Posts Tagged ‘dining’

Dani’s Best Week Ever September 1, 2016: Halloween Horror Nights Prep and Toothsome

by on September 1, 2016

Fall is finding its way, slowly sneaking out Summer. Yes, we do have a Fall season here in Florida. It is different than the rest of the country, but it is there. Scallop season gives way to snow crab season. Acorns begin to create a blanket on the ground. A short cool snap can be anticipated only to have the heat come back after a few days of relief. But above all this, Halloween begins in mid-September around these parts.

Preparations are underway for Halloween Horror Nights 2016 at Universal Orlando. And now we can prepare our sweet tooth for the treats of Halloween and the Holidays by visiting Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen. I enjoyed one of my best evenings ever at Universal with a visit to Toothsome and a stroll, with an unexpected thrill, through Universal Studios Florida.

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The weather

Summer’s oppressive heat is still upon us despite the signs of Halloween popping up around town. Summer thunderstorms will soon give way to longer, mistier rains, and stronger chances for hurricanes. But alas on this visit, a traditional summer thunderstorm poured itself upon me as I made my way to Universal Orlando.

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Walking into CityWalk there seemed to be a changing of the guards of sorts.  Hoards of guests streamed towards the exit. Meanwhile, just as many guests headed into the parks equipped with ponchos and umbrellas.

With grey skies it was difficult to see the smoke stack effect rising above Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen. With its black, white, and copper color scheme coupled with whimsical details, landscaping, and mechanical details, Toothsome’s facade stands out in CityWalk’s impressive line up.

 

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Kitchen

At first the concept of a chocolate / dessert-centric restaurant at Universal Orlando did not really grab my attention. Although, I really never enjoyed its predecessor NBA City, so anything was an improvement in my opinion. As I arrived to the still-in-preview restaurant, I noticed a large influx of guests. Thankfully, my friends had arrived before me and had secured a spot at the bar.

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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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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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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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A Disney Springs Dining Digest

by on August 2, 2016

New restaurants abound at Disney Springs (pictured here: Chef Art Smith's Homecoming Kitchen)We’ve had an overwhelming amount of news and reviews lately about dining at Disney Springs, so I thought it’d be nice to take a step back this week to compile a Disney Springs Dining Digest of all of the new options now open. Below, you’ll find a quick summary of each new restaurant and what we thought of it here at TouringPlans (with links to our menus and full reviews, because we know you love photos of all that tasty food!). I’ll also rank the restaurants to give a sense of my overall favorites, which will hopefully help you plan your next visit to Disney Springs.

The Big Five (Table Service Restaurants)

Disney Springs has always had table service restaurants representative of a variety of modern cuisines with Wolfgang Puck, Bongo’s Cuban Café, and Crossroads at House of Blues. Recently, though, five new table service locations have opened that diversify the dining scene even further. Since we’re looking at the changing landscape of Disney Springs as a whole, we’ll start with one of the first new locations to open, even before Downtown Disney converted to Disney Springs, and move chronologically to restaurants that have opened as recently as the last few weeks.

The BOATHOUSE

  • Food: American steaks and seafood (priced similarly to Yachtsman Steakhouse or Shula’s); sandwiches, burgers, fried baskets (priced similarly to lunch at non-signature restaurants like The Wave or platters at more expensive quick service locations)
  • Atmosphere: The waterfront location and white tablecloths make it seem pretty fancy, but never so stuffy that eating a burger and fries here feels out of place. Families are welcome here, but it also works well for an adults-only date night out.
  • Quick Tips: Wait times for a walkup table here can creep up pretty high, so take advantage of the indoor/outdoor bar areas if your party is small. Steaks are good, but with few exceptions, require ordering other stuff to feel like a full meal: an appetizer (shrimp cocktail or oysters from the raw bar) or a la carte side (giant bowl of mac and cheese? Count me in.) is perfect for two people. On that note, always share desserts here (they’re huge!). Burgers and filet sliders are among the best budget-conscious meals at Walt Disney World for their quality. Beer selection is mostly bottled, so if that bothers you, stick to the cocktail menu.
  • Previously On TouringPlans…: I haven’t formally reviewed The BOATHOUSE here on the blog, but I’ve previously mentioned it as a great alternative to Wolfgang Puck and STK Orlando. Definitely one of the first places I consider for a meal if I find myself hungry at Disney Springs.
  • How Do We Get Here: Park at Lime Garage or use the walking bridge from across Buena Vista Dr; The Landing’s boat dock for water transportation to/from resorts and other Disney Springs docks is right next door to the restaurant

Morimoto Asia

  • Food: Pan-Asian (influences from Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisines); dim sum appetizers, sushi, ramen, noodle bowls on the lower-priced end ($15-25 for a meal, like a standard table service restaurant), plated entrees including Peking duck and amazing kalbi beef on the higher-priced end (signature dining pricing)
  • Atmosphere: The glitzy centerpiece chandelier is worth a visit to the restaurant alone, and it feels a bit more adult and upscale than most restaurants at Disney Springs due to the modern music and darker tones throughout. Kids and families wouldn’t be out of place, but you’ll probably see far more adults-only groups when you dine here.
  • Quick Tips: Grab a spot in the bar/lounge area or the upstairs Forbidden Lounge if wait times are high. If entrée prices are out of your budget (believe me, though, they’re worth saving for), you’ll still have a great meal by sampling from the extensive dim sum, sushi, and appetizer menus. Desserts are easy to share, but your money is better spent trying a cocktail, sake, or beer from their well-crafted menu.
  • Previously On TouringPlans…: In true Len Testa style, this epic review describes reactions to a vast majority of the menu’s dishes. Overall, Len listed it as “good, quality dining at reasonable prices”, and my meals there have reflected the same sentiment.
  • How Do We Get Here: Technically located on the outskirts of The Landing, just across from Raglan Road, it’s a two minute walk on newly-opened pathways from Orange Garage.

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Homecoming Kitchen Review: Delectable Southern Fare at a Fair Price

by on July 13, 2016

Chef Art Smith's Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern ShineProbably one of the most eagerly-anticipated of all the new Disney Springs dining locations, Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern Shine sits in a prime location in the springs: just behind STK, across from Morimoto Asia, right across the springs from D-Luxe Burger.

Open as of Tuesday, July 12 to all guests, the restaurant is taking walk-ups only for lunch and dinner (Sunday-Thursday 11:00 AM-midnight, Friday & Saturday 11:00 AM-1:00 AM); guests will be able to make reservations beginning July 15 for meals on or after August 15 through My Disney Experience. Sadly, no discounts are offered just yet, but the Disney Dining Plan is accepted. I was lucky enough to dine at Homecoming Kitchen on opening day to taste their take on upscale Southern comfort food.

A Southern Welcome

The view of Homecoming Kitchen from across Disney SpringsFarm-to-table Southern classics are are the focal point of the menu, highlighting the flavors of Chef Art Smith’s native Florida. Even the décor in the restaurant is Florida-centric: 51% of everything inside was sourced locally, and the beautiful murals of Florida’s natural wonders on the interior and exterior were painted by a local Florida artist.

Natural light floods the main dining room, with a large bar in the center, burlap-sack lighting fixtures accenting the custom-crafted wood tables and Homecoming Kitchen-logo-adorned chairs. A screened-in porch wraps around the back side of the restaurant, perfect for enjoying an outdoor meal right on the springs. The amount of home-state pride really shines through in every facet of the restaurant as soon as you first walk in, setting the expectation that this is probably going to be a great meal for Southern comfort food fans.

The menu has a pretty wide spread of options, depending on your budget and hunger level: easy-to-share starters and desserts book-end reasonably-priced sandwiches/salads and more-filling main plates, along with a wide variety of shareable side dishes. Like we saw with Frontera Cocina’s all-day menu, I was happy to see that Homecoming Kitchen does a really great job including options appropriate for both lunch and dinner.

My server, incredibly excited to greet and seat me in the bustling restaurant, recommended a few of her personal favorites right off the bat: the Palmetto Punch or Fig & Berries to drink, shrimp jubilee to start my meal, and shrimp & grits or any of the fried chicken dishes as my main dish. I also learned that many of the favorites from the main menu are available to-go – takeout menus featuring many of the restaurant’s favorites are available at the hostess stand and you simply place your order at the bar, or order from the shorter “grab and go” menu of sandwiches and sides from the outdoor bar – a great option for those on the go!

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Frontera Cocina Dining Review

by on July 8, 2016

As construction walls start to come down all around Disney Springs, the list of new dining venues around the Town Center area continues to grow. The newest restaurant added to the mix is Frontera Cocina, the most recent location in a string of modern Mexican eateries from celebrity chef Rick Bayless. Located next to the new Disney Springs Guest Relations location, across from Sprinkles Bakery, this restaurant focuses on freshly-made classic Mexican cuisine in a casual table-service setting. I dropped in during opening week to try out a few dishes and get a feel for what is sure to be a very popular location in Disney Springs and all around Walt Disney World. Frontera Cocina is open from 11:00 AM daily (closing hours vary, so be sure to check before a late dinner), and for now, works on a walk-up seating basis (reservations are available now on OpenTable for seatings starting July 21st; “soon” on My Disney Experience). I chose to beat the rush this particular day by grabbing a table for an early dinner after strolling around some of the newly-opened shops nearby.

The menu here’s not enormous, but has a pretty wide variety of options: lots of shareable appetizers, a few reasonably-priced tacos and tortas (sandwiches) that look perfect for lunchtime/lighter dining, and plated entrees and sides that are priced similarly to most Disney non-signature table service restaurants (like The Wave or Captain’s Grille). First impressions were two-fold: the menu, while modern-leaning, is still pretty accessible to most diners accustomed to pure neighborhood Tex-Mex; secondly, I had absolutely no idea what to order, because everything sounded fantastic. Luckily, my server was quick to point out both the house specialties and her own personal favorites from the dishes she’d been sampled thus far. First, though, I had to settle on a cocktail from their extensive menu. Options here include the incredibly popular avocado margarita, straight from Epcot’s La Cava del Tequila, but I was looking for something I’d not yet tried and couldn’t get elsewhere – luckily, that fits most of this menu, due to the specialty spirits used, many of which are specific only to Frontera Cocina and La Cava. House specialties on the menu include the agave flights, the Frontera margarita, or the slightly-spicier version that is blood orange & jalapeno flavored.

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Dining values at Walt Disney World

by on July 5, 2016

As much as we all enjoy eating at Walt Disney World, you can find yourself feeling sticker shock when the wait staff brings your bill (unless you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, where the sticker shock comes well before your trip).

But, don’t fret. I’m here to help and to tell you that, yes, dining values can still be found on Disney property. Here are a few of my picks for great meals, snacks and drinks on a budget. This doesn’t mean that these are necessarily the least expensive items, but rather the best items and experience for the price. If you’re on the dining plan, you’ll likely want to go for the most expensive item you can get with your credit, but if you’re paying out-of-pocket for food, this list is for you.

Share your thoughts in the comments, along with your picks for dining values.

Table Service Appetizer: Bread Service with all 9 Accompaniments at Sanaa, $13.99

Sanaa Bread Service with all 9 Accompaniments

Sanaa Bread Service with all 9 Accompaniments

This one lives up to its reputation as a unique, filling appetizer that will satisfy multiple people. First, Sanaa, the table service restaurant at Animal Kingdom Villas Kidani Village, is an outstanding value overall with unique cuisine, beautiful decor and animals wandering just outside the restaurant. The bread service is simple in concept, but complex in flavor. You get a variety of freshly made naan bread to enjoy with dipping sauces arranged in order of spiciness. One version of the bread service comes with three sauces, but we recommend getting the full nine, which is a mere $2.50 upcharge. This is also one dish where the restaurant actually increased the portion. In 2014, when the photo above was taken, we were given three pieces of naan, but when we returned a year later, it came with five pieces of naan, which makes this an appetizer that can be comfortably shared among a table of four.

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