La Isla Fresca is the first Outdoor Kitchen that you’ll run into on the walk into Mexico.
It’s convenient enough from the main walkway that if you’re thinking that you gotta have some pigeon peas and you gotta have them right now, that you could visit The Cool Island and get your fix even if you had plans on heading towards Canada first.
While each of the non-dessert items return from last year, at least in name, considerable changes were made to the Jamaican-braised Beef and Caribbean Conch Salad, so I was glad we revisited each this year.
Jamaican-braised Beef with Pigeon Pea Rice and Micro Cilantro – $6.25
We’re certainly not starting out with the most attractive dish, but this was actually one of the better beef items at the Festival, particularly with such a dearth of steak. The meat was tender and while it’s a bit of a stew situation, the Worcestershire-heavy sauce didn’t overwhelm the allspice, brown sugar, and other spices rubbed into the beef. The hearty rice had a nutty quality on its own and did a nice job of soaking up the rich flavors of the sauce.
I think I liked last year’s, pictured above, a little more. The flavors of the beef were more nuanced and the tender quality of the beef more apparent based on the fact that just threatening it with a fork caused it to all but fall apart. Just like me. As it stands, I’m not sure this is novel enough to command a purchase – we’ve all had beef stew – but it certainly would be satisfying on a cooler evening.
Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer with Steamed Rice and Coconut Lime Sauce – $6.75
I went 0 for 2 on this dish last year despite reading a lot of positive comments. This year’s was better – the shrimp were actually cooked and the sauce marries curry powder spice with the citrus of the lime zest and the coolness of the coconut nicely. But while the sugar cane presentation is fun, it’s a hassle to scrape the shrimp off and the sauce tends to spray in all directions. The portion was also reduced from five shrimp to four shrimp during last year’s Festival because I’m sure Disney is just scraping by when it offers five small shrimp for the $6.75 ask. Hey, that $5 extra per hour that cast members are demanding has to come from somewhere and if they reduce beer sizes any further they’re going to be served in the tops of old Listerine bottles, thimbles, and an assortment of other stuff from grandma’s house. Anyway, I enjoyed this more than last year and it’s a relatively safe item so long as you wear your Dexter-style splatter guard. The rice does a nice job of sopping up any excess sauce that doesn’t end up on your clothes.
Here’s last year’s when it was served with four shrimp.
Caribbean Conch Salad with Mango, Papaya and Pickled Red Onions – $5.25
This was very much not what I was expecting. The conch arrives in long, tough strands, and what you would hope would be some fruity flavors from the papaya and mango were completely absent. I didn’t even know they were there. Instead, the dish tasted almost entirely of the spicy, creamy sauce that was slathered on top. That and the crispy tostones underneath are unadvertised. On the plus side, it’s quite a bit of food for the money, but I expect that the conch should have been more tender.
Here’s last year’s version – it wasn’t perfect, but it was far closer to what I think you’d expect. I would have figured out a way to add a little more citrus to that and call it good. It “feels” like this was some sort of last minute change because something didn’t quite work out in the test kitchen.
Tropical Mousse Cake: Layers of Passion Fruit Cake, Coconut Mousse and a Tropical Fruit Glaze with Fresh Pineapple – $4.25
This was nice and refreshing – vibrant colors and bright flavors with the soft layers of sweet passion fruit cake and cool coconut mousse. The toasted coconut on top and fresh pineapple chunks on the side help elevate things further. I wouldn’t wait in a long line for it specifically, but I’d add it to any other order. Very good, particularly in the heat.
Golden Road Brewing Tart Mango Cart Wheat Ale $4.25
A nice, short name for a pleasant, fruity beer with a real mango presence and a lot more sweet fruit juice than the “tart” in the name would indicate. Not world class, but worth trying if you’re into interesting beers.
Presidente Lager – $4
While not advertised on the main menu, there was a small sign at the register indicating that you could drop $4 on half a bottle of Presidente Lager. It’s the Budweiser of the Caribbean.
Tropical Freeze with Cruzan Mango Rum – $9.50
Served with Cruzan Mango Rum for $9.50 or without for $4.25. This is my favorite of the frozen drinks at the Festival and the addition of the fresh mango on top is a nice touch, in addition to the fact that it’s one or two dollars less expensive than most other selections. It has a really juicy, sweet flavor up front and then a bit of lemon tartness on the back end that’s really pleasant. I would pick one up with or without alcohol depending on your predilection. Very good.
Overall, La Isla Fresca does a decent job with some real bright spots here and there. The cake is very good as is the frozen drink. The beer with 17 words in it is one of the more interesting drafts available and the shrimp and beef are just fine. I’d probably look past the Budweiser option and the conch.