The Winemaker Dinner Series
Portofino Bay Hotel
When: Held monthly
Where: Universal Orlando / Portofino Bay Hotel
Cost: $100 per person (21 and over only)
Reservations: Call 407-503-1407
Wine pairings are not uncommon. You may even get a good meal to go along with it, if your lucky. However, when fine wine is paired with expertly prepared food by a world reknowned chef, and mixed with an intimate setting, superb service and delightful entertainment - the phrase 'wine pairing' just doesn't seem to do it justice. The Winemaker Dinner Series at Portofino Bay Hotel is just such an experience.
From the beginning of the evening you get a sense that this is a very special occasion. H'ors d'ouvers and champagne are served on the piazza of the hotel as your evening begins. As you enjoy, you are seranaded from the balconies above the piazza by entertainers performing both popular and operatic selections. To say that this sets the mood for the evening would be an understatement.
Once the entertainment concludes, you're escored to the private dining room alongside Mama Della's Restaurante. A table is prepared for up to 30 guests (you're seated famiy style, so you get to make friends with your neighbors). At first, we found this setting a bit unusual, and we weren't sure how we were going to like it, but by the end of the night, everyone was exchanging hugs (and business cards).
The wine pairing and menu are changed every month, with a different winery sponsoring the event. The night we attended, Tommasi Wines was sponsoring the event, and all of our wine pairings were from their collection. Our first course was a Maine Lobster Cannelloni in a Fennel Broth, followed by a salad of organic baby greens, walnuts, porcini mushrooms, sun dried tomato leaves in a sherry vinaigrette. Our main course was grilled beef tenderloin and herb encrusted sea bass in a valpolicella demi-glace sauce. This was followed by a selection of fine cheeses and for dessert, a frozen cherry ice cream in a white chocolate cannoli. The meal was absolutely as good as it sounds. For each course we were served at least one glass of wine (if your glass was empty, one of the ever-attentive servers was on hand to refill it). At the beginning of each course, the chef would come and describe what you were about to eat and how it was prepared, followed by an explanation of the wine that was being paired with the meal. Intermittently throughout the evening, a trio of performers from Mamma Della's would serenade the group.
Beyond the outstanding service, food, music and wine - what impressed us the most was the quality with which everything was prepared and presented. This was not a cheap excuse that some hotel executive came up with to shake an extra few hundred dollars out of his guests. Rather, the evening was prepared and executed with an eye towards the quality of it. At first we found the price of $100 per head to be on the steep side. In retrospect, the evening would have been a bargain at twice the price.
One recommendation that we must make however, is that you not drive to this event. If you are staying at a hotel other than one of the Universal resorts, we STRONGLY recommend that you arrange for transportation to and from your hotel. A great deal of wine is served during this meal, you probably shouldn't drive afterwards. Of course, it's always an option to skip the wine pairing, but that would really detract from the entire experience and you'd likely be better off just having a nice dinner somewhere else.
Overall, we give the Winemaker Dinner Series at Portofino our highest recommendation. You might consider the $100 per person charge to be a lot of money for a dinner, and it is - but you'll absolutely get your money's worth from this experience. If you're looking for a special night to celebrate, or just a romantic evening - the Winemaker Dinner Series is a MUST!