’s is, like I mentioned earlier, a special occasion. A special occasion that comes with a price. The seven-course meal is $185 per person and if you choose to add the wine pairing, it’s an additional $105 per person. The ten-course meal is $235 per person and the wine pairing is an additional $150. For those wanting to reserve the Chef’s Table, that will set you back $250 per person. These numbers of course do not include gratiuity or any extras such as the caviar, the Japanese beef, or the Turbot, and any drinks outside of the wine pairings.
When was all said and done, our 1st Anniversary dinner at Victoria & Alberts was $644 before tip. For a special occasion such as this, we felt it was worth it. After all, you only celebrate your first anniversary once!