Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fine dining at 360 Grille Florence Alabama

Fine dining at 360 Grille Florence, Alabama 

We traveled to Florence, Alabama to tour the Rosenbaum House, designed by iconic American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, a Usonian style house, the only Wright building in Alabama, considered "the purest example of the Usonian” concept.  

(Read more about my work as a Docent/Interpreter and Researcher for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust on my Wright-site at

We arrived the night before and dined at 360 Grille at the Marriott Shoals Hotel, Spa and Conference Center

360 Grille is a circular revolving restaurant atop a 300 foot 27 story tower overlooking the lock and dam on the scenic Tennessee River, the entire community of Florence, (Alabama), and the town of Muscle Shoals across the river, as it revolves slowly. It is Alabama's only revolving restaurant. It offers a unique and distinctive fine dining experience with ‘American chef’s creations’ and a Wine Spectator award winning wine list. 

In the end, while a technological and engineering marvel, with a 360 degree vista of the region, aside the river view, there is no skyline or cityscape to offer any sense of view - it might as well be in the middle of a forest as most of the scene is treetops in almost all directions other than the river. Of course, we are immensely spoiled being accustomed to one of the most spectacular cityscapes and skylines on the planet in Chicago! Alas, many Chicago restaurants offer memorable, world class views - too many to mention here.

As is customary, I spent much time researching and planning all the details of our trip and travel including evaluating dining options based on site and location, and primarily food and wine offerings based on published menu’s and wine lists ahead of time, as part of selecting a dining venue in the region.

360 Grille published their menu and wine list on-line which offers the chance to plan such an event. The menu was essentially up to date and accurately reflected what was on offer. The wine list however, was a bit chaotic with multiple listings for several wines including several conflicting or duplicate labels, and the typical challenge of out of date vintages and prices. 

The (historical) Wine Spectator Award Winning winelist, published on-line, shows about 75 Red Wines, 45 White Wines and Seven dessert or after dinner wines. As shown, they are arranged in a very haphazard confusing manner, and priced ranging from $30 to $375, with price points ranging from slightly over one times retail to five times retail prices. 

As I expected, the actual wines on offer bore only slight resemblance to what was published on-line. Interestingly, case in point is a wine we know extremely well, having visited the Chateau and estate in France, and holding a not-insignificant collection of the producer’s labels in our home cellar. 

Looking to support one of our favorite producers, ordering a wine we know well, we had hoped to possibly order Château Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf Du Pape. was prepared to be disappointed, though, when they also published on-line Château Vieux Télégraphe ‘Télégramme’, Châteauneuf Du Pape. Télégramme is the ‘second’ label and wine from this producer, which sells for half the price of the grand vin, but both were posted at the same price.

Ironically, this was a replay of a similar situation we encountered last year where the wine on offer was the grand vin, while the wine served was the second label. In this case, the actual wine list corrected the duplication error, offering only the second label, however at an even higher price point than the grand vin published on-line. I wrote about this similar experience in this blogpost in these pages - The James Geneva features wine friendly menu and fine wines.

The result, tonight, was a wine sold at five times the retail price, versus two times the retail price as advertised! 

There were several other errors and anomalies between the published list and actual current list in the restaurant. I wasn’t surprised and expected as much having seen this many times before, but not to this level of breadth, depth and magnitude. 

Being from Chicago, we’re used to sophisticated, upscale fine dining experiences, which we perhaps take for granted. The disparities become apparent when you visit arguably the top establishment in a small remote third tier town like Florence. The folks at 360 Grille exuded an abundance of warm friendly southern hospitality, and the venue a spectacular site experience, still, the vibe was as much akin a diner or coffee shop as it was an upscale elegant restaurant.     

For our dinner, we ordered as a starter the Baked Brie, and for entrees, I ordered the filet of beef while Linda selected the fresh seafood special selection, grilled Wahu. 

Diners were treated to an Amouse Buche of crabmeat on a small bread crust. 

For a starter, Linda ordered the Oven Baked Brie with Toasted Pecans and Apricot Jam. This is a dish we know well from several restaurant experiences, and which she personally prepares often, based on some of our favorite preparations and presentations. I wrote about her baked Brie, and some of the inspirations for it in this blogpost -  Baked Brie Tranche Slice of Pape Blanc Columbia Valley White Blend. Tonight’s presentation while imaginative and nicely done was a bit uninspiring with a somewhat simple preparation of cheese with the fruit topping. They might take note from this blogpost. 

I ordered the filet of beef, which came with my choice of two sides, spinach and truffle mashed potatoes. This offering is priced at $34 for lunch, and $52 for dinner. 

The second infraction, or disappointment of the evening, involved preparation of my filet of beef. Regular readers of these pages know I often order filet of beef with a ‘Pittsburg’ style preparation. Fully expecting the waitstaff to not know to what I was referring, I didn’t mention Pittsburg, but rather, described how I wished my steak to be prepared. I stated, slowly and distinctly, “hot pink center, and if possible, and if it doesn’t present any trouble, light charring, so long as it doesn’t result in over-cooking the beef.”  

When my entree arrived, the presentation was nice and well laid out, but it tasted smoked with a strong smoky flavor, (that unfortunately I hate to say, resembled a sense of lighter fluid). Linda, a competent and experienced cook, attributed it to ‘liquid smoke’, a cooking aide, which apparently was applied in the quest to provide the essence of charring. Needless to say, charring and smoking are very different methods of preparation, with very different taste effects and outcomes. 

In the end, Linda loved her seafood chef’s special entree which had an ample portions such that we traded mid-meal and I was able to enjoy the remains of her entree, and she found my filet less off-putting than I did. 

I was prepared and expecting to take the high road, be polite and restrained, yet mention the winelist, and perhaps also the condition of my steak preparation, to anyone in the restaurant that might be interested in feedback and willing to listen. Alas, the assistant manager happened to come by the table and asked about our dining experience, so, I offered to provide some candid and unvarnished feedback. He was a slight bit overwhelmed in the breadth and depth of my research, and expectations relative to the outcomes. In the end, he took it exceedingly well, sincerely and genuinely interested in our candid feedback and evaluation of their standards of offering and service. 

The bright spot of the evening was the Chef's Fresh Seafood Special, Grilled Wahu, served with Creamy Polenta, Spiced Pear Chutney, Frisee, Citrus Vinaigrette and Crispy Beet. This was wonderful, and delicious, although perhaps slightly overcooked so as to be a bit dry. 

With her entree we ordered a Chardonnay B-T-G, by the glass, from the available options. 

With my entree I ordered one of the reds that was available at a slightly more reasonable value - two and a half times the retail price, which I consider a bit high (especially for a place like Florence, Alabama), but acceptable and somewhat ‘customary’ for upscale fine dining establishments. 

Gary Farrell Sonoma Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2021

I selected this as a cross-over wine, one that could go with both Linda’s grilled seafood and my steak dinner. 

Like the Vieux Telegraphe above, we know this producer well and had visited the Gary Farrell estate and winery in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, during or Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience in 2017 I wrote about this producer and our visit there in this earlier blogpost.

Farrell produces and is most noted for a wide portfolio of single vineyard designated Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley. 

This is their standard bottling blended from numerous vineyard sources. 

This Russian River Selection bottling is a classic Russian River Valley profile, sourced and blended from several of the region’s top vineyards, taking advantage of varied climates and unique site characteristics. 

From the Producer - Tasting Notes - “This gorgeous Pinot Noir opens with seductive aromas of cherry liquor, sweet tobacco, fresh fennel, rose petal and boysenberry preserves. The broad, youthful, tangy, yet complex palate offers juicy flavors of blood orange, sour cherry jam, tamarind, raspberry jerk sauce, with a hint of savory green plantains. The firm tannins and tangy acidity create a full-bodied texture, lending to the incredibly long, spicy finish.” 

Vineyard Notes - “Our Russian River Selection bottlings are quintessential Russian River Valley wines blended from some of the region’s top vineyards, taking advantage of varied climates and unique site characteristics. The Rochioli and Bacigalupi vineyards are located in the Middle Reach subdivision, where close proximity to the river awards foggy mornings, warm and sunny days, and cool nights – the perfect balance that characterizes the Russian River Valley. The Martaella vineyard is located in the Santa Rosa Plain, a distinctly cooler and foggier sub-region, while the Hallberg and McDonald Mountain Vineyards, located within the Green Valley and Sebastopol Hills neighborhoods, exhibits even more extreme cool climate conditions. A beautiful expression of the varietal and of the appellation’s unique terroir, this Pinot Noir blend captures the richness, purity and elegance that are Gary Farrell Winery’s trademarks.”

This was rated 93 points by Wine Enthusiast and 91 points by Jeb Dunnuck. 

Ruby colored medium bodied, dusty rose floral perfume tones with black cherry fruits with notes of what Jeb Dunnuck calls ‘cherry cola’, and the winemaker cites ‘savory, sweet tobacco’ with tangy, nicely balanced acidity and fine grained tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 90 points.