Although we are still months away from the start of the 2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, anticipation is already building thanks to the Tables in Wonderland preview that was held this past weekend at the World Showplace in Epcot. The event showcased just a small selection of the dishes and drinks that will be available to purchase at the event this year, while promoting some of the special seminars and experiences that will be hosted for the festival this year.
One that sounded rather intriguing this year is a Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, which includes a tour of the tiki bar and a cocktail mixing session. But, I know most of you aren’t here to read about the extra cost experiences – you can find that information over on our Epcot International Food & Wine Festival page.
Let’s talk about the important part – the food. We’ll break it down into four categories – the great, the good, the bad, and the mediocre.
Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce (Islands of the Caribbean) – NEW
It may sound weird to some that our favorite item at the preview was this new dessert, but it was everything that is good in the world. The Quesito is essentially a sweetened cream cheese deep-fried donut drenched in a sweet guava sauce and it was heavenly. The cream cheese was perfectly warm on the inside making the dish a whole other level of delectable. The portion size is also massive and almost difficult for one person to finish alone.
Seared Scallop, Truffle Celery Root Purée, Brussel Sprouts & Spinach (Farm Fresh) – NEW
The little scallop that could. While a scallop dish is by no means rare or unique, this one strived to set itself apart from the other pathetic ones out there. First things first, the scallop was cooked perfectly each time. Our group tested the chefs about 10 times throughout the event and each time it came out perfectly. Hopefully they will perform just as well during the main event. Second, this was served on top of truffled celery root purée and had extra truffle oil drizzled on top. You just can’t go wrong with truffle anything. Third, the roasted brussel sprouts were the ideal complement to the flavors found in the purée and the scallop. Brussel sprouts – they’re basically nature’s candy.
Again, this wasn’t the most creative thing invented for the event, but it tasted amazing.
Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mousse with a Caramel Drizzle (The Chew Collective) – NEW
We called this one peanut butter heaven. This mousse was essentially all of the flavors you’d get in a PayDay candy bar, but in mousse form. Yes it was somewhat tiny, but after a few bites it was almost too much to handle. This is a love letter to the biggest peanut butter fan in the world. Plus, it’s hard to feel bad about the caloric content when it only comes in baby size.
Duck Confit with Creamy Polenta and Fire-roasted Salsa (Marketplace Name to be Announced) – NEW
The duck confit ended up being a rather pleasant surprise. The pulled duck was savory and was balanced well with the sweetness from the creamy polenta. The entire dish was Emeriled (I’m officially declaring this to be a verb) with the addition of the fire-roasted salsa bringing a kick of heat to the plate. This was the type of dish that you wish was served on a giant spoon to be taken in all at once. No? Just me?
Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey-Caramel (Chocolate Studio)
This is a returning competitor from last year and it is still coming out swinging. To break it down, this dessert is chocolate mousse that is dipped in liquid nitrogen that leaves the exterior momentarily frozen and the interior still mousse-y before changing the temperature entirely with the warm whiskey-caramel sauce. Still not understanding? Let’s do a play-by-play for this one.
They start by pouring the liquid nitrogen into a special bucket that keeps the chef safe, the guest safe, and most-likely enhances the eerie liquid nitrogen smoke cloud effect. Then they scoop out a ball of chocolate mousse, drop it in the liquid nitrogen, pull it out and beat it with a ladle. *We wanted to show you this step, but it was far too graphic.
Finally, they take what remains of the victimized mousse and douse it with another ladle full of warm whiskey-caramel sauce that should be offered as a drink for those chilly 90 degree September days. The nuts go on top and you have a winning dessert.
Korean-style BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice & Cucumber Kimchi (South Korea)
This is another dish returning to the Food & Wine Festival and for a very good reason. The Korean-style BBQ Beef is extremely succulent. While I’ve had better Korean BBQ served from food trucks and dive restaurants, Disney does a good job of matching the essence of what it means to be Korean BBQ. The thing that keeps this dish from earning a spot in the great column is the bland steamed rice that the kimchi can’t even add life to. Maybe taco form would be a more suitable choice for this dish.
Pork Tenderloin with Cannellini Bean Ragoût & Zinfandel Reduction (Wine & Dine Studio) – NEW
This is a dish that has the potential to be magical. The problem our group had with it (like a few other things yet to come) was the consistency. The pork tenderloin was bursting with flavor as was the ragoût and reduction. However, it was hit or miss on whether or not we could get a warm piece of pork. That being said, the piece of pork I had was actually hot and fresh, which would’ve led me to put it in the great category, but The DIS is a proud democracy.
Smoked Beef Brisket & Pimento Cheese served on Griddled Garlic Toast (Hops & Barley) – NEW
Beef brisket – one of the best examples of why slaughtering cows for our gluttony is an American tradition. However, this dish needs a few tweaks and adjustments to be a great plate of food. First, the temperature was off like many of the other food items. The brisket was dry to begin with and keeping it under a heat lamp did no extra favors. The griddled toast also suffered from a lack of warmth and the pimento cheese was used sparingly. Most of our group would actually drop this one down to the mediocre category, but I was lucky enough to score a plate with hot brisket and EXTRA pimento and it made all of the difference.
Still, this one could suffer greatly during the event when the Hops & Barley stand is swarmed with guests and the focus shifts towards speed of service instead of food quality.
New England Lobster Roll (Hops & Barley)
It pains me to put a lobster roll on a mediocre list, but again, we are a democracy at The DIS and Disney didn’t do much to help the cause. Let’s be honest – in a perfect scenario the lobster to bread ratio would be 4 to 1 and everything would be smothered in butter. However, this lobster to bread ratio is about 2 to 1 and if there isn’t any claw meat left in the serving bowl, then you’re in for a sad roll. I do have to say that the quality of the lobster served to us was high and I didn’t even think it necessarily needed more butter. Also, I appreciate that it isn’t dumbed down to a lobster salad roll. There’s no need for mayonnaise with this lobster. Still, this dish is best left to the experts up in New England with the freshest supply of lobsters.
Mojo Pork with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice, & Pickled Red Onions (Islands of the Caribbean) – NEW
This dish was a shocking disappointment. It had all the right ingredients to make it something special. The pulled pork should’ve been bursting with more flavor. The cilantro rice should’ve been a bit heavier on the cilantro, but instead it felt inferior to Chipotle’s cilantro rice. The one thing that was packed with flavor was the pickled red onions, but that isn’t really a surprise. Overall, this dish feels like more of a safe alternative than an exploration of some of the more exotic flavors you could find in the Caribbean.
Chicken and Dumplings: Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms & Spinach (Farm Fresh) – NEW
Again, this was another dish that felt a bit odd. The approach seemed to be comfort food served with a bit of style, but the payoff wasn’t there. There’s not much else to say about this one except maybe it should go to a southern kitchen and learn a thing or two.
Loaded Greek “Nachos”: Pita Chips, Meatless Sausage Crumbles, and Vegan Tzatziki
Here is a dish that truly played with the emotions – a Greek take on nachos. I love nachos, I love Greek food, and to be perfectly fair, I loved this dish. However, I was the only person in my group that felt this way. My mind is kind of blown that I’ve never seen this at a restaurant before, but maybe I just don’t get out to enough Greek restaurants? As an avid, aggressive meat eater, I was even surprised that I didn’t mind the meatless sausage crumbles. Granted, I was there more for the olives and onions. Again, this is another dish that falls down the list due to our great DIS democracy.
Grilled Beef Skewer with Romaine, Apricots, & Feta Cheese (The Chew Collective) – NEW
Woof. I don’t know what The Chew was thinking when they created this dish, but I would’ve loved to be there for that conversation. I imagine it went something like this:
“We need to make a dish for this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. What should we do?”
“Beef skewers seem hip. Should we put two of the tiniest pieces of marinated, grilled beef that we can find on a skewer ?”
“Yeah! Now we’re talking! We can also serve it over a sad romaine salad with the smallest hint of feta cheese thrown in.”
“I think we have a real winner here.”
“But wait, to really change things up a bit, let’s throw some grilled apricots on the plate.”
I wasn’t in the room for this conversation, but this is exactly what we got. A cold plate of cold beef on wilted lettuce, but hey, those apricots sure were good.
Oikos Greek Yogurt Vanilla Cake Soaked in ouzo with Yogurt Whipped Cream and Pistachios (Greece) – NEW
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the WORST dessert you will find at this year’s Food & Wine Festival. Disney reserves the right to change up their menus before the event launches and hopefully this one falls off of a page. Where to begin with this one. We’ll start and end with the cake. No one in our group could think of the last time they had cake that was this dry and it boggles the mind. This vanilla cake was supposedly made with Greek yogurt and soaked in an aperitif. How this thing wasn’t bursting with moist mouth-feels is beyond me. The whipped cream was both creamy and yogurt-y, so no complaints there and the pistachios were definitely pistachios. That cake though. It will probably go down in history, joining Twinkies and McDonald’s french fries as the only foods to survive the apocalypse.
The drinks were definitely on point all day. I can’t say I sampled everything, because I’m generally not a fan of sweeter drinks, but I know that others in my group didn’t have many complaints either. There were three things that really stood out to me as spectacular. First, the Robert Mondavi Maestro Red Blend. This red blend made of primarily merlot was heaven in a bottle. However, the Justin Cabernet also won me over. My final go-to choice of the event was the 3 Daughters Bimini Twist IPA. The St. Pete Brewery has a great line-up of craft beers and this is probably their best that I’ve tried. Granted, I’m an IPA fan, but for me it will be hard to find a better beer at Epcot while the Food & Wine festival is happening.
So, there were definitely hits and misses at this year’s preview event. I can’t quite say whether or not this was a good value for Tables in Wonderland members as I was invited to the event as a member of the media. It is a delight to be able to sample the food and drinks inside an air conditioned building as opposed to the brutal Florida heat and that can never be overlooked. Based on what was shown to us, it does seem like Disney might be playing it safe with the menu items this year and is looking to appeal more to broader audiences instead of pleasing exotic foodies. Regardless, there will definitely be something for everyone at this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, starting September 14 and running through November 14.