Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mega Trip: The Index

Welcome anyone coming in from Million Mile Secrets. Welcome anyone coming in from anywhere else, too, but you've probably been here before. This trip report is like a crash on the side of the highway involving two tiny cars full of clowns: it's amusing, it's awful and you wish you could look away or at least stop laughing because your significant other is judging you. Enjoy! I think I found my voice once the trip started, so those tend to be a bit more amusing (though maybe less informative) than the earlier stuff.

Index of trip-related posts:

1. The Itinerary
2. How the @*&! Can You Afford That?
3. [Travel] Planning the Trip: Airfare
4. [Travel] Planning the Trip: Hotels, part 1
5. [Travel] Planning the Trip: Hotels, part 2
6. [Travel] Planning the Trip: How to be a Jerk
7. [Travel] [Disney] Day 1: Go West(?), Young(ish) Man!
8. [Disney] Day 2: Disneyland, Napa Rose and the Greatest Gift a Man Can Get
9. [Disney] Day 3: More Disneyland!
10. [Disney] Day 4: Final Day at Disneyland
11. [Travel] Day 5: From Anaheim to Chicago
12. [Travel] Day 6: Hong Kong the Long Way, Part 1
13. [Travel] Day 7: A Day in Zurich...or at Least A Day in a Lounge in Zurich
14. [Travel] Day 8: Zurich to Hong Kong and the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui
15. [Tourist] Day 9: Welcome to Hong Kong. Would you like an Octopus with that?
16. [Disney] Day 10: Hong Kong Disneyland: It's a (VERY) Small World After All
17. [Tourist] Day 11: Central Hong Kong: Peak to Harbor
18. [Tourist] Day 12: Finally, Some Nature (and a Delicious Meal)
19. [Tourist] Day 13: I Don't Want None Unless You Got (Pork) Buns, Hon
20. [Travel] Day 14: From Hong Kong to Tokyo
21. [Tourist] Day 15: Living Large in Tokyo (as if, at 6'1, I had any choice)
22. [Tourist] Day 16: More of Tokyo
23. [Disney] [Tourist] Day 17: Total Eclipse of the Heart...and a First Exposure to Tokyo DL
24. [Disney] Day 18: Tokyo Disneyland. Why is it so Awesome?
25. [Disney] Day 19: The Day Theme Parks Were Ruined Forever, aka Tokyo DisneySea
26. [Tourist] [Disney] Day 20: A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That in Tokyo
27. [Disney] Day 21: One More Day in Tokyo Disneyland
28. [Tourist] [Disney] Day 22: A Last Day in Tokyo
29. [Travel] Day 23: Goodbye Tokyo, Hello Seoul (or at least your airport)
30. [Travel] Day 24: 30 Hours of Monday, From Seoul to Paris
31. [Disney] [Travel] Day 25: Disneyland Paris and the Hotel Val d'Europe
32. [Travel] [Tourist] Days 26 - 29: So, This is Paris, eh?
33. [Tourist] Day 30: First Time in London? What Else Would I Do? To the Emirates!
34. [Tourist] Day 31: Yet Another Cathedral. Oh, and Some Stones
35. [Tourist] Day 32: Getting From One Part of England to Another
36. [Tourist] Day 33: Canterbury Tales (sans the Miller)
37: [Tourist] Day 34: Visiting the English Channel
38. [Tourist] Day 35: London Calling at the Top of the Dial
39: [Tourist] Day 36: Now That's a Castle
40. [Tourist] Day 37: Winston Churchill and Sunday Roast (not at the same time)
41: [Tourist] Day 38: A Last Day in England
42. [Tourist] [Travel] Day 39: Touring Frankfurt
43. [Tourist] Day 40: Heidelburg, It's a Hell of a Town
44. [Tourist] Days 41 and 42: A Whole Lot of Rain (in Germany)
45. [Travel] Day 43: Lots of Lufthansa Love
46. [Tourist] Days 44 and 45: A Little Bit of Chicago
47. [Disney] Days 46 and 47: A Very Wet Trip Around Walt Disney World
48. [Disney] [Tourist] Day 46: The Chef's Table at Victoria & Albert's
49. [Travel] Summarizing the Trip: The Final Post

So what can you expect in the pages that (hopefully) will follow? Not much. Because if there's one thing I know about myself it's that I hate writing. But I really want to force myself to do this right because there were so many trip reports that I benefited from when planning this vacation. Now that I have an adoring audience willing public a group of people I tricked into clicking on a link and reading this, surely I will feel ashamed enough to keep this up. We shall see!

When all is said and done the report will probably have at least 40 posts. Each post will be tagged, both in the index and elsewhere, with some indication of which audience it might be appropriate for. Since I expect the readership will be composed of friends and family, Disney fans, frequent flier fanatics and Chowhound readers, I will generally tag them with either [Disney] for Disney-related parts of the trip, [Travel] for air and hotel reviews, etc. Feel free to comment whenever you like. I promise to moderate them like I'm Kim Jong Un. Awww yeah, timely political commentary bonus.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summing It All Up

I'm on the plane from Frankfurt to Chicago. All of the sensible people in first class are either asleep or trying to do as such. But if I've learned nothing else on this trip it's that that's a mugs game for me on a plane. What better time to write my summary impressions of the trip, pending any modifications and edits I may make in the 10 days before this posts.

This post may be really short. Haha, I almost had you there right? But if you've reached this point you know me too well to think you're getting out of this with less than a thousand words and this time there are no photos to break things up.

Let's do this by section?

First Class Air

Wow. Just, wow. Flying first class internationally, especially on a foreign carrier, is just a fantastic experience. Is it worth paying $10000 for a flight from Frankfurt to Chicago - no lie, that was the going price a few days before take-off - no, not at all. Is it worth an extra 30 or 40,000 miles? Quite possibly, yes. In fact it's almost more worth if you're someone like me who is not going to sleep and who is therefore really going to enjoy the extra space and attention. I'm not sure that I'll be able to keep the mileage balances necessary to pull this off again, but if I somehow can I'd be delighted to try international first again.

First Class Hotels

Had you asked me before the trip whether I thought it more useful to stay at a really nice hotel or fly in first, I certainly would have gone with the hotel. After all, you spend a lot more time in a hotel than you do on the flight. And if you're me and you end up in your room by 3 PM you spend *a lot* more time there. But now that I've gotten to try out both, I think I'd be more inclined to spend miles or points on the flight. It turns out that while the extra-special touches of a Park Hyatt are much appreciated, all I really need from a hotel is a safe location, a reasonable level of clealiness, a bed that's a little on the soft side, and free, fast and easily accessed internet.


This was the entire point of the trip, right? Every time I met a new person and told them the coherent theme tying it all together, there was a little voice in my head saying "you know they think you're an idiot, right?" Well, except for when I met Jay, Kev and Angela. I'm sure they were thinking that they wished they could finish the trip with me. But I'm really glad I did it. I think I can now put into words my love of Disney in a way I couldn't before. I know it's not about the characters or the movies, as I haven't even seen half of them. I'm pretty sure now that it's not about the rides, either. It's about the place. It's about it being the one place in the world where I feel completely comfortable. Where the rest of everything - everything outside the walls of the park - doesn't matter to me.

This is a story I've not told many people, but maybe it wraps it all up nicely. A while ago, but after moving to Florida, I broke up with my then-girlfriend. I suppose it was my decision to end it, but there were some really big things between us even then that made it inevitable (pro-tip: if you don't want kids and she does, don't start a relationship!). I couldn't sleep that night and by 3 AM I had just given up entirely on going to bed.  I got in the car and started driving north. I ended up at the Hard Rock Casino over by Tampa. I haven't a clue why as they don't have craps and that's basically all I play. It's a casino, I was a heartbroken young man. Short of giving me a bottle of Bud Light and a pick-up truck, it fit. I ended up playing slots for about fifteen minutes. Won $80 or a $100 and decided to leave.

I wasn't sure where to go at that point and then it hit me. I'd always said that it wasn't possible for me to round that corner onto Main Street USA and not be happy so it was time to put it to the test. I showed up at the Magic Kingdom and you know what? It worked. It bloody well worked. For a few hours I was sure that the world was full of good people and happiness and that my future would be, too. I had a lot of memories in those parks and it wasn't possible to relive them and not smile. It didn't last of course. Not even a trip to every Disney in the world can help you get over someone faster than you would otherwise. But it was a nice oasis of fun.

That's what I realized on this trip: that for me, a Disney park is home. It's comfort. It's a form of acceptance that I don't feel in a lot of other times or places.  Shit that got deep all of a sudden. Let's turn to reflecting on some of the places I've been:

Disney Part 2

I've seen them all, some in more depth than others. My absolute favorite? Tokyo DisneySea. My favorite resort as a whole? Tokyo. My second favorite park - and favorite of the castle parks - remains Disneyland. In fact, if you gave me 12 hours to spend in any one park I might still choose Disneyland ahead of Tokyo DisneySea. Magic Kingdom in Orlando is a close third. In absolute last is Walt Disney Studios in Paris.  If you are a Disney fanatic and you're in Hong Kong, give it a go. Otherwise pass it on by. If you're even a bit of a fan of Disney theme parks and you're in Paris, give the main park there a day. You won't be sorry. If you are in any way, shape or form a fan of theme parks at all and you're in Tokyo, give DisneySea a day. You can probably skip the Tokyo Disneyland side of things if you're pressed for time.

Things no one cares about but me:

Best castle: Disneyland Paris

Best Haunted Mansion: Probably Disneyland Paris, though it's neck-and-neck with Magic Kingdom

Best Pirates: Disneyland Paris

Best dark ride: Pooh's Hunny Hunt in Tokyo, though Sinbad in DisneySea is still stuck in my head a month later.

Best It's a Small World: Disneyland Paris

Ride that I'd go on fifteen times in a row right now if you'd let me: Mr. Toad. You saw that coming, right?

Absolute Worst Service at a Disney Park: Paris. Not missing a chance to slam Paris again! ;)


Haha, LA, that's a good one. I still haven't seen any of LA outside of Disneyland and Burbank/Glendale. Maybe you should just skip to the next section? Sucker.

Hong Kong

What an absolutely fascinating place. I'm sure every guidebook begins with this observation, but it's as true as it is trite: Hong Kong is a city of contradictions. It's about as dense an urban space as you're likely to see, with a gorgeous skyline of massively tall buildings. Yet it feels like if the city ever lets down its guard for a few years nature will come and reclaim its own. It is East meets West but in a way that feels like it's completely unique. If there's one thing I wish I'd done more of there, it's exploring the wilderness. The ride to Stanley Market was incredible but I think the hike on Lamma might have been even better. On a trip that was in so many respects about being alone, I never felt as liberatingly solitary as I did standing on the crest of a hill, looking down on both sides of the island, with not a soul in sight. I'm not sure that I'm in a hurry to return, though. Hong Kong feels manageable in a few days. I'm not going to pretend like I have some deep grasp on the rhythms of the city, but I feel content with what I've done. Of course in reality I will hurry back, but that's only for those BBQ pork buns. What can I say, I'm a slave to my stomach?


Sigh. I think I've told at least fifteen people since I left Tokyo (always in a joking manner) that I was thinking of just staying there. At what point does it stop being a joke and start being a sincere if implausible wish? In very much the same way that Disney feels like home to me, Tokyo just instantly felt like somewhere that I belonged. It's this incredibly diverse, dynamic place that is still completely orderly and safe. 10 days there only scratched the surface of the city and didn't include any of the rest of the country. I know I'm not the only person who experienced an instant love of the country - Brian and Ben at thepointsguy and one mile at a time respectively both loved the country after their first visit and immediately planned on going back. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get an international trip in this year but whenever my next trip is, it'll be to Japan.


Oh Paris. You all know how I felt about it so I almost don't want to get back into it. I am 100% sure that a return trip would go better, especially with someone who spoke French or had Paris experience. It's certainly atmospheric, so long as you include malodorous smugness as an atmosphere. Yeah, maybe we should just move on?


Japan was the clear winner on this trip, but England will always be my spiritual home. My sport of choice is English. My favorite team is English. My favorite TV shows are English. My favorite authors are English. Favorite stand-up comedian? English. Favorite cuisine? Indian, but pretty much as interpreted in England. Favorite accent is English. Place I'd most likely move to for half the year if I won the lottery? English countryside. So there was no way I wasn't going to enjoy my ten days in England. Sure, I managed to spend yet another ten days in the country and only saw a bit of London. I kind of like it that way. The best part of England, though, and not something that is of any use to readers of this blog, was getting to spend time with friends. I loved doing the rest of the trip alone, but it was great to have that one period where I got to share things with people I care about.


I almost feel bad commenting on Germany given how little time I spent there - and that I spent it in the part of the country that most every German I met said was the least interesting. But I was pretty charmed by the entire experience and I am definitely looking forward to returning to see more of the country. My current international travel wish list looks like this:

1) Japan - Tokyo and then the rest of the country as well
2) Germany - Especially Bavaria
3) Italy
4) England - One of these days I will see an Arsenal match. We'll probably lose it, but I'll be there to watch us lose dammit!
5) Singapore
6) Thailand

Best Meals

Before getting into the food discussion, let me drop a link here to my friend Lucy's blog. Lucy was responsible for much of the delicious homecooked food I ate in England and in a few weeks she'll be traveling around the US eating the best our country has to offer. She's going to try to keep up a food-centric trip report that I'm sure will also contain the observations of a young Englishwoman in the southern US. Should be quite interesting. You can find her blog here with the travel report section specifically here. I'm getting hungry just looking at it.

Back to best meals. This might be the hardest part of the post. To do this right I am not going to review any of the trip report. I'm just going to go from memory about what meals stand out to me and why. Maybe this biases me towards the recent ones, but let's see which stuck with me over time. In roughly chronological order:

1) Cafe Orleans - I don't know most of you personally but rest assured that if conspiring for your downfall were to lead to me getting some of those pomme frites I'd do it in a heartbeat.

2) Napa Rose - Only for the Chef's Counter. Not a cheap meal, but fantastic for what you get. Even better when shared with friends.

3) Tim Ho Wan - Those BBQ pork buns are the single best thing I ate on this trip. Possibly the single best thing I've eaten in my life. (note: this was before the Copper River salmon and Wagyu beef at V&As, not sure the comment still stands).

4) Andy's Shinhinomoto - Go for the atmosphere, stay for Andy's ability to pick out fantastic fish.

5) Sushi anywhere in Tokyo. Ramen anywhere in Tokyo. Just go to Tokyo and eat, right now.

6) That one breakfast in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, but really that was just because of the eclipse and there's no way I'd pay $40 for the food if they weren't giving it to me for free.

7) Cranberry popcorn in Tokyo Disney - the best of the popcorn flavors on offer during my time there.

8) Toad Hall in Disneyland Paris - Just for the theming. The food was "eh".

9) Macarons at Pierre Herme in Paris (and also in Tokyo though I didn't go there) - Kinda glad I didn't discover these earlier on the trip. That would have been bad.

10) Almeida in London - Everything there looked delicious. The pollock was the best cooked piece of fish I've ever had.

11) Tandoor Indian Grill in Gillingham - Unless you are Phil (hi Phil) you aren't ever going to be in Gillingham. But if you ever are, give it a go. Great Indian food.

12) King John Pub somewhere in Dorset - Heck, just go for the fresh bread. I doubt they'd appreciate it, but do it anyway.

13) Borough Market in London - Bring 50 pounds, spend it all, and leave 20 pounds heavier.

14) That one oyster place in Whitstable and I'm too lazy to look it up. I'd bet any oysters in Whitstable would be delicious.

15) Gino's East in Chicago - Mmmm, deep dish.

16) The various foods around World Showcase in EPCOT - school bread and kaki-gori especially.

17) Victoria and Alberts Chef's Table at WDW - It got its own post. That pretty much speaks for itself, right?

I could also stick some of the homecooked meals I got at Allison's place (including Lucy's desserts) but that seems cruel since those aren't commercially available.

Let's Get Personal

This trip report has flirted at times with being a diary. Well, let's crank Bright Eyes to 10 and go Livejournal for a bit to put the Iliad of trip reports to rest, shall we?

They say that in leaving our own country we learn as much about ourselves as we do others. I'm not convinced about that as I've had too many "epiphanies" in my life to take any of them seriously any more. But I think maybe I learned a few things about myself during all of this.

The first thing that became quite apparent, really as soon as I reached Switzerland, is that I'm just as self-conscious and worried about what others think of me overseas as I am at home. This is utterly ridiculous because when the hell am I ever going to see someone from Tim Ho Wan's again? In some ways that makes me feel better about it all - that I'm still uncomfortable enough in my own skin that it doesn't matter whether it's justified or not.

This was most apparent when it came to transportation and dining. We've covered my thoughts on bus travel several scores of thousands of words ago, but I couldn't help thinking on my first (or second, or third) trip on public transportation in a new country "ur doing it wrong". I went to some lengths in Paris to not have to be the guy who opened the door on the metro until the one time I was alone in the car and coud learn how to do it for myself.

Dining though. Oh dining. I need to get over this because I know I missed out on fantastic meals over my anxieties about ordering in a place where people didn't share a common language with me. I had a lot of dinners that consisted of bread bought from markets. Can't have an awkward exchange when it's just bread, right? Germany turned out to be my savior on this front because absolutely everyone spoke English well enough that I was at ease. Plus I can say wurst so what else do I need to order in Germany?

I got a bit better as the trip went on. In some respects Paris was great for this. By the last day there I couldn't have given less of a crap about what Parisians thought of me and was finally free to just do whatever the hell I wanted to. For a few seconds I thought "this must be what it's like to be Parisian all the time".

Six weeks on the road is a lot. I spent a ton of that time alone, too. I had nine days in England with friends, though even then I managed to get at least three hours a day to myself. Other than those nine days, I had maybe twenty hours spent talking with people I met on the road or already knew (hi Jesse, Sam, Angela, Jay, Kev, "Mo", and "Wendy" if any of you are still reading this).  I like being alone. My favorite moments at home are spent alone in the car just driving. But damn did I get lonely. Hong Kong was the worst. There were all sorts of things happening back home, at work and elsewhere, beyond my control and beyond my reach. It never distracted from the touristy parts of the trip, but since my touring ended pretty early every day that was a lot of time in my head.

Then things got better. Some of that was due to a couple of friends who went well out of their way to keep in touch. A lot was because of two people who I've never even met who became prolific penpals and lifelines to home. It's hard to feel lonely when you're exchanging thousands of words every day with people. Maybe, in some small way (cue the really cheesy music) there was some personal growth from all of this, too.

The last year was a pretty ridiculous one. Six weeks away, even if it was never truly "away", gave me some clarity on what I want out of life. The answer will include a lot more icewine, Timmy Ho's, delicious, fresh foods (I've never been more excited to cook than I am right now), and leisurely strolls by the bay. I'm going to continue to surround myself with awesome, amazing people. And who knows? Maybe next time I won't be on this trip alone... I just hope she likes waking up at 4:30 AM  ;)

That just leaves it for me to thank you for reading through it all. I've got a much shorter trip in August which might go up on here, along with any other smaller trips I take. Hopefully next spring I'll be able to travel internationally again. I'll keep posting any trip reports to FlyerTalk.

May Tin Hau bless your days and may all your trees be loved by Japanese men in pink pants. If you should someday see me rocking my Swiss Air pajamas in a Delta lounge near you, sipping on some melon soda and eyeing the Biscoff cookies, say "hi". Is it likely we'll meet? Probably not. But you never know. It's a small world, after all...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

[Disney] Day 46: The Meal to End All Meals

Ah, Victoria & Albert's. Disney's premier dining establishment in Orlando and, quite possibly, across all of their resort locations. The main dining room is a small, elegant and reserved setting featuring haute cuisine and foods the likes of which I rarely see. One group a night, though, gets to sit in a small dining room off the kitchen at the Chef's Table. It's not an easy reservation to get. You can book 180 days out but even that is rarely enough as those guests staying on-property have the ability to book 190 days out and usually take the best dates.

I decided I wanted that to be the capping experience of the trip - after all, if I wasn't paying for the airfare or most of the hotels I wanted to splurge somewhere. Initially I had targeted a day closer to my arrival home for the dinner. I called 180 days out and sure enough Resort guests had booked virtually every night for the next 190 days. The only thing left was a Sunday night in June, 189 days out. One quick phone call later and I had a dummy booking at a Disney hotel for 9 days that was later cancelled (tee hee) after I'd successfully snagged that Sunday night V&A Chef's Table slot.

I'd done the Chef's Table one before, about 14 months earlier, and it was the best dining experience I'd ever had. The food was fantastic as one would expect for a meal that costs more than some round-trip flights. But the quality and rarity of the ingredients and the coolness factor of getting a view of a working kitchen put it over the top. I was curious to see how experiencing the Chef's Table for a second time would compare. Here's the abstract, with the full review to come below: the food on the second trip tasted even better. I had been saying for the past year that for the experience I'd take V&As but if I wanted the absolute most delicious food, I'd head to California Grill on the top floor of the Contemporary Hotel with a view of the Magic Kingdom. I can no longer say that as the taste of this particular menu blew everything else away. That being said, as a value proposition the second meal was a bit lacking. The price had gone up in the past 14 months and they gave you considerably less for that. I still had an amazing time and don't regret it for a second but it does mean it's likely to be a bit longer than 14 months before my next trip ;) Now for the full review.

If you're the lucky group heading through the main restaurant to the Chef's Table in the kitchen, you are requested to arrive at 5 PM. I met two of my friends who were joining me for the evening at 4:30 in the lobby of the Grand Floridian. As usual I was there a bit early and grabbed some photos:

I'm back at the Hong Kong Disneyland hotel!

Someday when they catch Big Bird and stick him (her?) in here, I want to be on hand to watch and cheer.

Asiana Lounge?

This hotel is so damn classy it's got a band that plays every night. I am not classy enough to be here.

Words I hate: pamper

Beautiful out despite the rain

On the way over I was debating whether to pay the $12 for valet parking. Normally I would never, but I was wearing a suit and tie and Tropical Storm Debbie was happening outside. Thankfully valet parking was included (who knew?) so I didn't have to make that call.

After my friends arrived we headed up to the second floor to have a drink in Mizner's Lounge. Those of you who have been faithfully reading my trip report will remember that I met a couple of American guys in Tokyo Disneyland. One of them had told me that if my meal was on Sunday then I'd find Tammy working the Lounge - sure enough she was there and was delighted to have me pass on my "hello" from our mutual friend. If it meant that my amaretto sour was just a bit stronger, well, who am I to complain!

Mmmm, liquid gold

At 5 PM we checked into V&A's. The normal maitre d'hotel, Israel Perez, was off for the night so his replacement Melissa walked us through the dining room and the kitchen to the back. Israel was a great guy and all, but Melissa had a much warmer personality and I instantly felt more comfortable. It probably helped that I'd been through this before. The last time at the Chef's Table I was so uptight and worried about being proper that I probably missed a quarter of the fun!

Thirteen consecutive AAA five-diamond awards

We settled into the nice little dining area, set off by a small railing from the kitchen. Gentlemen (using the term loosely here) were told they could take their jackets off but that they had to don them if traveling through the main dining room to the restrooms. They also brought out a small stool for the lady's purse.

Our two waiters introduced themselves to us. They were both extremely friendly and talkative and really set a nice tone for us. The main chef, Scott Hummel, was off for the night, so we would be in the hands of Thomas, one of his longtime assistants.

The evening started with a champagne toast shared with chef Thomas. After that, our waiters took our drink orders. One of my friends had an amaretto sour while I started hitting the Diet Coke hard. My glass never reached more than half empty before it was replaced. In that manner I went through at least ten over the course of the evening.

We were handed the menus which you see below. This was a new touch, as last time we were kept in suspense. The reason behind the change quickly became evident: during my last trip to the Chef's Table literally everything other than additional alcohol was included. This time there were upcharges for four of the rarest ingredients, including my main reason for coming, the Wagyu beef. This was both surprising and unwelcome and, frankly, a bit tacky. In the main dining room they've done this all along, but if you're going to pay an extra $100 to sit in the Chef's Table then you know what? Just charge me an extra $125 and don't make me think about whether I want to pay another $40 on top of it for the best beef in the world. I'm sure this was due to rising commodity costs, but it threatens to take one out of the experience and having the menu ahead of time ruins a lot of the surprise. 

Ah, the good stuff

This was okay too, I guess

Back to the meal! We started with the amuse-bouche. The clear winner here, by unanimous acclaim, was the porcini mushroom cappuccino. It tasted like essence of mushroom. We were all blown away by it and declared it one of the four or five best of the night. Having had quail egg before, I was not overly amazed by it, though it was well done. In general I have an open mind while eating, but chicken liver is one of the few things that I absolutely hate. That being said, and it's a sign of the skill in the preparation here, the chicken liver terrine was good. Not saying I'd order it off a menu, but to get me to say that liver is good is about as high a compliment as I've got in me. Finally the cauliflower panna cotta did an excellent job of distilling the cauliflower taste down to the basics and doing so in an unexpected form. 

At this point we had the first of three bread services. Each came with a different type of bread and a different type of butter. There were also six different salts to try. Each of the butters was fantastic and the breads ranged from good to excellent. Plus it's always fun to try Himalayan rock salt. 

Next up was our first appetizer, the Maine lobster with herb aioli and miniature greens. The lobster was excellent and the flavors of the dish melded well together. It was not a standout dish compared to everything else but, taken on its own, it did well. When you have this many courses it's hard for any one thing to stand out, even writing this the day after!

The next course definitely won for most impressive presentation. The hot "smoked" lamb comes out in a goblet filled with liquid smoke, which prevents you from seeing what is inside. It also looks vaguely Haunted Mansionish, as one of my dining companions pointed out. Once the aromatically-pleasing smoke clears you are left with a really incredible pairing of the least-gamy lamb I've ever had with some Fuji apple. Independently they were tasty but eaten together really moved them into the divine region. One of the best courses of the night.

It was just warming us up, though, for probably the most surprisingly amazing course of the evening. Copper River Salmon is only available for about six weeks a year and even during those times is very difficult to find. I'd had it once before and was underwhelmed by it. Not so hear. Just a few weeks earlier I'd had what I declared to be the best piece of cooked fish in my life. This was several levels beyond that. It was absolutely incredible and, save for the Wagyu beef that I've now had twice, it was the most incredible piece of protein I've ever had the pleasure of eating. 

Thankfully I finally learned how to use chopsticks properly before this trip. I still kinda suck with them, though.

Raw wasabi - very, very mild.

I asked our waiter if I could have a few mementos of this variety and he brought me this lot - very much appreciated!

The poulet rouge "oscar" which came out next did little for me, but that's generally the case with fowl. It's just not my thing. The king crab was delicious and the two types of asparagus added a nice dimension, but as has always been the case when I've had multicourse meals (not that often, I swear), I could lose the poultry course and be just fine.

For our next course we were able to try some veal tenderloin. The veal had a nice, subtle flavor that was much more pleasing that I normally find veal. The star of this course was the truffle bread pudding which won me over completely on truffles. 

What I wouldn't give to swipe a jar of those brandied cherries

Not sure I qualify but what the heck

Pay phones? Really? In 2012? In Victoria & Albert's?

Finally we reached the main course. I could tell you about the bison, which was delicious. Or the short ribs, which were amazing. But really all I'm going to say is that the Wagyu beef was, once again (having tried it once before at V&As) the best non-dessert food I've ever eaten. We all sat there in silence as we ate it, not wanting to forget a second of it. 

The very last piece. What a sad photo.

Having successfully passed the main portion of the meal, we decided to press on through to dessert. At this point in my previous trip my dining partner and I had felt quite stuffed and so decided to talk a thirty minute walk and watch the fireworks from the pier. This time while I would not say I was still hungry, I definitely was not stuffed. And since the folks I was dining with had quite a drive ahead of them we proceeded onto the cheese course, which passed without comment.

Very neat coffee contraption

It was then time for the first dessert course, which also came beautifully plated. As someone who loves fruit-based desserts and could take or leave chocolate I was in heaven. The blood orange mousse was out of this world and the caramel cookie in the background turned out to be delicious. For me this was one of the top three courses of the night, along with the Wagyu and the salmon.

The chocolate course proved a bit much for me, but here's some chocolate love for those who like such things:

Shot o'chocolate

Edible gold

Finally we closed with an assortment of sweets, including the famed chocolate-covered brandy cherry. I could eat a whole jar of these, though I doubt that would feel as good the next day.

Errr, one of each please

The mysterious black box containing the check

After settling up our bill, I bid farewell to my friends and returned to the bar for one last drink with Tammy, Jessica and the rest of the spirited bar patrons. Naturally it was blue and glowing. What can I say, I like it that way ;)

A lovely way to end the evening

Overall, I was very pleased with the meal. The quality of the food was outstanding. Much of the last meal I'd had at V&As tasted good but it often seemed like the menu was chosen more for the rarity or "wow" value of the ingredients than for the taste. Which isn't to say it wasn't good, it just wasn't the single best tasting meal of my life. This run through might have been just that, with only a few meals that could rival it in my mind. But the value remark remains. Last time the Wagyu and a caviar course were included, which would have cost an extra $70 or $75 now, despite the overall meal already being more expensive. Last time the courses were also a touch larger, though that may have just been chance.

On my last trip there was a parting gift, in that case a loaf of orange-flavored bread, which made a nice breakfast. I've read that people have also been given jars of brandy cherries. No such luck for us and I have no clue if that was just our bad fortune or if it's a new cost-conscious policy. There were also no surprises during the meal, though I suspect that may have been because with head chef Scott off for the night, his assistant might not have felt he had the authority to do so. In case you're wondering what I mean, during my last meal at V&As my companion and I had made a special point to ask if we could try Wagyu as neither of us had ever had it. Not only did Chef Scott serve us tenderloin Wagyu, he brought a giant slab of the raw stuff back so we could watch him cut it. We were so amazed by the process that on the spur of the moment he cut off some ribeye, threw it on the grill, and gave both of us the most delicious piece of meat we are ever likely to try (hur hur). He also let us try some Wagyu tartar.

Again I'm not sure if the change is part of more of a cost-conscious approach to the Chef's Table, but it's a bit of a shame. That being said, I had an abundance of absolutely delicious food, and wonderful companions to share the night with. It is a night I will treasure always and it was a great way to end the trip, even with a tropical storm raging outside.

Come back tomorrow for some final thoughts on the trip.