Food & Wine – Quick Bites #1

November 24, 2009

Okay, I figured it was time to start actually commenting on the food booth by booth, so that those of you attending… oh wait… a bit late…

Okay, so now that the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is gone… we’ll start looking at the items booth by both so that when some of them are there next year…. 😉

Let’s preface this tour of the booths by saying that I do have some personal “taste preferences” that will certainly color what I have to say about the individual food items… and I will try and address those preferences as we go along.

Also I’m not a huge fan of sweets, so I did bypass a few of the desserts, but I did try all savory items (at least once…). And no, I didn’t try each and every one of the adult beverage choices (yes you can pick yourself up off the floor now…), and no, I’m not going to try & review each beverage… I fell down after the first 23 glasses anyway…

And no, I did not have each item in each booth in order, but instead of trying to break it down into trips, I figured looking at the dishes in “booth order” was the most logical way…

Let’s take a right turn as we hit the World Showcase Promenade and our first stops will be San Juan, Puerto Rico and Santiago, Chile….mmmm Latin Food, I’m looking forward to some spicy items…

Now here is where we have to first touch upon one of my personal preferences – I love hot & spicy food, and yes, I do understand that if Disney actually served some items as hot as I’d like them, many (if not most) diners would be running for the exits with their palates on fire… and yes, I know not everything (even from cuisines we tend to think of as hot & spicy) is, nor should be, flaming hot… okay, let’s move on…

Ham Croquettes in San Juan… actually about what you’d expect – nothing great, nothing bad… the mustard flavored sauce was actually the best part of the dish.

Ham Croquettes with Frozen Mojito

There were a couple of notable adult beverages here – both frozen (which considering how hot it was during most of the festival was a welcome respite… okay there was tasty booze, hot or cold it would have been welcome…). A frozen Mojito and frozen Dragon Berry Colada were the choices. Both were served in a simple plain plastic glass and both were a pricey $7.25… I heard several people comment about the price vs. size of the drink (and not in a favorable way…), but I think if it had been served in one of the plastic martini glasses (like the frozen drinks regularly served, and eagerly consumed, in France) the volume would have seemed better… at any rate, both were pretty tasty (and I did have to have more than one just to verify…), with the Berry Colada being killer!

Also there was Chicken and Rice, the classic dish of Arroz Con Pollo. Again, about what you’d expect – nothing fantastic, but not bad. I imagine if you were form West Podunk and had never had it before that it was a reasonable representation of the dish.

Arroz Con Pollo

Lastly I did try the Guava Cookies, and they were quite tasty – good, but not worth $2.75… so I guess here would also be a good time to go into the “value” of the Food & Wine Festival offerings…

For most items I’d say if you were presented the same portion size and quality food item somewhere outside the park, you’d probably say you were being overcharged (and probably by quite a bit…), but that is not what the festival is all about… it’s about having lots of different types of things to try in a fun atmosphere, and yes, we are at Disney, so we will be paying Disney prices. Now considering that, I’d say that most items were worth what was paid, but there were a few items that (in my humble opinion, and this is my blog so it’s the only opinion that really counts…) that were overpriced, and a few that I’d actually call a relatively “good value”… and I’ll try and point both types of cases out where appropriate.

Now next door to Chile… now on my first visit to this booth I was greeted with a hearty “Olla” by a cast member from China, whose name tag said her name was Fiona… no I had not had that much to drink yet…

First the Rock Shrimp Ceviche… tender marinated shrimp served in a small plastic glass (same as they serve the wine in) and topped with, of all things, popcorn… the marinade was nicely spicy, hotter actually that I would have expected (I did sip down the remaining marinade after the shrimp and popcorn was gone!). The popcorn was not expected, it did give a bit of textural difference… and Chef Dahlmann did tell me it was a traditional topping (even though the recipe in the festival cookbook doesn’t mention it…). All in all a winner.

Rock Shrimp Ceviche

Also here was the Corn & Cheese Arepa. I’d never heard of it before, so was eager to try something I was clueless about… it looked like a round of polenta topped with melted cheese… and even though the arepa base (after consulting the recipe) is a little bit more complicated than that, that is essentially what it was – a round of corn-based grain product topped with pepper jack cheese. Again nicely spicy, and for me, it was another winner.

Corn & Cheese Arepa

Next up, and by the lagoon side, was Athens, Greece, with one of the most distinctive-looking booths of the festival.

Greek Salad with Pita Bread was, well, just that – your typical Greek Salad of lettuce greens, feta cheese, black olives, etc. I was good, but nothing outstanding if you’ve had the one (or more) before…

Greek Salad with Pita Bread

Also there was Spanakopita, another typical Greek dish of phyllo pastry with spinach and cheese. Again it was good and a reasonable representation of the dish, but nothing amazing if you’d had it before.
The third savory Greek item was Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki, and to me was the most unique dish presented here, even though it is basically a “street food” type dish and at heart pretty simple. Grilled pieces of tender chicken sitting on a flatbread doused with a garlic flavored yogurt sauce (like what you find on a gyro) – wrap it up and eat – simple and tasty…
There were consistently long lines at Greece, and I’m not sure if the food itself was that popular, or if maybe Greek food was considered a “safe” choice among the other cuisines offered.

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki

Another kiosk that always had long lines was next: Montreal, Canada.

Certainly one of the reasons for the lines is the ever-popular (and deservedly so) Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. This thick concoction of aged cheese, bacon and beer (how could it be bad???) is a favorite appetizer at the Le Cellier restaurant, and year after year is one of the top choices at the festival.

Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup

Salmon is also a featured item at the Canada booth each year. This year, as last, was a grilled piece of salmon with a maple glaze, but the side was different this year, a sweet lentil salad. Now let me preface this by mentioning one of my own taste preferences… I’m generally not a big fan of grilled (or sautéed) fish – why? I don’t know – I love sushi and sashimi, and being a good Southern Boy I love fried fish… so that being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of this item overall, even though I really liked the lentils. My dining companion that day really liked the salmon, but wasn’t crazy about the lentils… so overall, if you like grilled salmon, you would have probably thought this was a good dish…

Maple Glazed Salmon with Lentil Salad and Spicy Chicken Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta

As an aside, this year I competed in the last Race for the Taste 10k this year during the festival. Okay, “competed” may be too strong a word, I paid my entry fee, I lined up early in the AM and finished the race in time to get my medal… but at least one 80-year-old woman kicked my ass… and at least twelve men over 70 also booted my butt… but I digress…
At the end of the race were four booths with (supposedly, as we’ll see) items from the Food & Wine Festival for the participants. One was the Arroz Con Pollo, another the Empanadas from Argentina (which we’ll get to as we go much further around the World Showcase) and for dessert Strawberry Shortcake. The Maple Glazed Salmon with Lentil Salad was the forth item served that morning – when I went up and got my portion I was surprised to see a small dish of lentils topped by what appeared to be a thinly sliced either raw or cured fish – this I loved – now I’m still not sure of the fish was cured or maybe even raw, but this was not the same item served at the kiosk. Was it a mistake? Was it intentional? Whatever it was was damn good… I had tasted this before I got the salmon at the kiosk (which I had been avoiding early on), but was looking forward to trying it “again”, and found myself disappointed with the “real” version of the dish… sadly I didn’t take a picture of what was served after the race.

A Spicy Chicken Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta was the final savory item here – the sausage itself was very good and had a good bit of heat to it, so the polenta with the sweet sauce was a nice compliment.

Think it’s time now for a break… maybe Off Kilter is getting ready to play… If you need to hit the little boys or girls room, go just ahead in England… We’ll meet back here to continue our trek…

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