Thursday, October 20, 2016

Orlando hometown favorite Victoria and Albert's reaps award as second-best fine dining restaurant in US

TripAdvisor annually awards best restaurant designations in US and worldwide categories based on reviews by individuals who have eaten at the establishments. This year's awardees were recently announced and hometown favorite Victoria and Albert's was ranked second best restaurant in the US fine-dining category. This is a well-deserved recognition for Chef Scott Hunnel and his crew and a feather in the cap for the Orlando food and wine scene.

Victoria and Albert's is a modern-American-cuisine-themed restaurant at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  The restaurant has impressive credentials: a recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award, a Four Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide, and Scott Hunnel as Chef de Cuisine.  Chef Hunnel, a champion of fresh, locally produced, seasonal ingredients, is a 5-time James Beard "Best Chef of the South" nominee and was named Santé magazine's Culinary Professional of the Year in 2008.

Victoria & Albert's continues to roll along as a bastion of high-end fine dining even in the face of declining support for this style among area restaurants and patrons. The Chef (Scott Hunnel) is one of the most respected in Orlando and a seat at his table is second in desirability only to season tickets at Lambeau Field. 

The V & A kitchen

Chef Scott Hunnel at one of our many trips to his Chef's Table

Back in the good old days, Florida residents could book the Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's for dinner and, over the years, we have used this privilege to good advantage. Disney has recently modified the Chef's Table requirements, however, restricting reservations to individuals actually staying at the Grand Floridian Resort. This is a bummer for locals as the environment, staff, food, and service are all impeccable and we loved holding special tasting events at the locale.

The Queen Victoria Room -- an enclosed 8-seater off the main dining room which serves the same menu as at the Chef's Table -- is still available for booking by locals. It is adjoining, and to the left of, the main dining room but it is a world removed. It also stands in stark contrast to the the Chef's Table: tasteful period decoration, quiet, privacy, enclosed, deficit of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, no sous-chef testosterone on display.

Traditional setup for Queen Victoria Room
Setup of the room for our event

Below is a recounting of one of our Chef's Table outings:

Amuse-Bouche: Soft-poached Quail Egg with Galilee Caviar; Chicken Liver Terrine; Cauliflower Panna Cotta; Porcini Miushroom Cappuccino

Maine Lobster with Herb Aioli and Miniature Greens

Alaskan Salmon with Bamboo Rice and Soy Beans

Herb-Crusted Ocala Rabbit and Sausage with Carrots

Poulet Rouge with Calamarata Pasta, Forest Mushrooms and Black truffles

Minnesota Elk Tenderloin with Braised Red Cabbage Tart

Australian Kobe-style Beef with Garlic Potato Puree

Fiscalini Cheddar, Gouda Reypenaer XO, Colston Bassett Stilton, Parmigiano Reggiano

Blood Orange Timbale with Array of Fruits on a Raspberry Veil

At the time I described the meal thusly: "This was an excellent night out.  Watching course after course prepared in front of our eyes and then delivered to our table with pomp and circumstance enough to make a Victorian historian proud, and then to caress our palates with a multiplicity of pleasing flavors, was a food-lover's dream.  The eye-pleasing symmetry of presentation was only outdone by the symmetry of the flavors on the palate."

Chef Hunnel with author's wife
And Chef Hunnel does not only restrict his activities to the ivory tower of the V & A environment. He gets out into the community to work with other chefs and to mentor the chefs of tomorrow. As a part of a number of Chefs working a James Beard Nominees Charity Dinner at Cress a few years ago, Chef Hunnel talked about these chefs being at the vanguard of a food and dining movement in Orlando which is aimed at providing residents and guests with an attractive culinary scene.

The staff at the restaurant is exemplary. Here is how I described our experience at one of our seatings in the Queen Victoria Room.
Our experience throughout the evening was wonderful. I have already described how pleasing the environment was and I would be remiss if I did not give a shoutout to the service staff. We had a husband and wife team rotating as the shot callers from course to course and they had a trying job. Not only did they have to announce the general course highlights, they also had to go to each seat with a dietary restriction and explain the contents of that plate. They did a really good job and contributed mightily to the success of the evening. The courses were brought in by uniformed waiters bearing covered plates on white chargers (not the horses). The covers were then removed in a choreographed fashion once all of the chargers had been placed on the table in front of the owning patron. No mistakes here.
The man, the cuisine, the team: the contributing factors to a deserved award.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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