Situated deep inside Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel, Napa Rose is Disney's best kept secret right after the exclusive Club 33. Its seasonal menu boasts nothing but the finest and freshest Californian ingredients. While enjoying Executive Chef Sutton's skillful contemporary Californian cuisine, a diner can either place himself in the midst of the kitchen action at the Chef's Table or relax with company to a sweeping view of Disney's California Adventure theme park. As beautiful as the night view is, a towering glass display of Napa Rose's extensive wine collection steals the show tempting and teasing diners with the promise of a taste of Heaven.
Upon arrival at Napa Rose, I promptly asked for the Chef's Table and the greeter was more than happy to oblige. A sleek dark marble table complete with a foot rest (it's a really tall table) awaited me. Here, I could watch each of the different kitchen departments perform their craft.
Warm bread was placed on the table the moment I sat down and a menu arrived seconds later with the usual "Would you like Sparkling or Bottled water?" The tap's fine, thanks. After studying the seasonal menu for over a year, I was intimately familiar with the menu. Daydreams of the Seven Sparkling Sins and Chef's Tasting Menu had haunted me for so long...I placed my order before my glass of water even arrived.
Napa Rose serves artisan bread. That's fancy-speak for "Napa Rose bakes its own bread". I'm accustomed to finding no more than two types of bread in a bread basket, but Napa Rose overdid themselves by offering me four. There was a mini-loaf of French bread, four slices of a bread with olives, four slices of its olive-free counterpart, and two towering pieces of crispy flat-bread. In about five minutes I left no evidence of there ever being bread in the basket.
Both items were made from sushi grade fish and roe. The tartare was mildly spicy and the delightfully crunchy flying fish roe was a nice contrast to the soft tartare. The golden sauce you see tastes faintly like a sweet mustard with a hit of lemon juice. It wasn't very necessary.
After not having tasted hamachi for a good one and a half months, this amuse bouche really picked up my spirits. It was perfect. Kaiseki sushi enthusiasts know what I'm talking about. A good buttery slice of fish can really cheer you up!
Small 1-biters they may be, but these two items did what they were made to do--wake up my taste buds.
My appetizer came with a disclaimer: "Please allow a 15 minute preparation time for this signature starter, as it is made to order!" Behold! The Seven Sparkling Sins:
Allow me to break down its offerings in the order of Pope St. Gregory the Great's mnemonic:
1. Pride - I wasn't expecting much, but to my astonishment, truffled quail eggs > my killer home-made deviled eggs.
2. Greed - A lightly fried potato cake is garnished with a heaping tablespoon of caviar. More...more! I want more!
3. Lust - Cured Salmon lies on top of a generous lump of crab meat. I swear I felt a tingle in my dingle while masticating this smoky piece.
4. Envy - Smoked Sturgeon is stuffed into a crunchy little basket. As I took a bite, the gentleman on my left who joined me at the Table told me he is a regular at Napa Rose. Son of a...he must be rolling in it.
5. Gluttony - Lobster was served in a cute little tortilla cup and topped with red flying fish roe. Lobster used as a chip dip. Need I say more?
6. Anger - A thin slice of pickled Asian cucumber wraps around the Ahi Tartare. This piece, though tasty, I enjoyed the least. I already had a taste of the tartare in my amuse bouche and the pickled cucumber was a tad too sour.
7. Sloth - Pheasant is grounded into a patty and topped with tomato (sauteed with basil). It was as creamy as pate and barely needed chewing. Lazy pushes of the tongue sufficed.
Did I mention this $43 appetizer comes with two of each item? Each bite left me wanting more.
What a tease.
The First Course arrived from literally a few steps away:
And thus my four course Chef's Tasting Menu began. The Halibut was grilled masterfully. I may be mistaken, but halibut is a fish that is very easily overcooked. The green peppercorn encrusted slab of fish on my plate was juicy, springy, and retained most of its original flavor despite the thick peppercorn rub. Grill temperature was perfectly set and controlled, as evident by the slightly crispy outer surface and juicy interior. I expected no less from Napa Rose.
The calamari was a success as well. I really have to give it to Sutton and his team. They sure have timing and technique down for seafood preparation. The calamari was not overly chewy(hard), and the Tomato Fume went perfectly with it. Yes, that yellow liquid bed is the Tomato Fume. I was confused, however, about the addition of Basil Oil, which in my opinion did not contribute anything to the dish other than aesthetics.
The Second Course: Salad
I rarely get girly and emotional when I eat. But there are exceptions. Example: The first time I tried Kobe beef, the first time I tasted foie gras, and...oh what the hell tons of other times. Now I can add one more experience to the list: Veal Carpaccio. I've always loved the tender, unique taste of veal. I've had it braised, grilled, pan seared, you name it. But having it raw? What a decadent way to top off a salad. These thinly sliced pieces of veal were salted much like prosciutto and garnished with a thin line of olive oil.
I've never been a fan of beets, but this salad won me over. These lightly roasted beets were both earthy (meaning it tastes like earth) and sweet (as a result of the roasting, which brings out sugar). I was pleased to find out that the vinaigrette was not at all sour, but rather aromatic. It must have been the sherry. The choice of greens was nice too. I absolutely love arugula.
Bit of a small salad though...
The Third Course: Main Dish
Usually when I have duck, I have them as Chinese preparations: Peking Duck and grilled duck. Needless to say, this was a welcome change. Grilling a duck to medium rare is an extremely tricky affair. There is a very fine line between rare and medium, the margin for error is nearly nonexistent. Too rare and the meat would be too chewy. Too well done, and the meat would be too dry.
Judging from this main course and the previous three, I can see why Napa Rose has won so much acclaim. The skin is crispy, the meat tender, flavorful, and a perfect medium rare. Bravo! The fig sauce complimented the breast by adding more complexity to each bite.
Waiting for me below the duck breast was the most interesting pasta. It was essentially creamed corn tossed with spinach, figs, a bit of pasta, XYZ? cheese, and cute little flavorful mushrooms called Chanterelles. Every taste and texture in this dish was well thought out. Furthermore, seemingly insignificant details such as the texture and consistency of the pasta managed to stand out and declare how perfect they are.
The chef personally came over to me and asked what I thought of this dish. What did I reply? "It's brilliant! I wouldn't change a single thing." It's amazing how well Chef Sutton can mix and match so many ingredients and still come out with a unifying theme. Apparently, this was his new creation. It would be great if it was offered on the regular menu because I'd definitely order it again.
Fourth Course: Dessert
The final course of the tasting menu was this delicate dessert topped with shaved ice and prune reduction. Holding up the shaved ice were thin candied nectarine slices. I absolutely loved the multiple layers to this dessert. The sorbet and shaved ice were very refreshing, a good way to end a summer meal. The cake was the thickest and sweetest component, contrasting with the airy fraiche. Light desserts have always been my favorite, and all the various flavors here worked together to bring a smile on my face.
Just as I was about to give a nod to summon for the check, the Chef dropped by again for a. He mentioned an earlier conversation we had as I was eating the Seven Sparkling Sins, and I was quite surprised that he remembered what I had said about my ideal dining experience--"I would much rather try a few bites here and there of several dishes instead of having just a single normal sized course."
He asked, "Do you like coffee and chocolate?"
"No. I LOVE coffee and chocolate!"
"I have just the thing for you," he replied, grinning ear to ear.
This dessert was a two-parter. On the left I have a chocolate and cappuccino souffle decorated with a dark chocolate rose and rolled in creamy white chocolate flakes. On the right is a cup of what is essentially espresso pudding adorned with their own condensed milk. Both were very thick and masterfully crafted. A chocolate and coffee sledgehammer slammed onto my taste buds with each bite. Such concentrated flavor! Hot damn, what a finisher.
I held extremely high expectations coming to Napa Rose, but Chef Sutton and his staff completely shattered them and awed me with their artistry. In their hands, food and service is elevated to an art. I've been to many fine restaurants before starting this blog, but never have I met such efficient, courteous and friendly staff. They are willing to do anything to make sure you have a dining experience nothing short of perfect. Though I could not use his services because I was the designated driver for my party of one, the Sommelier still dropped by to further my knowledge in wine. To top it off, Napa Rose was more than willing to give me one of its menus. At other establishments the staff usually briefly hesitates or politely declines, though I don't see what the big deal is with giving away a menu.
Never have I experienced such personalized service and attentiveness at a restaurant. It's the little things people don't usually notice that elevates the service at Napa Rose above most restaurants. For someone as young as I am (finishing up college as of this post), dining solo at establishments with more mature and affluent clientele has in the past rendered me a victim of discrimination as well as sub-par service and attitude. But, here at Napa Rose, I was taken seriously and treated with courtesy and with respect. I hold the highest regard and deepest gratitude for Chef Sutton and his staff for providing me with such an amazing dining experience.