With the madness that is Food and Wine Festival coverage commencing shortly (I have reviews and pix of every food item, beer, and mixed drink available), we’ll take a trip out to the Wilderness Lodge for a bit of pacific northwest tranquility.
The Lodge is my second favorite resort to visit, just slightly below the Polynesian. Animal Kingdom Lodge occasionally transplants both depending on mood.
Despite quick access to Magic Kingdom via bus or boat, the Lodge tends to see far less foot traffic than the Monorail or Crescent Lake Deluxe resorts.
That tends to make for a peaceful evening away from much of the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.
Whispering Canyon Cafe is the exception, of course.
A dinner review is available here and a lunch review here. You may recall last year around this time, Whispering Canyon moved to a skillet-only menu with exactly one entree – the skillet (or “family platter” as the case may be). Three other entrees were added recently in case you don’t want to take them up on their all-you-CAN-eat challenge. You could easily make a meal out of two of the appetizers as well.
Roaring Fork is the small quick service outlet you’ll find inside the main building closer to the pool. Menus for all three quick service meals are available here.
Territory Lounge is one of the better resort lounges on property. In fact, I think I’d put it second, only behind Crew’s Cup at the Yacht Club.
It offers a fantastic food menu along with dark, usually quiet quarters to enjoy a drink and/or a snack. If you’re not up for a table service meal and don’t want to deal with Roaring Fork, you can easily make a meal out of one or two of the options here. Take note of the Artist Point Cobbler as well. Widmer Hefeweizen and Redhook ESB are available on draft.
And if the dark bar scene isn’t for you, there’s always the fireplace.
But dinner tonight is at Artist Point, the Lodge’s signature restaurant. That means it’ll cost you two table service credits on the Dining Plan and out-of-pocket prices are a little higher than most other restaurants. Like most signature dinners, there is almost no scenario where using dining plan credits “makes sense” from a cost perspective. There’s a lot more value in choosing some of the more expensive single credit meals.
Here’s the menu:
Several of the menu items have been here forever. Your server will probably explain to you that they’ve been preparing the salmon exactly the same for 19 years. The cobbler and buffalo presented in one way or another are also mainstays. Otherwise, the menu changes more often than most restaurants, including the other signatures. I guess we’ll give them a pass on spelling “Samuel” wrong on the beer menu and “vegetables” wrong on the Pacific Northwest Trio, among other things. We are all not perfect bloggers after all. With about 9,000 cocktail reviews for Food/Wine upcoming, I will not bore you with more here.
The restaurant’s atmosphere does not do much for me.
According to Disney:
Relax in the warm ambiance of this charming restaurant, inspired by the dining rooms of cherished National Park lodges. Dramatic murals capture the spirit and romance of the American frontier, and ornate iron lanterns are suspended from tremendous timber columns.
Dine indoors as you enjoy panoramic views of Bay Lake and Silver Creek Falls, or retreat to the outdoor terrace to soak in the beauty of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
This was my view for the night – half a window pane with frosted glass and an unfortunate view of people traipsing to the pool via the walkway down to Roaring Fork.
I admittedly did not think of it to request a view at check-in and probably could have protested before we were actually seated, but the table seemed fine initially. But with at least half of the restaurant empty, including an entire section with the best views in the house sitting dormant, I was a bit annoyed by our placement once I realized there was nobody seated at the choice tables.
Anyway, request a window table with a view of the lake at check-in or you risk being stuck next to the entrance with a view of the unfortunately topless on their way to the pool.
Dinner starts with fresh sourdough bread, butter with black salt, and oil. Disney generally does bread well, perhaps with the exception of Coral Reef and this is no exception – a slightly crisp crust and chewy sourdough center.
Lisa ordered the Washington White Flight – Milbrandt Riesling, Cadaretta “SBS,” and Charles Smith “Eve” Chardonnay – $17. Each pour looks to be about three ounces and I’m assured each tasted like wine.
Not really knowing what to expect, we started with the Confit Natural Bacon – Sunny-side Up Quail Egg, Chow Mein Noodles, and Blood Orange Glaze – $12.
Lighting was a problem, so the pictures are not great. This was more pork belly than your typical “bacon” – fattier than I was expecting without much pork flavor to speak of. On the plus side, the exterior had a bit of crunch to it and the middle was fork tender. The blood orange glaze was extremely sweet and the tang seemed out of place on top of a few strands of cabbage. For a long time, the bacon was served over crab with a cider reduction. I prefer that preparation, but this does seem to get rave reviews, so I may have been doing something wrong. The fatty texture was not to my taste and the slippery egg on top didn’t help things.
Lisa ordered the Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut – Blue Crab Pierogi, Truffle Butter, Toy Box Squash, and Meyer Lemon Emulsion – $37.
The halibut was cooked perfectly – flaky and it retained moisture with the help of the lemon emulsion. Unfortunately, the flavor was not consistent throughout the hunk of fish. One bite would be extremely lemon-y, while the next would have a hint of lemon with the natural flavor of the fish shining through. Overall, the fish was on point, but it was not a particularly interesting flavor profile or preparation.
The Blue Crab Pierogi sat underneath the slice of halibut. With its flaky crust and creamy crab center, Lisa ended up enjoying it more than the fish that lay on top. It seemed kind of random to include it with the halibut, but I guess they needed something in addition to the fish to command the $37 price point.
I ordered the Pacific Northwest Trio – Slow Roasted 64°C Buffalo Strip, Venison Loin, Wild Game Sausage with Herbed Spaetzle, Late Summer “Vegitables,” Red Onion Marmalade, and Berry Gastrique – $49.
The Buffalo Strip is a menu mainstay in one way or another, though this is a relatively new way of presenting it. For years, a larger portion of strip was served alongside a cup of truffle macaroni and cheese for $43.
This is about twice as much buffalo strip as it looks, cooked to a perfect medium rare as recommended by the kitchen. Despite being a lean piece of meat, the buffalo was as tender as California Grill’s filet mignon and had a rich, natural flavor without being over-seasoned or salted.
Two bites of venison sausage (if memory serves) sat on top of a large mound of herbed spaetzle and spinach. The sausage was gamey with a bit of a spicy kick to it. I would have liked a bit more than the two bites offered, especially considering the heaping mound of flavorless, gummy dough that sat underneath it. The spinach was superfluous considering everything else going on, but maybe it makes people feel healthy.
The venison loin was the best part of the meal I thought and it was really the only thing that made me prefer this dish over the previous version accompanied by the macaroni and cheese. I did end up pushing the overly sweet red onion marmalade on top off to the side. The dish ended up being a lot of food – just the venison loin or the buffalo strip would have been enough for most appetites.
Having skipped a drink (or four) with the meal, I was interested in trying a dessert and a glass of ice wine.
This is the Artist Point Cobbler – Seasonal Berries and House-made black raspberry ice cream – $12 paired with a glass of King Estate Vin Glace Pinot Gris Ice Wine – $11. I don’t think I have the food-describing-vocabulary to properly describe how good it was. The homemade ice cream was creamy and naturally sweet with small bits of blackberry mixed in. The berries on top were large and ripe. The cobbler underneath was sweet and served piping hot without being mushy or overcooked. We loved it and it was just right to share. Speaking of menu updates also, the creme brulee trio had just been added that day.
For the money, the food should have been excellent. It ended up being quite good, but didn’t stand out versus the similarly priced California Grill from a couple weeks back. There was virtually no ambiance as far as I could tell from our table. We could have been dining inside of a brown cardboard box and it would have been a similar experience. There was some art in the distance and apparently tables in the back have nice views of the Lodge’s backyard, but that didn’t do us much good seated near the entrance. I would give the restaurant more of a pass if it had been busy, but they didn’t seat more than five or six additional groups in the entire two hours we were there (if that). And the half of the restaurant with the rustic surroundings sat empty all night.
Service was competent, though it seemed like our server would have fit in better yodeling along at Whispering Canyon Cafe. I mean that as nicely as possible. When he went over the menu with us, he basically just read the entire thing out loud, item by item. There was otherwise not a lot of personality, charm, or professionalism. Considering the person taking care of you will likely be different, the fact that ours wasn’t great shouldn’t have much of an impact on whether you choose to visit the restaurant. On the plus side, it was a relaxing, meandering meal that ended up taking nearly two hours. We weren’t in any hurry, but I ended up commenting that it took a while for the entrees to come out.
Anyway, I preferred the “vibrant and charged atmosphere” at California Grill from a couple weeks ago and I was not expecting to return from Artist Point with that sentiment. You may have a better experience.
We ended up catching the end of HalloWishes from the resort’s beach area. The view is not great and the music isn’t piped in, so it certainly isn’t a destination spot for fireworks viewing like the Contemporary’s 4th floor observation deck or Polynesian’s beach.
But if you find yourself at the resort with nothing to do, it night be fun to head down at show time with a mug of cocoa or eight ounces of moonshine in your draconian Rapid Fill Mug.
Of course, you might instead choose to spend your time dragging a trash can down poolside to snap a picture.
Sorry I ate you <3
Lots more updates.