I am back from this evening’s “First Bites Opening Reception.” This event only happens once per year on Food and Wine Festival Eve. It was a hard decision between this event and trying to pick up Disney cast members at the Food and Wine Festival booths. See, Disney buses in cast members on the afternoon/evening of the Thursday prior to the start of the Festival. That’s the “real” reason why the Festival booths were open on Thursday. However, after years of trying to pick up girls outside the Singapore booth, I have found out a couple of things. 1.) Most cast members are at the end of their contract. While they arrive with a wine-cooler-tolerance of one and a half, they leave with a wine-cooler-tolerance of somewhere north of eight. At $9 a drink, Disney has basically instituted a two drink maximum without even trying. 2.) It’s very difficult competing against seven foot tall guys with blonde hair and blue eyes from the Germany Pavilion. 3.) I ride public transportation and no one is riding the Lynx bus home with me.
With few prospects for true love, I begrudgingly chose to eat/drink until death at the First Bites event. There was another Haunted Mansion event in the Magic Kingdom this evening, but your author is never invited to these things and is actually at Disney World most of the time when the events are announced and sign ups are taken. Arm-chair blogging has its perks. I also take lousy pictures in the dark and it wouldn’t be very helpful for me to just brag about how I got to go to the Haunted Mansion event. So I guess bragging about going to this First Bites event will have to suffice. The good news is that every other blogger was at the Haunted Mansion thing and I’m sure we’ll hear all about it. I saw the itinerary earlier this week and it didn’t look that awesome. But I might just be jealous. You might just be jealous. We’re all just a little jealous. It’s contagious.
First Bites is very similar to the “Party of the Senses,” which takes place in the World ShowPlace between the Canada and United Kingdom Pavilions in the World Showcase on Saturday evenings. To quote the woman I met that runs About.com’s Orlando section, First Bites is “much more civilized” than Party of the Senses. Seating is at such a premium at Party of the Senses, Disney actually sells a separate add-on package that guarantees seating and a couple of other perks for about $110 per ticket, on top of the $145 ticket price. The 3D Dessert Party at the World Showplace is very similar, with seating that is at a premium and separate add-ons to guarantee tables and chairs. One of the nice things about First Bites is that there’s plenty of seating and short lines for most of the food/alcohol stations. It can get a little annoying standing behind a pair of ladies asking 30 questions about Moet champagne (HE’LL GIVE YOU A GLASS OF ALL THREE LADY JUST ASK OR GO HOME AND CLICK GOOGLE), but I digress. Overall, there weren’t a lot of people there and seating was plentiful. It was a much more relaxing atmosphere than you’ll find at Party of the Sense or the Dessert Party. Some might call it “boring,” but I’ll take short lines and a relaxed vibe over elbowing and “GIMME THAT” any day of the week. This is a “crowd calendar website” after all.
Here we are arriving at the Festival Welcome Center. The event was supposed to begin at 6:30pm, but Disney was gracious enough to let us in around 6:20pm. A merciful move considering the humidity. About half the people got the memo on the dress code. I saw people in everything from suits and cocktail dresses to ripped jeans and t-shirts. Disney almost never enforces any dress code, stated or implied (except at Victoria & Albert). There was a four piece band playing in the background, which was a nice touch. We’re through the door about a minute after the doors open and you can already see people guzzling wine. This is a serious event for serious people.
Here’s a look at some of the wines for sale in the Festival Center. “Signing events” are a good way for wineries to connect to followers and coax people into buying a bottle:
Beers and other liquor served for the Food/Wine Festival are also available for purchase separately.
Everything here can probably be found in your local supermarket or liquor store for less, but I suppose you could say that about most things at Disney World.
Red Newt Cellars has a large presence at the Festival this year – their wines aren’t available in any of the booths, but they have a seminar tonight and more during the Festival.
Several options. I am not much of a wine person. As far as I’m concerned, all wine tastes like, “I’d like more scotch, please.” At least I can tell the difference between a $10 bottle of scotch and $100 bottle of scotch. Something no wine drinker can do. Now I’ve done it, right? Wine people are very protective of their uppity-ness.
Some more wines served at a nondescript station.
I guess we should start with the worst-presented item of the evening. This is the Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise ($3.00) from Hawaii. It actually tastes better than it looks. The spicy mayonnaise is what carries it. The rest of the flavors seemed overpowered. Like most items, we’re talking about three or four bites here. Not a compelling choice, but not a bad one either. It’s very safe and would pair well with a Kona Longboard beer.
Loosen Bros. Wine with three options – Robert Weil Riesling Trocken, Villa Wolf Pino Gris, and Dr. L Riesling. The wine isn’t available at any of the booths as far as I know. I mentioned that I would be attending their tasting on October 3rd (as I will be) and they looked at me a little crosseyed, as if perhaps my tasting would be taking place on another planet. Then the lightbulb must have turned on as she smiled and said “Yes.” I tried the Riesling in honor of my good friend Gregg, who loves Riesling. Won’t drink anything else. “Crisp” and “subdued” seem like good words to describe it. It’s a $10/bottle of wine that would be fine to take home, I’m sure. I’ll have more information if they show up for their tasting on the 3rd.
Babycakes has always amused me. They sell organic, all-natural, “responsibly sourced” products. You know the type. I find them amusing for two reasons in particular. First of all, the stuff is still absolutely, unequivocally terrible for you from a nutritional standpoint. If you head over to their nutrition information page, you’ll see that one of their “Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes” has more calories than a McDonalds Cheeseburger and as much saturated fat as a McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Second, somehow they get rave reviews from the Internet, yet they don’t seem to fair so well in “real life.” The woman across from me at today’s event took a bite of her brownie, put it back on the plate, and shoved it away from her. She refused to try the cookie sandwich. When I asked the couple sitting next to me about what they enjoyed, both of them agreed how bad Babycakes was, without even asking what they didn’t like. The people that work there are super-nice though.
More negativity here, sorry. Xante is available at the Scandinavian booth ($5.75 for a shot or $7.25 for the Sunshine, which adds lime juice and ‘elder flower’). It’s a “pear infused cognac.” They seem pretty desperate to get their product in the hands of the media and celebrities, which is probably what they’re doing at an event like this. It wasn’t as good as pears or cognac and at $40/bottle, you could buy a bottle of Courvoisier and some pears.
A huge platter of everything that’s good in this world – cookies, cotton candy, Werther’s Originals, crisped rice treats, and Ghirardelli chocolate.
Wagner Family of Wines with three choices – Conundrum White Table Wine, Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver. Not available in the World Showcase booths. The Mers Soleil Chardonnay was “very nice” with a distinct citrus taste. According to the rep, I could taste melon and spices.
Here’s Linda Bean’s Lobster Claw Cuddler with Drawn Butter ($6.50) and Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll ($7.25) from the Hops & Barley
This is some good stuff, I think. “Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster” is actually a brand of frozen lobster products sold at Wal-Mart. You can purchase the Cuddlers in one-pound bags that come with five or six claws. So that’s what these are. It was really good though – just as good as lobster I’ve ordered elsewhere, if not better.
The Linda Bean Perfect Maine Lobster Roll was also excellent. The lobster is nicely seasoned without any fillers and it comes on a fresh, buttered, toasted bun. It’s not large by any stretch of the imagination. Three or four bites. It’s a no brainer as a snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan, but I wouldn’t necessarily drop $7.25 on it out of pocket. I’ll make sure this is the same size as what’s being served at the actual booth also.
This is the cookie sandwich and one of the donuts from Babycakes, which I mentioned earlier. I enjoyed both fine, really, which may not make a lot of sense since I railed on them so hard earlier. If you have a ton of allergies or other problems, Babycakes is a life saver. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s any healthier than the junk the rest of us eat.
The Grilled Lamb Chop with Potato-Goat Cheese Salad and Shiraz Reduction from the Australia booth ($5.75):
This was a runaway favorite dish at the event and one of my three favorites. The lamb was cooked perfectly – moist and “fork tender” with a nice mix of spices. The potato accompaniment also worked very well. I saw people raving about this out on the promenade earlier in the day.
I know, these look real good right? They are the Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries ($3.50) from the Scandinavian booth. Not bad at all, but nothing about them stood out. With the advent of Ikea, I’m not even sure they are particularly novel. A nice safe choice if you have a picky eater. Maybe, that is – they might not be too wild about the sauce or berries.
The event included a couple of culinary demonstrations, two beverage seminars, a meet and greet with Vern Yip (YAY!!!), and some other types of events to give people an idea about what to expect from the Food and Wine Festival.
At one of the “culinary seminars,” this lady would not stop talking about salt:
She was freezing salt, baking salt in an oven, salting watermelons, putting salt in I don’t even know. I was more interested in swirling the eight glasses of wine I had in front of me.
After each culinary demonstration, you will be presented with a platter containing some of the items discussed in the demonstration. We have a slice of kobe beef, two pieces of (salted) watermelon, and a piece of tuna. What you see under the beef and tuna is ice, which I think is made of salt. That seemed to be the theme.
Here’s the Greek Salad with Pita Bread ($3.00) from the Greece booth.
This was another of my favorite dishes. In this case, all of the ingredients were extremely fresh. Feta is one of my favorite cheeses and the olives, tomatoes, and onions really brought out the flavor in the cheese. Very nice.
The Seared Filet of Beef with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and Braai Sauce ($5.00). This is a lot better than it looks. While just two or three bites, the beef is impeccable quality and extremely tender. I cut it with my fork. The sauce is unique and adds a little bit of flair to what is otherwise “just a piece of meat.” Even without the sauce, the beef would stand well on its own. The sweet potatoes were probably my favorite accompaniment – smooth and creamy.
This is the “vineyard” section of the Festival Welcome Center, where most of the beverage seminars will take place. Disney is very excited to offer “exclusive” wines this year, which is part of what this talk is about. Both wines are available at the Enoteca Castello wine shop in the Italy Pavilion. There’s a pinot grigio and a chianti, both $16.95 a bottle or $6 a glass and produced by Sogno d’Italia. I would be extremely surprised if they are anything special.
These “Crave” liqueurs aren’t available yet apparently, either at retail locations or out on the promenade. How exciting! I tried the chocolate chili – it was okay.
Here are two new items from the Caribbean Booth – the Ropa Vieja (slowly braised beef) with White Rice and Jerk Spiced Chicken Drumstick with Mango Salsa ($3.25):
Oh my gosh. I don’t think I’ve ever referred to a chicken drumstick as “tender” before, but the meat fell right off the bone. Amazing. I would have been happy filling up on these if not for the “need” to try other items. Considering the portion size elsewhere, this is a great value too. The Ropa Vieja was even more surprising – braised beef isn’t usually something you think of as a delicacy, but it was so tender and well seasoned that it was a better overall dish than any of the steak-type items. I thoroughly enjoyed both and highly recommend checking out the new Caribbean booth and menu.
We’ll finish Part 1 up with dessert – it’s only fitting. Immediately in front of us is the Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce ($1.50) from the Hops and Barley booth (the same booth that serves Sam Adams and the lobster dishes). Bar none, this was the best dessert at First Bites and the best dessert I’ve ever had at the Food and Wine Festival. And only $1.50. Note that Craisins are involved here and Ocean Spray is a large sponsor of the event as well as other sections of Epcot. I have to think they are either subsidizing the mousse or just want as many people as possible to try it. It’s a no brainer if you like pumpkin anything. Delicious. Behind it is the Rice Pudding with Driscoll’s Only the Finest Berries ($2.75) (I think). I’m also assuming this portion is much smaller than what you’ll receive in Scandinavia, but I’ll check it out the next time I pass by. Also good, but nowhere near as good as the Pumpkin Mousse. I’ve also got a glass of Moet and Chandon Imperial champagne ($10.75) in the background. An outstanding champagne, but I probably wouldn’t drop that kind of cash on a glass. A bottle is around $35 in stores. It is what it is though.
I’ll be back with Part 2 tomorrow (or later today, as the case may be).