Dining

Maria & Enzo’s Takes Flight with Fine Fare

by on January 19, 2018

Maria & Enzo's RistoranteWithin the last few weeks, several new Italian eateries have opened their doors at Disney Springs; among them, Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, a table service location situated in The Landing, just adjacent to The Edison and Aerophile (formerly Characters in Flight). The restaurant’s story claims that it’s run by Maria and Enzo, and occupies an abandoned airport terminal from the 1930s, lending theme to the various retro travel posters adorning the walls of the massive main dining room. Every guest gets a dramatic entrance here, with a large sweeping staircase leading down from the lobby and check-in area of the restaurant to the central dining area (and adjacent “private” dining room, with a few tables tucked away in a quiet corner).

Atmosphere

The main dining room of Maria & Enzo'sVisually, the restaurant is colorful and striking – almost too much so, reminiscent at times of the old Wolfgang Puck dining room. The atmosphere is loud, with the open ceilings echoing the comings and goings of the many diners all around. Daylight floods the back of the dining room, full of windows, which offers guests a great view of the Aerophile balloon rising and falling periodically. Overall, it’s a welcoming space for families, but not terribly intimate.

The menu is enormous (both literally and figuratively), populated largely with an extensive wine and cocktail list highlighting Italian specialties like various red wine varietals, sangrias, and an entire section of negronis (a step up from most Disney cocktail offerings). For food, expect to find moderate to upscale Italian staples, not dissimilar from the pasta and entrée menus at Via Napoli or Tutto Italia, priced similarly to Tutto Italia (read: on the higher end of the “acceptable” price range for Italian food).

Appetizers

Bread serviceTo start off our meal, our server brought over the obligatory bread and olive oil service, which was fine, but nothing you wouldn’t find at your local Italian chain eatery. We settled on two appetizers, both recommended by our server, the Arancini di Carne (meat ragu stuffed risotto balls, $14) and the Caciocavallo Fritto (fried Sicilian cheese with spicy Pomodoro sauce, $13). Both arrived in short order, and we were off to the races.

I’m a big fan of the arancini available at Via Napoli, so I had high hopes for these, but ultimately, they disappointed a tad bit. For $14, you receive two golf-ball sized arancini (a small portion, in my opinion, for the price), and while the fry on the exterior was perfectly crisp, the interior was a bit too gummy for my taste, and completely lacking in the promised meat ragu filling. There couldn’t have been more than one piece of ground meat in each arancini, unfortunately. Flavor-wise, they felt a little one note, but the spicy Pomodoro sauce really Caciocavallo Fritta and Arancini di Carnemade for a great accompaniment, lending an acidic and spicy punch to the party without overwhelming the rich and cheesy risotto.

The Caciocavallo Fritto sounds a lot like fried mozzarella on paper, but fair warning, this Sicilian cheese has a completely different flavor and texture than what you would expect. Six small balls, each also perfectly fried, come in one order (again, a bit small for $13, based on my expectations). The cheese inside is tangy and sharp, akin almost to an aged provolone in flavor, but the texture is less stretchy than you’d expect, and more custard-like. The flavor was a surprise, intriguing and new for me, and I enjoyed the few bites I had, but I really did wish for a few more balls to complete the plate.

Pugliese saladSeveral fresh salads also feature on the menu, so I wanted to give one a try to see whether their $12-14 price tags were justified. Ultimately, I decided on the Pugliese, composed of a handful of frisee, tiny bits of crisp pancetta, caciotta cheese, a soft poached egg, and dressed in mustard-white balsamic dressing. This salad is relatively decently sized, slightly larger than a typical side salad, but a bit smaller than what I’d expect from an appetizer (a trend, it seems). Well-dressed and seasoned, the caciotta cheese was really the star of the plate (aside from the oozing poached egg, of course), flavored similarly to the caciocavallo and punchy enough to stand on its own against the zippy dressing. Overall, I’d order this salad again, with only a bit of hesitation because of the price.

Read the rest of this entry »

Food Favorites from the 2018 Epcot Festival of the Arts

by on January 18, 2018

2018 Epcot International Festival of the ArtsIt’s a new year, which means it’s already time for a new festival full of fun flavors at Walt Disney World. Following the rousing success of last year’s inaugural Epcot Festival of the Arts, 2018’s fest returns with thirteen food booths featuring incredible culinary creations from around the globe. During the festival’s opening weekend, I had a chance to try so many great new and returning dishes, and today, I’ll be sharing a few of my favorites from every booth with you, including a few of the more interesting drinks on offer at the festival. As always, click on each image to see a larger version!

The Painter’s Palate (Odyssey Festival Showplace)

  • Trio of Croissant DonutsTrio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts
    • Whipped Boursin Garlic and Herb Cheese
    • Chicken Salad with Shaved Fennel and Fresh Herbs
    • Spicy Tuna with Wasabi and Seaweed Salad

The return of the savory cronuts brings another killer trio to snack on in the festival center. Who doesn’t like garlicky cheese on a buttery croissant? Bonus: the chicken salad here is really awesome – not too saucy, full of savory and sweet counterpoints from the well-seasoned chicken and the fennel. The spicy tuna cronut seemed like an odd mash-up of cultures before I tried it, but I was sold after one bite.

  • Gallery BitesGallery Bites: A Trio of Hors d’Oeuvres
    • Chilled Shrimp with Cucumber Cream Cheese on a Crostini
    • Traditional Deviled Egg with Candied Bacon
    • Crispy Truffled Risotto Ball with Stone-Ground Mustard

If cronuts aren’t your thing, this snacky trio is a slam-dunk. A good old fashioned deviled egg with a sweet (albeit a bit chewy) piece of bacon, an addictively crispy-chewy truffle arancini with spicy mustard, and a perfectly poached shrimp on toast make for a solid serving of elevated goodness, if you’re in search for a substantial snack.

  • Popcorn and Beer FlightPopcorn and Beer Flight

I did not expect a beer flight to feature as one of my favorite drink picks of the festival, but with individual popcorn pairings, it was too novel to pass up. Alongside a pilsner comes a few bites of sweet and smoky bacon barbecue popcorn; with the IPA, a zippy jalapeno ranch flavor popcorn; and with the brown ale, my favorite, a tangy buffalo blue cheese popcorn.

The Deconstructed Dish (Showcase Plaza)

  • Deconstructed BLTDeconstructed BLT with Crispy Pork Belly, Tomato Jam, and Soft Poached Egg

Though I wouldn’t necessarily say this’ll satisfy a craving for a good ol’ fashioned BLT, this dish is certainly tasty. A sizeable portion of pork belly and a perfectly runny soft poached egg combine with tangy and sweet tomato jam to create an umami bomb of a snack. The herbaceous pesto smeared on the plate is somewhat reminiscent of the “green” flavors of the lettuce in a BLT, and while I do miss the crunch of toasted bread, the richness of the egg and pork belly more than make up for it.

  • Deconstructed CheesecakeDeconstructed Strawberry Cheesecake – Whipped New York-Style Cheesecake with Fresh Florida Strawberries, Sugar Cookies, and Micro-basil

Think of this as cheesecake pudding with toppings – the whipped cheesecake definitely has the tang you’d expect from a typical New York-style cheesecake, but the sugar cookies and strawberry topping donate a bit of sweetness to the party. The addition of the micro basil is a fun and artsy touch, making the plate pop visually and flavor-wise.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Details About Terralina Crafted Italian Restaurant at Disney Springs

by on December 13, 2017

Well, it looks like the opening date for Terralina Crafted Italian which will be located in The Landing section of Disney Springs has been pushed back. Originally slated to open in the fall of this year, the Italian restaurant will now open in early 2018.

The backstory behind the newly refurbished restaurant (Terralina is replacing Portobello) is that a first-generation Italian family, from the Lake District, who built a home in Disney Springs, has been expanding their home over the years to welcome more friends and neighbors to enjoy their hospitality, and food.

Terralina Crafted Italian will feature an open rotunda that will welcome guests with a rustic stone fireplace. There will also be a new outdoor patio with a veranda bar that spills out into the Disney Springs promenade, and a two-story glass conservatory that showcases stunning views of Lake Buena Vista. Out front, there will be a herb garden just outside the doors.

Terralina Crafted Italian is being brought to life courtesy of James Beard Award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano and will be open for lunch and dinner. Dishes will include artisanal pizzas and fresh vegetable items fired up in a wood-burning oven. Two new signatures items will be added, mussels and a grilled pork chop, along with favorites from Portobello included too, such as the antipasti platter and signature pastas.

Stay tuned for more details about this upcoming dining experience.

Dinner at Ale & Compass: In Need of Direction

by on December 11, 2017

The interior of Ale & Compass as you first arrive at the restaurant is bathed in muted greys and blues.

Just a few weeks ago, the newly renovated former location of Yacht Club Resort’s Captain’s Grille reopened as the Ale & Compass Restaurant and Lounge. After a few weeks of holiday cheer, and in hopes that the jitters common in new restaurants would be long gone, I dropped in for dinner to see how the new menu and décor measure up to the previous location. Long a staple of resort guests and conventioneers looking for a non-quick-service solution for dinner without much fuss, Captain’s Grille was a fine restaurant with a better-than-average breakfast buffet and a decent lunch and dinner service, but it never particularly wowed me in any larger sense. As a result, I looked forward to dinner at Ale & Compass, hoping for it to be an upgrade in all aspects, especially considering the amount of down time the restaurant underwent during renovations.

The open show kitchen at Ale & CompassAt first glance, the new décor is, in a word, uninspired. It’s fairly generic; very reminiscent of the “upscale modern” look Paddlefish chose for their interior – greys and deep blues accent the very, very dark interior (which I’m sure is better lit during daytime breakfast and lunch service). In short, the atmosphere seems meant to tell you this place is fancy and worthy of a spendy dinner. They even feature an open show kitchen now at the front of the restaurant, complete with a few choice spots available for diners on any given night. The open kitchen is a nice touch, in theory, but it reminds me a bit of the show aspect of Mama Melrose’s kitchen – it’s not there as a perk; more as a reminder, a warning before your meal, that real people are making this food, and that it’s not being taken from a frozen dinner box to the microwave.

The view from a typical table at Ale & CompassThis all may sound a bit harsh, but if I’m honest, I expected a bit better atmosphere with all the time spent renovating this restaurant. The impression given by the hoity host who sat me was that this place was all business, top to bottom. The menu, though, isn’t reflective of this: overall, it’s not much different than the standard non-signature menu from dinner at Captain’s Grille. New dishes are featured, to be sure, but overall, it tends towards the same style of simple selections vaguely inspired by New England lighthouse cuisine. The disconnect between the atmosphere (trying to be a bit more upscale than before) and the same kind of menu (with slightly higher prices), then, is a bit of an odd first impression.

The wine list is greatly expanded now, thanks in part to the larger lounge next door. Several craft beers appear on the menu now as well, and a few signature cocktails dot the menu here and there. I decided The Purple Marinerto stick to the light end of the beverage menu and sample the Tom Collins and Aviation-inspired “Purple Mariner”, an $11.25 concoction of Hendrick’s Gin, crème de violette, fresh lemon, simple syrup, and soda water. As it turns out, “purple” really means “the same color as everything else in the restaurant’s décor”, as you can tell by my photo of the drink. I had hopes this would be light, in the Aviation and Collins tradition, but the only thing I could taste was the crème de violette (very sweet and floral), with a slight hint of lemon. The gin was an afterthought here, which is a shame, but not terribly surprising, unfortunately. I’m open to trying a few of the bourbon-forward cocktails featured in the lounge in future visits, and hopeful they’ll be a bit more worth the price.

Read the rest of this entry »

Disney Breakfast Beyond the Mickey Waffle

by on November 27, 2017

Before people flood the inbox with comments, I want to state on the record that I love Mickey Waffles. They are a quintessential Disney breakfast food, and I hope that they last for at least my lifetime without any changes to that amazing flavor and style. That said, sometimes it is nice to have a breakfast that goes beyond the Mickey Waffle and the standard breakfast fare (eggs, some sort of pork product, etc.). Here are five choices for breakfast options at Walt Disney World that go beyond normal breakfast offerings.

The Wave

Chances are, if you end up on the weekend at The Wave for breakfast, you’ll find a large number of locals dining here. The fresh, seasonal flavors and largely reasonable (for Disney) prices, plus relative ease in securing last-minute reservations, make it a solid choice. The buffet tends to get most of the attention, with items like seasonal yogurt parfaits and fruit salad with popping boba, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who skips the sweet potato pancakes with local honey butter. And for the Mickey Waffle crowd, you can get those here as well–but in a multigrain format. It doesn’t quite taste the same as the “normal ones”, but then you can always eat two because it’s healthy…right?

 

Boma and The Mara

Depending on whether you’re looking for a quick bite before heading to the parks or a more laid back meal, and depending on your budget, both Boma (the table service buffet) and The Mara (the quick service option) at Animal Kingdom Lodge are wonderful options for unique offerings. Some of the more unique dishes found at breakfast include bobotie (an African-style meatloaf with an egg custard on top) and pap and chakalaka (think grits with a tomato stew). Although these dishes may seem exotic, the flavors are not so unusual that they would turn off even the slightly adventurous eater.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Country Trattoria – A Disneyland Dining Review

by on November 20, 2017

If you’ve been following along with my last couple of articles, you know by now that a few weeks ago I headed out to LA for a quick weekend getaway to the Disneyland Resort. While I was there I thought I would break out of my comfort zone and try some new dining locations. I had a fantastic dinner on my first evening at the Uva Bar in the Downtown Disney District,  I also enjoyed a delicious lunch at Café Orleans in Disneyland Park, and my final Disneyland Resort dining experience I have to share with you was my favorite…lunch at Wine Country Trattoria in the Disney California Adventure Park.

Read the rest of this entry »

Four Places to Watch Thanksgiving Football at Walt Disney World (Besides ESPN Club)

by on November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving, the most festive and gluttonous day in between Halloween and Christmas, is a holiday steeped in family and tradition. For some that tradition includes dressing up like pilgrims and bringing an entire turkey dinner into the Main Street Railroad Station. For many others, the traditional Thanksgiving celebration includes the ubiquitous background noise of American professional football. Specifically, the annual battles between the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, and whichever other random teams are forced to skip a holiday and play football on short rest. Seriously though, football is as much a part of Thanksgiving at the Parade, the turkey, and the giant stack of Black Friday advertisements in the morning newspaper. This leaves many people to ask us “where is the best place to watch Thanksgiving football at Walt Disney World?”

A typical Thanksgiving meal at Walt Disney World. This one in particular is at Sanaa.
Credit: Tammy Whiting

There are a few obvious choices. First of all, as you already know, the Thanksgiving games are broadcast on the major networks and are available on the televisions in all Walt Disney World Resort hotel rooms. So staying in your room for the game (or games) of choice is an easy, yet also a potentially boring and lonely option. There is also the Boardwalk Resort’s ESPN Club, the standard sports destination on property. The main problem with the ESPN Club is the crowds, especially on an NFL football day during an extremely busy time at the Resort. Moreover, both of these options are neither festive or particularly inventive. To remedy this we’ve come up with our list of four other places to watch Thanksgiving football at Walt Disney World.

The criteria for making our list was threefold: an establishment must have televisions on site capable of tuning into a football game, it must serve something that can reasonably constitute a Thanksgiving dinner, and it must have come to the mind of this author. Seriously. I don’t know everything. (Don’t tell my wife!) If you’ve ever done Thanksgiving sports viewing at Walt Disney World and know of some spots not mentioned, please chime in down below in the comments or on Facebook.

Read the rest of this entry »

Choza de Margarita: Upgraded Margarita Mecca Now Open

by on November 15, 2017

The new Choza de Margarita stand at the Mexico Pavilion is located on the World Showcase Plaza side of the pavilion's central pyramidThis past Monday, the long-awaited Choza de Margarita stand outside of the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase opened to much fanfare (and whistling… more on that in a second). Relocated from the Norway side of the pavilion’s central pyramid to the World Showcase Plaza side, this will be the new permanent home for “quick service” margaritas (as opposed to the more intimate setting of La Cava del Tequila, which has been slammed with patrons during the last few months to account for the missing stand).

Much larger in size and scope, the new Choza de Margarita stand exhibits a bit of smart, practical design on Disney’s part – the stand allows room for a line that will not impede traffic through the World Showcase promenade, and also has a good amount of room after you pick up your treats to stand or sit and enjoy them outdoors before heading off to your next destination. Another great part about the new stand? They have tons more offerings now, featuring options ranging from the traditional machine-spun frozen margaritas from before, as well as higher-end signature margaritas more akin to La Cava’s offerings (previously the stand only offered one of these a month), and even several snacks!

The frozen margaritas featured on the menu are mostly the same recipes and results as before – strawberry ($10.50), lime ($10.25), and passion fruit/mango ($10.25), or you can go for the Fiesta margarita ($10.50), a combination of all three flavors, which also comes with a lot of celebratory Cheery Cast Members make signature margaritas to orderwhistling and singing from Choza’s Cast Members. There are also a few beer options (Dos Equis Ambar, Cerveza Pacifico, and, for the Bloody Mary-style drink lovers, a Michelada).

The more interesting options come from the “Signature Margaritas” section of the menu, though. Ranging from $14-14.50 (a bit pricy, in my opinion, but in line with La Cava’s indoor pricing and quality), you can order three specialty drinks assembled to order featuring higher-end spirits and more complex flavors:

  • Acan grapefruit, featuring Tequila Casa Noble blanco, grapefruit liqueur, elderflower cordial, lemon, cardamom bitters, and ginger beer
  • Lime cucumber, featuring Tequila Avion blanco, fresh cucumber juice, orange liqueur, agave, and Tajin chili rim
  • Guava pink peppercorn, featuring Mezcal Zignum reposado, guava nectar, grapefruit liqueur, lime, Peychaud’s bitters, and pink peppercorns

The Acan Grapefruit Signature Margarita and the Lime Cucumber Signature Margarita from Choza de MargaritaOf course, I had to try out a few of the new drinks and snacks (all in the name of research, right?). First up, I sampled the Acan grapefruit, which sounded like a light option, perfect for a hot day. This margarita is on the sweeter side because of the elderflower, but the ginger beer brightens up the tequila and the floral cardamom, balanced well with the acid of the grapefruit flavors and the lemon juice. All in all, this was a very smooth sip, and perfect for those who prefer their margaritas with sweet/sour contrast.

Read the rest of this entry »

Café Orleans – A Disneyland Dining Review

by on November 14, 2017

Cafe Orleans Graphic

During my recent trip to Disneyland, I thought I would check out some restaurants that I’ve never tried before. One such place was Café Orleans, located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland Park. I, like so many other Disneyland visitors, have always opted to dine at Blue Bayou. Often touted as the best restaurant in Disneyland, how could I possibly go anywhere else? But on this vacation, I decided to expand my horizons and try something different, but similar to my old favorite.

Read the rest of this entry »

Swan & Dolphin’s Food & Wine Classic vs Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival

by on November 13, 2017

The causeway at the Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine ClassicAs we round the corner towards the end of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, right next door, the Swan and Dolphin hotels recently celebrated their eighth annual Food & Wine Classic. I attended the event this year for the second time, and thought I’d help others see why I think it’s the hidden gem of the Food & Wine season. Here, I’ll tell you about how the event usually works and compare it to the familiar festival at Epcot, so you can see if this is a must-do to add to your agenda for next year. After all, I know you’re all planning ahead for next Food & Wine season already!

How the Food & Wine Classic Works

Live entertainment adds to an even livelier atmosphereThink of the Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine Classic as a mash-up between the regular Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and Epcot’s Party for the Senses. Held outdoors along the causeway between the Swan and Dolphin hotels, the event lasts about 5 hours on a given Friday and Saturday night in late October or early November. The Classic features dozens of booths serving wines from around the world and food samples representative of the Swan & Dolphin’s 17 restaurants. Similar to Party for the Senses, live music accents a lively atmosphere, with seated and standing tables available for guests to use whilst enjoying all their samples.

For the 2017 Food & Wine Classic, a la carte tickets, allowing you to sample a few items from all offerings, ran $50 for 25 tickets (each item is 2-6 tickets). This is a great way to sample options on a fixed budget, but depending on your tastes, you may run out of tickets quickly. The most common choice, and the best deal, is a causeway ticket, which cost $108.26 (tax inclusive). This allows unlimited sampling at every standard booth in the event for that particular night (causeway tickets are purchased for either Friday or Saturday, though many guests attend both nights).

For a few dollars more, you can upgrade your causeway ticket to allow access to the Beer Garden, a separate section featuring craft beer booths and a few more food selections. Prices have increased a bit in recent years, but, as I’ll describe a bit later, I still find this to be a heck of a value if you typically go wild at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Other upgrades include several beverage seminars and specialty events, like a champagne brunch, each season. Seminar tickets are sold separately, and each seminar takes place the hour before the regular event kicks off for the evening – a nice touch, as it doesn’t cut into your causeway sampling time.

Read the rest of this entry »