Monday, October 17, 2005

Greenwich, CT - ValBella's

My firm provided the following excerpt on ValBella’s from a recent survey: "The stylish decor is most inviting: sleek black upholstered chairs at well-spaced tables, white walls above dark green wainscoting, a working fireplace, a few oriental carpets on the dark wood floors and subdued halogen lighting from above. It's an elegant setting for such northern Italian specialties as chicken breast with champagne, artichokes and shrimp, and braised veal chop embellished with cherry and roasted peppers in a port wine sauce."

Amidst a power schmoozing event in one of the private rooms, I stepped out to enjoy the decor in the surprisingly large restaurant and discovered certain treasures like their well-regarded wine cellar. You won't get enchanting accounts of decor from me, but suffice to say that I agreed, more or less, with the decor description my firm had provided me.

For the cocktail hour, we were treated to an array of hor d’ouvres including lobster cocktail, shrimp cocktail, mozzarella with roasted pepper, proscuitto and melon, Valbella meatballs, baby crab cakes and foccacio bread topped with grilled vegetable and goat cheese. Each was served on an individual tray by courteous waiters who would actually hand you a toothpick with the food dipped in your preferred sauce. Another waiter would immediately follow with an empty tray to collect discarded toothpicks and napkins. This was immensely helpful as I've been to many events where clumsy hands made a mess. The waiters were knowledgeable about the food and were very suave with their joint ability to balance the tray in one hand while serving the food with the other. Service and presentation was great. The lobsters for example, came on one tray in a row (perhaps like six to a tray of 1 to 1-1/2 pound lobsters) still in their original shell with pre-cut meat. The waiter would then take a toothpick and take a piece of the meat, dip it in your desired sauce and hand it to you with a napkin. Very professional. The lobster cocktail was fresh and sweet with a firm texture, as were the gigantic shrimp cocktails. I'm not sure what was in the Valbella meatballs, but they were very tasty and a big hit with the crowd. Less popular were the baby crab cakes which seemed to have too mushy of a consistency for me (and presumably for others as well). The proscuitto with melon was great, but that's a dish you can't really mess up if you start with quality ingredients. The mozzarella with roasted pepper and the goat cheese grilled vegetables were ok. Nothing spectacular, but still palatable.

As if we weren't already full, cocktail hour came to an end and we sat down to dinner. We each had two pastas, two salads, an entree and dessert. Some, like myself, would go on to have two desserts.

The pastas were penne vodka and rigatoni molanzana. Both were great. The penne vodka had just a light creamy sauce with a subtle taste. The rigatoni had a tomato-based sauce with artichokes and was equally great. The pasta was al dente; for me, that was ideal, but some others might find it a bit hard. I was a big fan of the pastas as they were light and enjoyable. Generally, the table thought the pastas and salads were better than the entrees.

The salads were the traditional Caesar salad and Valbella mixed greens. With fresh ingredients, the salads were very popular. The dressings were both light and just right.

For the entrees, we were given the choice of a veal mignonette, a chicken special, a filet mignon (which turned out to be massive), a vegetarian special and three seafood specials (Dover sole, halibut and another fish).

I ordered the "highly recommended" Dover sole, which was just ok. I finished it all, but didn't really care for it too much. Another person who ordered it mentioned that the pastas were better. And yet another commented "[the fish was] highly recommended because they're trying to push it out of the kitchen". One nitpicky question I have is, "What happened to the fish knife?" Considering that the restaurant paid so much attention to details and service, I'm surprised they didn't provide the traditional fish knives. I was also able to try the halibut, which was overcooked and had much too much pepper.

After a disappointing entree, I gathered my thoughts and noted that the decor and professional service may be ValBela's best attributes. The food is good and the wine list extensive, but it doesn't make my cut for a top eat. It was great to see that they often did make a note of servicing females first and that they served from the right side most of the times. Of course, sometimes, they'd take shortcuts, but as the Queen of England was nowhere in sight, I don't think it mattered. Somehow, the salad service got botched with the men being served first and from the wrong side, but who's noticing anyway. The water pouring was ambitious and fanatic, which is great except that it was a bit sloppy. There were quite a number of incidences where the water missed the glass a little and there were numerous times they tried to pour flat water into my sparkling water glass (and eventually, one waiter succeeded).

There was a varied selection of desserts. I had an excellent "highly recommended" chocolate soufflé and very fresh, ripe mixed berries.

For what was supposed to be a pretty good review, I guess I brought up a number of negative facts, but that's just me being critical. The bottom line is that I would definitely come back to this restaurant. Of all the dishes I tried, only the entree failed to meet my expectations and truthfully, that's only because my expectations were artificially inflated by the beginning hor d’ouvres.

1309 East Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, CT


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