Not sure a post has ever opened with a photo of such beauty and grace.
I think I’ve walked by this patch of grass a dozen times before I remembered to take a picture of it (no refunds).
You may remember it was behind walls for about six months while Disney replaced the pipes.
This area was home to the Puerto Rico booth during the Food and Wine Festival, but returns to its grassy beginnings.
As reported last month, La Cantina de San Angel recently revamped its menu:
The Tacos de Carne and Tacos de Pollo are no longer available. The Pollo Cascabel, Tacos de Barbacoa, and Ensalada Mexicana are new.
La Cantina is historically this website’s worst rated quick service, underneath the likes of Electric Umbrella (gasp) and Lotus Blossom (gasp), for a few reasons – it’s more expensive, portions are smaller, comfortable seating is scarce (particularly after 4pm), and the food just hasn’t been very good.
I tried the Pollo Cascabel – Grilled Chicken, Mexican Rice, Corn, Cascabel Sauce and Pickled Onions – $12.25 – photographed here without a flash in the dark. The Cascabel is a step in the right direction for the establishment – a hearty bowl of chicken mixed together in a mildly spicy, peppery cascabel sauce. Served hot, it hit all the right notes and is a unique offering.
Lisa tried the single remaining taco option – Tacos de Barbacoa – Seasoned Beef, Homemade Corn Tortillas, Mexican Rice, Refried Black Beans and fresh Salsa – $12.50. This is a departure from the taco and empanada offerings of the past, which have historically been served alongside chips. Neither Lisa nor I particularly care for corn tortillas, and unlike just about any other Mexican food restaurant in the country, there is no option to substitute flour. The three tortillas are otherwise filled with shredded beef and topped with an unknown sauce and cilantro The beef was already soggy, which wasn’t helped by the unusually watery tortillas and the sauce on top, which didn’t seem to contribute much flavor to each of the small tacos. There are also no other toppings to speak of here or at a toppings bar. While the website has been known to badmouth a toppings bar or two (because they’re gross because people are gross), adding lettuce, tomato, and cheese would go a long way. The Mexican rice is pretty bland on its own, but the black beans topped with cheese were flavorful.
There were no tables available at 7pm and we ended up taking our food across the way to the area outside the pyramid’s entrance – a good tip should you be dining in the evening when people linger waiting for IllumiNations, however many hours away the show may be. Or most of the time because La Cantina remains very popular because it smells good and it’s the first quick service on the way into World Showcase on the Mexico side.
While La Cantina’s prospects have improved a bit with the new menu, there is still better, less expensive, more unique food available a bit further along.
Each of the World Showcase Pavilions added at least one special holiday treat or beverage. Mexico’s is this “Sweet Tamales” which consists of seemingly one tamale.
Do you ever want to steal another website’s photo, only to be thwarted by a pesky watermark that would be impossible to edit out? The tamale(s) is actually pretty good here and a little more interesting than the very small portion of churros for less money.
Norway’s Rice Cream Holidays Around the World “special” is actually available all year.
The portion is probably a lot larger than it looks in this photo with no other context. It’s one of our favorite things we’ve tried anywhere in recent memory with the sweetness of the berries complementing the rice cream underneath very well. Highly recommended and a good value.
In seating news, Germany’s Sommerfest ripped out all of its covered seating in favor of stroller/ECV parking for Biergarten. That leaves under ten tables outside available for seating.
Italy has priced themselves out of the alcoholic beverage market in my estimation.
Nine bucks for a small glass of wine that costs less than $4 a bottle is beyond rough.
A couple of shirts:
With Trattoria al Forno opening in the Kouzzina space last week and bringing the number of Italian restaurants in the area up to four, I thought we would return to Tutto Italia and the others to compare and contrast what each offers. This particular meal is from December 15, 2014. An al Forno review should arrive sometime in the second week of January, after the restaurant has a few weeks to figure out what they’re doing. There’s really no point in going on the first night only to critique service and food problems that are easily worked out the day after. Then again, with the new calendar year approaching, the quota on all of the website’s jokes reverts back to zero and we begin afresh.
Italia is one of two Italian restaurants in the Italy Pavilion and is the more traditional restaurant experience. Via Napoli is the louder, more boisterous restaurant in the back of the Pavilion that focuses on pizza, though Italian classics are available there as well.
Tutto Gusto is the wine bar attached to Italia, offering the restuarant’s full menu in addition to a wider selection of wine and an assortment of meat and cheese platters, in addition to dessert and a couple sandwich and pasta dishes. Past Italia reviews are available here and here, among others.
Meals begin with lightly seasoned, soft breadsticks that are a little more interesting than your standard French bread rolls served with frozen butter and pink salt served at most Disney-operated restaurants.
I’m surprised these green olives with large pits in the middle have lasted this long – you’d think enough people would have broken a tooth biting hard into them, not expecting a rock in the center. If there is an attractive way to eat them and dispose of the pits, I’m not familiar with it.
If you’re paying out-of-pocket, lunch at Italia may make a lot more sense, when you can enjoy the same ambiance as dinner with entrees that are considerably less expensive.
The Caprese Panini – Thick-cut tomato, basil, Fior di Latte Mozzarella, oregano, extra virgin olive oil – $17.00 is easily more cheese than you’d receive with the $14 appetizer ($16 at dinner).
And the same pasta dishes are available at lunch, in addition to a couple of the more expensive entrees.
There is virtually no value in these $14 cocktails featuring Franzia-quality wine that just happens to be put in a bottle (purportedly) somewhere in Italy.
Lisa started with the Caesar Salad – Romaine, Olive Crostini, Pomodorini, Shaved Parmesan – $15.00.
At about twice as much as standard starter salads at other Disney restaurants, this would have needed to do something special to deserve a recommendation, like Yachtsman’s last month. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much more than your standard Caesar and this one was absolutely swimming in dressing after it was chopped up. Really nothing to see here.
I ordered the $18 Prosciutto Di Parma – Parma Ham, Ricotta, Dried Figs – $18.00. Parma ham is known for its silky smoothness with much of its subtle, succulent flavor hidden in the fat that surrounds the rose colored flesh. Italia’s Parma is creamy, complex, and delicate, if not a bit too salty. This is best shared among two or more people as it is filling and there isn’t a lot of variety in flavor since it’s “literally” a plate of meat. Don’t skip trying the toast with creamy ricotta and dried figs either – they’re a great accompaniment.
For her entree, Lisa ordered the Fettuccine Campagnole – Arugula, Basil, Spinach, Burrata Cheese – $25. The price point is pretty rough for a vegetarian plate of pasta, but a lot of care does go into the preparation and everything is freshly made with a kean eye for detail. Unlike most Disney restaurants, where it’s clear that your entrees were prepared before anyone actually ordered them, everything “feels” fresh at Italia. It was actually a nice change of pace to have a few minutes to enjoy and contemplate our appetizers before the entrees were jettisoned out from the kitchen. It’s one reason why I’m never very excited to visit Les Chefs de France, where dozens of plates of food routinely sit in the kitchen waiting for a food runner to whiz them out to a table. Anyway, this plate of pasta is about $7 more expensive than you’d expect to pay off-site, which isn’t a bad markup in the grand scheme of things. While I’ve enjoyed several meals at Universal CityWalk’s relatively new (and much less expensive) Italian restaurant, Vivo, this is a cut above anything they offer.
I ordered the $35 Risotto Gamberi E Aragosta – Arborio Rice, Shrimp, and Lobster – a decadent, creamy mix of rice and seafood. There’s as much seafood sitting on top as there is hidden underneath and while expensive, this is the best entree I’ve enjoyed at an Epcot restaurant in recent memory. And considering the quality of the ingredients and the fresh presentation, a good value comparatively speaking. Very filling and expertly prepared – these sorts of risottos are pretty easy to screw up.
We were enjoying the Candlelight Processional Dining Package, which is a fixed price meal that includes any appetizer, entree, and dessert on the menu. Italia charges $67/adult for the privilege and it includes a non-alcoholic beverage. If you tabulate what I ordered ($18 appetizer, $35 entree, $9 dessert, $3 Diet Coke), you come out with $65. So those of you looking to rationalize the package (your humble author included), you can do well if you go big.
Beyond full at this point, I went ahead with the Cannoli – Crisp pastry filled with sweet Ricotta, chocolate, candied orange – $9.00. Unlike the freshly prepared entrees, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if these were simply defrosted. The exterior was not particularly crisp or crunchy and while the filling was reliably creamy, the flavor was more burnt orange than anything.
Probably not worth the calories, though the cinnamon fork and knife adds to the presentation, along with even more cream buoying the underneaf.
Lisa ordered the Torta di Nocciole “Cortemilia” – Polenta cake, hazelnuts, Nutella, mascarpone – $13.00. The same thing is available next door at Tutto Gusto for $4 and is probably the wiser choice. This is otherwise a crumbly Nutella cake – a little sweet and a little rich, but not cloyingly so. Still, it seems like these desserts are on the menu as a way to make guests on the Dining Plan “feel” like they’re getting their money’s worth. Guests paying cash should visit Gusto for dessert and a glass of wine.
Grappa is Italian for clear motor oil (not really) and as Lisa’s dad would tell you, is best after a big Italian meal. Swear up and down that you’ll never eat again after enjoying a tray of grandma’s lasagna? Two shots of grappa and you’ll be hitting the fridge in a couple hours – I guarantee it. This is an $8 shot of Marcati Colli Veneti. I can’t really comment on the flavor other than to say it’s really, really rough – not unlike sipping rubbing alcohol. Proceed with caution, but ultimately worth it as two hours after the meal I was back home rummaging through the cupboards.
Overall, I like Italia for a less expensive lunch, or, potentially for dinner with your significant other if you prefer a more intimate atmosphere than neighboring Via Napoli. If your group can agree on a mezzo metro pizza at Napoli, you can come out with a per-person cost around $12 for your entree, which isn’t much more than quick service. We’ll see how both fare against Disney’s entry into the ring next month.
Speaking of things created with the Dining Plan in mind, Tangierine Cafe in Morocco is now home to the most expensive quick service entree found in any theme park – the $17.99 Saffron Rotisserie Chicken served with Yellow Rice. That’s $1.80 more expensive than the Chicken & Rib combo available at places like Cosmic Ray’s, Fairfax Fare, and Flame Tree Barbecue and about $7 more expensive than average.
While I haven’t had an opportunity to try it, the chicken doesn’t look particularly attractive through the plastic wrap.
This $13 Meatball Platter doesn’t look much better.
The Meatballs replace the Moroccan Kefta Sandwich, which was usually dry and served with what were probably the worst french fries I’ve consumed anywhere ever.
Unfortunately, the new menu also eliminates the Wraps, including the popular vegetarian falafel.
And the Mediterranean Sliders are also gone, leaving Tangierine with basically five entrees. It’s hard to quantify the new menu as a positive move.
Elsewhere in Morocco, Spice Road Table joins the Dining Plan, now offering a variety of traditional entrees, in addition to “Mediterranean Small Plates,” which seems to be a synonym for “appetizers,” which appears to be too many commas, and phrases, in a sentence:
Spice Road has been open for about a year now, but still hasn’t caught on with guests that still favor hamburgers and chicken nuggets over anything resembling authentic, “foreign” cuisine.
I probably make more fun of Spice Road than anybody, though the website’s official review is very positive: https://www.easywdw.com/uncategorized/spice-road-table-review-marrakesh-redux-flower-and-garden-return-the-end-of-la-cava-32314/. Part of that positivity perhaps comes from having the place basically to ourselves. This picture of an empty restaurant was taken at 6pm on December 16th, a few weeks after the new menu debuted. As always, you can follow @easywdw on Twitter for updates like this before I get around to making a long post about them here (the Spice Road news was posted more than 4 weeks ago).
On the dessert front, Yorkshire Fish in the UK finally added a “real” dessert option in the form of the $4.19 Victoria Sponge Cake.
A word of advice – $4.19 is usually the quick service dessert price you want to avoid, particularly out of pocket. All of Disney’s pre-made cakes, cookies, and such come in at this price point and they are nearly universally small and disappointing.
The buttercream and jam flavors here aren’t terrible, but they’re not great either and you’re spending about a buck a bite for what is basically a Pillsbury Cake Cup. The yellow cake is nice and fluffy, but this is cake-mix-quality and should only be ordered if you need to attach a dessert on the Dining Plan.
The Candlelight Processional remains a triumph.
Perhaps the best and most moving show in a theme park anywhere in the world.
As most of us know, FastPass+ at Epcot is broken up into two tiers:
Priority is fairly straightforward based on how much time each will save you. In Tier 1, FP+ at Soarin’ or Test Track will save you at least 60 minutes in the standby line in the afternoon and most guests will prefer to bypass one of those lines. IllumiNations is easy enough to see from another area that most guests will want to forgo using FP+. Because IllumiNations is scheduled at the very end of the night, using FP+ also inhibits your ability to select a 4th FP+ after using your initial three. While 4th FP+ choices are already slim most days, a key FP+ for something like Spaceship Earth or Turtle Talk may well end up saving you another 15 to 30 minutes.
The IllumiNations FP+ area is circled in blue below and recommended regular viewing locations are marked in red.
The FP+ areas at the base of World Showcase is among the best available – there is no doubting that. One potential wrinkle is the Sparkling Dessert Party, which takes place adjacent to the FP+ viewing area on most Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. That event takes place in the same area and severely cuts the space available to FP+ users, which number the same regardless of the day of the week. FP+ still works on Dessert Party nights, but you won’t have as much elbow room, reducing its utility even further.
On non-Party nights, it’s almost a shame how much space is wasted – a few hundred more people would have fit.
Still, there is a time and place for an IllumiNations FP+. If the kids aren’t tall enough for Soarin’ and Test Track, IllumiNations is probably your best choice. You may also find yourself popping over to Epcot on an arrival day for dinner and the show and prefer to see IllumiNations with the least possible hassle.
I think that sums up Epcot’s newsworthy notes.