The first booth you’ll come across debuted in 2012 and features vegan items.
Both the Chili Colorado and Trick’n Chick’n Curry return from last year, with the addition of a new chocolate cake.
First up is the Trick’n Chicken Curry with Basmati Rice featuring Gardein Chick’n Breast ($3.75). The thing I immediately noticed was the nice presentation with the bright colored topping. This was quite good and I wouldn’t have accused you of serving me something vegetarian. Obviously I’m about as vegan as a buffalo steak, but I don’t have any qualms about recommending this to the carnivores among us. The curry does have a bit of a kick to it, but nothing off-putting. The texture was chicken-like and I’ll try to avoid the cliche, “It tastes like chicken.” But it does. The rice is forgettable, but prepared well.
Your other choice is the $3.75 Chili Colorado with House-Made Chips and Cashew Cheese featuring Gardein Beefless Tips. The “meat” portion looks like it resembles a chunk of beef, but is actually multiple pieces kind of lumped together. The texture on this one isn’t as great and the tips feel more like tofu than beef in your mouth. I had just glanced at the menu, knowing I was going to order both items anyway, and originally thought this was the Chick’n. I read “Chili Colorado” and was expecting a cup of vegan chili. The flavor was also similar to the Chick’n, which surprised me. Since vegans have few choices, you’d think they’d want to go in two completely different directions, but this one was on the spicy side too.
The chips had a nice crunch to them and weren’t greasy in the least. I’d buy a bag, though probably not at whatever the price point would be.
If I was going to recommend one, it’d be the Chick’n. I think you’ll be surprised how much you like it.
Apparently wine is not vegan, despite being made from grapes. According to the Vegan Vine website:
“Animal products can be utilized as fining or filtration aids in the wine making process. They assist by removing solids. Although typically filtered out of the wine prior to bottling, the use of these animal ingredients can make many wines unsuitable for vegans. The most common animal ingredients used in making wine are:
- Isinglass: a very pure form of gelatin from sturgeon fish bladders
- Gelatin: extract from boiled cow’s or pig’s hooves and sinews
- Albumin: egg whites
- Caseins: a protein from milk”
So when I say the wine “tastes like wine,” I guess I’m really saying that it tastes like sturgeon fish bladders and egg whites.
Perhaps with the help of some natural seasonings, Vegan Vine managed to make their wine taste like wine. I’m not sure if the heavier pour of the chardonnay was luck or not, but the same cast member poured both cups at the same time. It did not seem to be anything special.
We saw Napa Smith Organic IPA over at California Grill, where a 12-ounce bottle costs $6.75. Here, the same money buys you a 12-ounce on draft. Napa’s IPA is below average with lingering bitterness and a sweet, pine-y taste up front. At 7.1%, it’s a decent amount of alcohol for the money, though most people will want to pick something up from the nearby Craft Beer booth. It’s worth getting if you’re interested, but I’m not sure I’d make a special trip in line. Unfortunately, they were out of the watermelon juice when we visited.
Brazil returns this year after a brief hiatus. Interestingly, 35% of Brazilians visiting the United States arrive in Orlando. I think anybody that has been to a local theme park could tell you that.
The menu is all new.
$5.25 buys you the Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Onions, Avocado, and Cilantro. As pork belly tends to be, this was fatty with a salty kick, tempered a bit by what is basically guacamole on top. The flavorful black beans add a bit of heft to what is otherwise about two bites of food. It gets a skip it from me.
The $4.25 Seared Scallop with Ragou of Tomatoes, Peppers, and Hearts of Palm. This single scallop was dry and flavorless, though you might have more luck. The rice tasted like rice with a bit of spice from the pepper.
Xingu (pronounced shin-goo) is a 4.7% schwarzbier from Cervejaria Sul Brasileirain in Jacarei. It’s not as rare here in the states as you might expect and local Total Wine stores would sell you a six-pack for $10.49. Taste is a little sweet and caramel-y with a toasted malt finish. Mouthfeel is thin, but these dark beers are not as boozy as you might expect.
The Carnaval Moscato is actually Brazilian, which is a nice bonus. It’s otherwise as sweet as the varietal would suggest. At $5+ less than the various champagnes and cuvees, this is a good value if you’re looking for a sweet accompaniment to the spicy and salty food dishes.
That’s the Frozen Caipirinha in the distance. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with LeBlon Cachaca. Cachaca is mostly unknown here in the U.S., but the pure sugar cane spirit is the most common hard liquor in Brazil. Anyway, this particular drink is served blended with the subtle sourness of the limes masking the taste of the liquor. It’s a refreshing cocktail that’s boozier than it tastes, unlike a lot of mixed drinks that we’re going to run into with hardly any alcohol content. Recommended.
Argentina returns in the same spot with the same food items.
This is the first reminder that I’m really bad at this and neglected to take an actual picture of the menu:
- Beef empanada – $4.25
- Grilled beef skewer with Chimichurri sauce and boniato purée* – $5.25
- Pascual Toso Sparkling Brut – $2.50
- Terrazas Reserva Malbec – $3.75
- Terrazas Reserva Torrontes – $3.75
- Kaiken Cabernet Sauvignon – $3.00
The $5.25 Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato purée is a Festival favorite and one of their biggest sellers, but I haven’t had as much luck. On my samples, I’ve only received a couple bites of overcooked, shriveled beef.
The puree underneath is really good though.
The Empanada has a crispy crust and a slightly spicy, beefy interior. For $4.25, it’s a decent portion and pretty “safe” as far as the flavor profile is concerned. The Malbec and Torrontes are excellent wines if you’d like to go that route.
Staffed by cast members with “Goo-day mates” of varying authenticity, Australia returns as a perennial favorite.
Last year’s “Shrimp on the Barbie” are replaced by Garlic shrimp with roasted tomatoes, lemon myrtle and rapini – $4.50.
The results are similar, minus the skewer, with three plump, perfectly grilled shrimp with their tails on. This is another safe bet with just a subtle garlic flavor tempered with the backhousia citriodora. Very good, but not very interesting in the grand scheme of things.
The $6 Grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies tends to be a bit fatty and the “potato crunchies” are fancy potato chip flakes, but the lamb is another above-average dish and a great use of a snack credit. While there is not much flavor from the mint, the crunchies soak up the flavor from the lamb and they do an excellent job of grilling each chop.
The Pavlova (crispy meringue shell with fresh Driscoll’s® berries and vanilla custard) – $3.25 is new this year. The meringue is indeed crispy and the vanilla custard subtly sweet. The few berries on top are fresh and liven things up a bit. It’s a fun and relatively inexpensive dessert to share early on in your Food and Wine expedition.
Rosemount is hawking their pinot grigio and merlot this year. Bottles run about $10 and are widely available, making neither a destination wine. But they are some of the least expensive cups you’ll run into and cast members are usually enthusiastic with their pours. If you’re looking for a finer wine, the Penfolds 8 is a lot better.
Mexico returns in the same spot across from La Cantina de San Angel on the pyramid side.
The two tacos return with the rice pudding replacing last year’s caramel custard.
The Taco de Rib-Eye is a more cohesive dish than the shrimp taco, which is topped with several sauces.
Portion size looks small, but it’s actually a large portion of spicy beef topped with green onions and a chipotle salsa. Squeezing fresh lime juice on top adds another layer of flavor. It’s worth trying, but it is on the expensive side of things and it will likely fill you up a bit more than you’re expecting.
The $5.50 Shrimp taco with purple cabbage is another filling, messy item. Unlike the beef taco, which has a cohesive flavor across the dish, the shrimp taco has multiple sauces, in addition to the orange glaze on the fried shrimp themselves. Both tacos are better than what’s served at La Cantina, but they may way you down if you’re looking to try a lot of items.
A poor picture of the $3.50 rice pudding, which has a similar caramel and cinnamon flavor profile as last year’s custard. I personally don’t care for the creamy rice texture, but someone who does would enjoy this.
$8.50 nets you a 20-ounc Dos Equis draft. This 4.3% American adjunct lager is widely available in grocery and convenience stores across the country, but as far as macro lagers go, it isn’t terrible. And it has .2% more alcohol than the Corona Light available at La Cantina for the same money. And we all know how important decimal points are. The Dos Equis is a refreshing lager for the Budweiser crowd, but it’s one of the most boring beers available at the Festival.
At $6 less than a La Cava margarita inside the Pavilion, the Mango-Habanero Margarita is decent for the money. The flavor from the cheap tequila is present, but the mango and other fruit juices cover it up pretty well. This is not a balanced, thoughtful cocktail like you’ll find inside, but it’s above average as far as the booths are concerned. If you want to spend more money and potentially wait longer inside, the smart money is on a La Cava margarita.
Singapore replaces Scandinavia outside the Norway Pavilion. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but with China up next, Singapore sort of fits in.
The Seared Mahi Mahi returns, while last year’s incredibly spicy Beef Rendeng is replaced by Lemongrass Chicken Curry.
My $4.25 Seared mahi mahi with jasmine rice and “Singa” sauce was prepared perfectly, retaining moisture and the singa sauce was pleasantly sweet. The jasmine rice soaks up a bit of the flavor from the fish and sauce, but isn’t anything special on its own. We enjoyed it and it’s probably one of the healthier items available
The Lemongrass chicken curry with coconut and jasmine rice for $3.75 was a pleasant surprise that reminded me a lot of a Thai green curry dish. It’s a larger portion than it looks in the picture and a good value for the money. Unlike the Mexico tacos, which are not easily shareable because they’re so messy, both Singapore dishes can be easily shared.
Tiger Beer comes from Asia Pacific Breweries Ltd in Sinapore. It’s another 5% American adjunct lager that is not particularly special as far as taste is concerned, but it’s unlikely to be found at your local grocery store. Total Wine carries 6-packs for $7.49 here in Florida. This is basically a Budweiser from Singapore and it’s served from an 11.2 ounce bottle. Not necessarily recommended, but it’s another refreshing lager without much complexity.
If you’re looking for the most alcohol for your money, the Singapore Sling is one of your top three options. The strong gin flavor is only midly tempered by the Cherry Herring, which is a 47-proof cherry cordial from Denmark. If you like gin and drinks that taste like alcohol, this is an excellent option. But if you’re looking for something fruity, you’ll want to stay far, far away. Five stars.
Favorite-of-the-Festival China returns with items about as foreign as your local takeout joint.
Black Pepper Shrimp replaces last year’s Chicken Satay and the Silk Ice Cream Ribbon replaces the Mango Tapioca Pudding. The Kung Fu Punch from Flower/Garden replaces last year’s Sunny Guava with Coconut Rum.
The $5.00 Mongolian beef in a steamed bun is quite good, albeit not the largest portion at this higher price point. Last year’s was $4.50 and even that was pushing it by 50 cents or a dollar. However, the soft bun does a nice job of holding together the numerous ingredients, including a few hearty bites of stir-fried beef. The creamy sauce also works to temper the spice from the stir-fry while still allowing those flavors to shine through. At five bucks, I’m not going to give this one two thumbs straight up, but it is quite good.
The $5.50 Black pepper shrimp with Sichuan noodles. The three-to-four shrimp themselves are kind of sad compared to what we saw at Australia, but it is a heaping portion of the noodles underneath, which might help soak up some of that alcohol. This is another safe bet at a higher price point than some of the items we’ll see later.
Four dollars buys you two chicken potstickers, which I would have trouble differentiating from the big bag of Ling Lings I buy at Costco. They are expertly pan-fried and delicious, but it’s about a dollar per bite. You could do a lot worse though.
Unfortunately, the Silk Ribbon Ice Cream wasn’t ready during our first pass and I forgot to pick one up the next three or four times we passed.
Then Saturday happened.
Tsingtao is another American adjunct lager, this time coming in at 4.8%. Your $6.50 buys you 12-ounces of a pedestrian Chinese-Budweiser, making this a below average value.
A lot of Asians visiting the United States or other English speaking countries have problems pronouncing their r’s and l’s, so it seems sort of rude to serve “Francis Ford Coppola Su Yuen Riesling” at the China booth. I literally have no idea what makes this Chinese, but it is a nice slightly sweet riesling that pairs well with the spicy dishes served here. I haven’t seen the wine on shelves here, but they should be available if you look a little harder.
The $8 Happy Lychee with Tequila and Vodka is the second booziest drink you should run into at the Festival, only behind the nearby Sling. It tastes strongly of tequila with a tinge of flavor from the cheap vodka and possibly a spritz of water to help with volume. It does not taste particularly good to those who don’t like a strong dose of tequila, but if you’re looking to get your money’s worth on your $8 mixed cocktail, this is another to put on your short list. Five stars.
The Kung Fu Punch with Vodka and Triple Sec is a more refreshing cocktail, though the flavor of vodka is still present. This is another excellent cocktail that should be better balanced than the cup of alcohol that is the Happy Lychee. Happy indeed.
Next up is South Korea, Africa, Brewer’s Collection, Germany, and the Country of Cheese.