Dining

Morimoto Asia Omakase: Fine Dining At Its Best

by on August 29, 2016

The menu for my meal, signed by Chef Morimoto.A few weeks ago, Morimoto Asia hosted their first omakase dinner led by Iron Chef Morimoto himself, and I was lucky enough to attend! An omakase meal is pretty simple – the chef makes all of the decisions for you, setting the menu as they desire (though sometimes customization is an option). California Grill offers an omakase dining option at their sushi bar, and it’s widely considered one of the best dining splurges at Walt Disney World. This particular opportunity, though, seemed even more special than that, as Chef Morimoto would be working alongside his team at Morimoto Asia – a rare chance to see one of the masters in action. I was excited for this meal, especially given the excellent meals I’d had here before (and Len’s great review of most of the menu).

Before The Meal

I arrived not knowing exactly what to expect, other than that every bit of chopstick and sushi etiquette I’d ever learned would be put to the test. The dinner was offered to only 12 diners, and we were seated in waves to make it easier on the chefs to time the meal. I was in the first wave of four to arrive, and we were immediately seated at the beautiful sushi bar on the upper level of the restaurant. Chef Morimoto and Morimoto Asia’s executive chef, Yuhi Fujinaga, were already engaged in a precise dance of preparation for our first few courses, working alongside four other chefs, ensuring every dice was to their exact specifications. After a few minutes of watching them all, I knew I was in for a special evening.

Every diner received a Chef Morimoto-signed menu for the evening listing all of the nine (!!!) courses to come as we sat down to the sushi bar, where we were also told that we could opt to include alcohol pairings with each course. Obviously, I had to take one for the team (in the name of research, of course!), and give the pairings a shot. Below, I’ll outline each course as presented and the pairings that came with them, with a few thoughts on each. As always, take a closer look of each dish with just a click on any photo.

The Main Event

 

First Course: Oyster Two Ways – caviar, foie gras

Paired with Jean Charles ‘JCB no21’ Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France

Oysters two waysThis starter was the perfect exercise in how hot & cold temperatures can work together to create a cohesive dish. One oyster was served cold topped with caviar, and the second, topped with freshly seared foie gras swimming in an umami-rich teriyaki sauce. My first bite, of the cold oyster, was as briny and of-the-sea as you’d expect, and refreshing to wake up the palate. The decadent foie gras was slightly sweet in my follow-up bite of the second oyster, helping soothe a bit of the first’s saltiness. The bubbly JCB Cremant, shown above with the menu, really offset both oysters perfectly with a bit of acidity.

 Second Course: Tartare Two Ways – toro, A-5 wagyu

Paired with Cerulli Spinozzi ‘Cortalto’ Pecorino, Abruzzo, Italy

Tartare two waysSimilar to the first dish, this second course played on the duo theme with a tuna tartare served in a dashi soy sauce alongside A-5 (the highest quality available) wagyu beef tartare. Chef Morimoto hand-chopped the beef in front of us, before mixing it with a bit of spicy aioli, and served the rich beef topped with slightly sweet julienned jicama. The dry and acidic Cortalto wine cut through the richness in both sides of the dish, though I probably could’ve had an entire glass of the dashi soy instead of wine for this course and been happy.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

by on August 27, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. The newest entrant into Universal CityWalk’s murderer’s row of restaurants has just gone into previews, with a grand opening not far behind.  Located in the former home of NBA City, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium sits directly next to the entrance to Islands of Adventure and its visually stunning facade fits in with other worlds that never existed (but you wish did) like Port of Entry or Seuss Landing.

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Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. (photo by Brandon Glover)

When Toothsome was originally announced, it teased that it would debut with larger than life milkshakes. The idea of a milkshake with a full cupcake or chocolate covered banana on top seemed too good to be true. However, to quote Han Solo, “It’s true. All of it.” It turns out that the E-Ticket milkshakes were just the tip of the iceberg, as Toothsome is filled with both wonder and – believe it or not – an amazing menu. Today we’re going to look at some of our favorite features of this magical restaurant. So sit back, play the NXT song “Glorious” as appropriate background music, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – Walk Around Characters!

Talk about bucking the trend. In a theme park world where getting rid of the human element seems to be a priority, Universal has walk around characters in the Skull Island: Reign of Kong queue and inside Toothsome. The restaurant has a lengthy backstory (which can be found inside the menu), and it revolves around Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome. In Penelope’s exotic trips around the world, she discovered ways to infuse chocolate into extraordinary recipes. When Penelope returned home from her travels, she discovered that her parents had set out to join her (“Surely the world isn’t so big that we can’t find you.”) Penelope decided she would use her chocolate knowledge to create an emporium, and would share her dishes with the world until reunited with her family. 

Penelope  can be seen walking about Toothsome, occasionally with her robot companion Jacques. Just as with the best Disney meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom, Penelope stays completely in character, is filled with charm and as they would describe her in the 19th Century: is a bricky gal.

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Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The Professor and her robot companion Jacques. (photo courtesy of Attractions Magazine. Attractions also has a great video of Toothsome which you WATCH HERE.)

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Penelope’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Literally. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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World of Color Dessert Party Review

by on August 24, 2016

WoC_Dessert_Party (8)On a recent visit to Disneyland my wife and I decided to splurge a little and try out the World of Color Dessert Party at Disney’s California Adventure. Much like the Wishes Dessert Party at the Magic Kingdom, it is an opportunity for reserved seating and snacks to a popular nighttime spectacular. Of course, this all comes at a price–and what a price–so let’s start there.

Cost and Reservations

I’m not going to dance around this: it costs $79 per person. That includes tax and gratuity, but $79 is the price for both adults and children. That means my family of 4 had to pay $316 for this opportunity. Later I’ll discuss whether I think it even remotely approaches a good value and after I finish writing this I’ll research tax exclusions and the warning signs of financial stress-related heart problems.

When you book the dessert party, full prepayment is required. It can still be cancelled without penalty up to 24 hours before the reservation, but it must be paid in full upon making the reservation. If there are two World of Color showings in one evening, the dessert party is only offered for the first one.

WoC_Dessert_Party (5)Location, Seating, and Arrival

Now that we’ve gotten through the worst of it (the cost), let’s discuss the best of it. The site for the dessert party is on the second tier, right in the center of the viewing area. It actually is behind the best, front-and-center viewing spot reserved for those with the dining package, but that’s not the whole of it.

If you get dining package reservations, you are in the best section, but it is a deep area and all standing room only. Therefore, if you’re not waiting to enter at least 60 minutes before the show you will be packed in behind many other people. The dessert party is raised slightly above the dining package area so the effects are fairly easily seen above their heads.

I’m slow-rolling the best part here, though: everyone at the dessert party is seated. Yes, you can sit at your table in relative comfort looking above the heads of other guests. It does inflate the ego a bit. Specifically, the party area is a long section with two rows of tables–some high tops and some low. Where you sit is based somewhat on when you arrive.

WoC_Dessert_Party (6)For instance, we arrived at the check-in area around 8pm–one hour before the World of Color scheduled show time. The reservation when we booked was for 8:15pm, but it also tells you to arrive an hour before the show, so we’re starting off a little confused. When we got there at 8, we were behind a handful of groups already waiting.

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TouringPlansTV: Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

by on August 23, 2016

photo - Touringplans.comWelcome back to TouringPlansTV!

If you’re a fan of both Disney and the outdoors, I have just the place for you…

Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort!

Located at Walt Disney World, you’ll find both cabins and campsites to best fit your needs.

Enjoy!

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The 5 W’s of Pre-Park-Open Dining at Disney World

by on August 19, 2016

Did you know that it’s possible to enter the parks at Walt Disney World before they officially open for the day? A valid park ticket and dining reservation for one of seven restaurants is all you need to get into the park before regular guests. Read on to learn about the who, what, where, when, and why of these reservations.

Who?

Regardless of whether you’re staying on or off site, guests with valid theme park admission are eligible to enter the park early if they have an Advanced Dining Reservation scheduled for before the park’s official opening time. Since these are some of the hardest reservations to score, guests staying at a Disney resort have an advantage due to the extended 180 day + length of stay window for dining reservations for on-site guests. Our dining Reservation Finder can also help you snag those hard to get reservations.

Walking through World Showcase before Epcot's official open

A perk of early reservations – walking through a nearly empty Epcot

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Blaze Pizza: A Fast Favorite at Disney Springs

by on August 16, 2016

As I mentioned last week, Disney Springs has had so many new restaurants open in the past few months. Just last Friday, one of the final pieces of the dining puzzle opened its doors to welcome pizza lovers from near and far. Blaze Pizza, located in the Town Center area just across the springs from Homecoming Kitchen, is a fast casual chain that promises fast-fired pizzas and salads in just 3 minutes. The easiest way to think of Blaze is to look at it as Chipotle for pizza: pretty much everything is customizable, from the crust, to the sauce, toppings, and pizza finishes.

After my first glance at the menu board outside the restaurant, I was excited to try Blaze just based on the price – a plain cheese pizza, 11” personal size (as all pizzas are served here), is just $7.25; add one topping out of a huge selection, and the price is $8.45. For any and all toppings you want, or one of the specialty pizzas, the price is still less than $10, at $9.65! You can even have your pizza made half-and-half, if you’re indecisive or looking to split a pie with a friend, at no additional cost.

I visited Blaze not long after it opened a few days ago for an early lunch, so there wasn’t yet a long wait that particular day (though a queue was set up outside for later use during rushes). Once I was greeted inside, I was introduced to the huge variety of topping options and the four “simple salads” available. I decided to leave my first pie at Blaze Pizza up to the experts, so I ordered half-White Top (white cream sauce base, mozzarella, bacon, garlic, oregano, and arugula) and half-Art Lover (artichoke, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and dollops of red sauce on top). I also chose to add pepperoni on the Art Lover half, just to see what the portion size was like there, too.

I’m glad I took a chance adding a topping here, because my expert pizza makers made it clear that some who’ve passed through the doors of Blaze had already made a fatal pizza flaw: too many toppings. They really do know their stuff – too many toppings leads to soggy pizza, one that’s harder for them to cook and for you to eat.

Simple is better here, and while you don’t get a ton of each topping on your pizza, everything I tasted on my pie was fresh and flavorful to the point that I didn’t really miss the extra few bites. I chose the standard crust, which is thin, almost like a flatbread. The high-rise crust was explained to me as being a bit more like what most would think of as “normal pizza crust”, but at $2 more, I felt like the standard crust was just fine.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever August 11, 2016: Creating Your Own Epcot Food and Wine Festival Experience

by on August 11, 2016

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival kicks off in just about a month, September 14, 2016. But you don’t have to wait until it’s festival time to taste your way around the world. Personally, I feel it is a better experience and a better value to make your own food and wine festival type experience at Epcot. That’s exactly what I did on my recent visit, and it turned out to be one of the best visits ever!

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Though there was rain in the forecast, blue skies provided a lovely backdrop to the iconic view of Spaceship Earth as I arrived. I made a bee line through Future World; my stomach growled and would wait no more. World Showcase holds so many culinary treasures, even when it is not Food and Wine Festival time. Beverages and snacks at Epcot are very easy to come by. Practically every pavilion has at least one full service restaurant, one counter service restaurant, and at least one cart or stand along the promenade offering snacks or drinks, or both.

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When it comes to exploring World Showcase from a culinary perspective, there is some debate as to which direction to start, either Mexico or Canada. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. On this visit I headed toward the Canada pavilion because I had a 2:00 PM FastPass+ selected for Frozen Ever After and planned to my Epcot trip there.

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United Kingdom and Canada Pavilions

Starting off with the Canada Pavilion is a bit rough if you arrive before 12:00 noon. The outside snack and beverage cart does not open until about 12:00 noon and the relatively new Trading Post Refreshments is currently unavailable – slated to reopen by the end of August. So really, there aren’t any snacks or beverages to enjoy here until later in the day.

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New Restaurants Added to Tables in Wonderland Program

by on August 8, 2016

©Disney

©Disney

Do you have a Tables in Wonderland card? Then I bring good news! Four new dining establishments have been added to the special dining program. Those restaurants are:

  • Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom
  • Tiffins and the Nomad Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar at Disney Springs

So, what is the Tables in Wonderland program?  It is an exclusive for Disney Vacation Members, Florida Residents and Annual Passholders. Membership in Tables in Wonderland includes a 20 percent discount on all food and beverage at participating Walt Disney World table-service restaurants and lounges. Guests also receive complimentary valet parking for dining purposes.

Tables in Wonderland does come at an extra cost. It costs $175 for Florida Residents and $150 for Walt Disney World Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members. To purchase a membership, you should visit any Guest Relations kiosk located one of the four Theme Parks or at Disney Springs.

For more information about Tables in Wonderland, make sure to check out their website.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

by on August 6, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Currently, the Universal Orlando Resort has five on-site hotels. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Caribbean Beach), and Deluxe (The Poly). Universal also has three levels: Preferred (including Royal Pacific Resort), Premier (Portofino Bay Hotel), and Prime Value, which is where Cabana Bay Beach Resort resides.

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Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Cabana Bay is Universal’s first attempt at a lower priced “value” resort, and  is also the first time they have gone after the increasingly popular Family Suite market (led by Disney’s incredible Art of Animation Resort). Unlike Disney’s lower tier hotels (such as the All Stars) Cabana Bay is loaded with amenities. In fact there are so many “extras” at Cabana Bay that many Universal fans consider it their favorite on-site hotel despite it not offering Unlimited Express Pass. Today we’re going to look at some of our favorite features of this fantastic resort. So sit back, put on the soundtrack to Mad Men as background music, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – Lazy River

Now, Cabana Bay has two huge pools, a giant slide, several jacuzzis, and a water play area, but what separates it from the pack is everyone’s favorite water feature: a lazy river. The E-Ticket of pools, a relaxing float along the lazy river – with its waterfalls and lush theming – can be just what the doctor ordered. Unlike many lazy rivers, Cabana Bay does not supply tubes to guests (they have no cleaning facility to disinfect them) but they do offer a wide assortment of tubes for pretty much the same price you would pay at WalMart or a pool store. Several of the tubes they offer are Cabana Bay branded and are relatively inexpensive souvenirs. One of the more popular tubes for kids is one that is themed to a car’s tire. There are also several water cannons around the river which kids love to play with.

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Lazy river at Cabana Bay.

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Lazy River at Cabana Bay.

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Water cannons at the Lazy River. There is actually very little water pressure in these, so guests who don’t want to get wet can easily avoid them.

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A Night Out On The BoardWalk at Flying Fish and AbracadaBar

by on August 5, 2016

The marquee at Flying Fish remains as colorful as everDisney dining fans have been anxiously awaiting the reopening of one of the most popular signature table service restaurants in Walt Disney World, and it’s finally here. After several months under refurbishment, Flying Fish (formerly Flying Fish Café) reopened this week with a new look, new menu, and a new chef leading the way (though Chef Tim Majoras is a familiar face to the restaurant, as he’s been with Flying Fish for the past five years). As a longtime favorite of mine, I was just as excited as all of you to try the new menu (and probably just as sad to see favorites like the potato-encrusted snapper fly away off the menu). But first, I had to make a quick stop into another new addition to the BoardWalk, right next door, at AbracadaBar.

The front of AbracadaBar's menu offers a peek into the bar's backstory.Located in the space formerly occupied by Seashore Sweets, AbracadaBar is the newest addition to the Disney bar scene, though it may surprise a few guests with how different it is from other recent additions. AbracadaBar, open at 4:00 PM daily, is a bar, through and through, and decidedly not a lounge in the traditional Disney lounge sense. The menu (featuring a little magic trick of its own) is fairly short, featuring eight signature cocktails with high-end spirits, a selection of beers, wines, and two non-alcoholic drinks (that can also be tailored to your tastes if you prefer them on the alcoholic side).

If you frequent Disney lounges, you’ll notice something – I didn’t mention any food on the menu; that’s because there isn’t any, though your server will likely offer you some truffle popcorn to snack on with your drink. This is probably for a specific reason – there are a TON of food options on the BoardWalk (AbracadaBar itself is sandwiched between Trattoria al Forno and Flying Fish). It seems like it’s meant more as a stop-off for those on their way to their final dinner destination. This could be a great idea for the area, typically packed with adults looking for a fun place or two to spend a night out without kids.

AbracadaBar's interior is both cozy and welcoming.The space inside AbracadaBar isn’t huge in size, and the beautiful dark finishes and ornate red and gold wallpaper inside make it pretty cozy but welcoming. The tables aren’t on top of each other, which is always a plus in a bar or lounge. I loved coming in to this atmosphere out of the harsh Florida summer sun – a quick twenty minute break inside to enjoy a drink was really all I needed. Speaking of a drink – what to sample? I’m a big fan of many of the style of cocktails on this menu, so my choice was difficult, but I settled on one of the rare-at-Disney drinks, the Elixir 13.

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