We begin our coverage of the Inaugural Festival of the Arts with what else but a review of the various food and drink options. Our counter-clockwise circle starts with the Pop Eats! kiosk on the Canada side of World Showcase. If nothing sounds good here, you won’t have to travel far to “Decadent Delights,” which takes over for Promenade Refreshments just ahead. Then it’s “The Masterpiece Kitchen” across from Canada where the Scotland booth was for this year’s Food and Wine Festival. But then it’s a hike to the next kiosk, which is located all the way in the United States Pavilion. So we better fill up.
As with past Festivals, each food and non-alcoholic drink option is good for a snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan. So if you are visiting between now and February 20th and plan on visiting Epcot on the event days, which are Friday through Monday, then you can do very well trading in your snack credit for a $7.50 venison versus a $3 Dasani water. Eligible items will go all the way up to $9.50 when we arrive at The Artist’s Palate for the Croissant Doughnuts. It’s definitely something to consider.
Out of pocket, prices are higher than past Festivals, with the exception of Holidays Around the World, where most items were “full size entrees.” So instead of seeing a smattering of items that start with a “3” or a 4,” most stuff is going to be $6+.
But portions are typically larger than the Food and Wine Festival and there is an impressive attention to detail with the plating and execution of each dish. If you’ve suffered through my painstaking reviews of every single item from past Festivals, you’ve probably seen me discuss how items that are prepared fresh at the kiosk are usually the highest quality and the best value.
Here for the Arts, most everything at a minimum is plated and garnished inside the booth and the majority of the items are prepared in full while you wait. And you may wait. For Food/Wine, they fly through people even when lines are 50+ people on Saturdays. For the Arts, you can easily wait 15 minutes with just 20 people in front of you due to how long it takes to prepare everything. So as you look over the menus, you may want to decide which kiosks to visit based on how many items you want to order. Lines are typically shorter closer to 11am and after 7:30pm.
Even the charcuterie board, which they could easily assemble in some backroom somewhere, is put together inside the booth with fresh-off-the-block cheese and meats. All 14 steps. So unlike past Festivals, I have almost nothing negative to say about the flavor or presentation of anything that we ordered. Virtually everything impressed on flavor and quality.
But nearly everything is pricey and unless you travel everywhere with 15 hungry dudes with questionable social skills like I do, you probably aren’t trying a little of everything.
So here we are.
The $7.50 Sous Vide Venison with Butternut Squash Purée, Pomegranate Reduction, Pickled Turnip and Juniper Berry Powder.
That’s the chef preparing our dish as he puts everything on the plate fresh. For Food/Wine/Flower/Garden, the dish would be pulled out of an industrial warmer.
French for “under vacuum,” the sous vide process typically cooks meat and vegetables to a precise temperature while retaining more moisture than your typical grilling or roasting. And the meat here is served at a reliable “medium” – the five-ish bites of which were incredibly tender and mild in flavor. A very lean cut. I thought the pinch of coarse salt on top was a bit of overkill, but that’s how Disney typically prepares its non-cow meat. The pomegranate reduction added a sweet element that complemented the deer nicely and helped cut out any lingering gamey-ness along with the interesting juniper berry powder. The creamy butternut squash was also a welcome accompaniment.
Perhaps because it’s served at a similar location to the Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Filet Mignon during the Food and Wine Festival, my brain took me back to that dish, which is served for 25 cents more money during the fall. While the Venison is not as tender as the filet and the flavor is more mild, I think anybody that enjoyed the steak will want to take a hard look at what’s on offer at Pop Eats. The Arts Festival foods are just so much more vibrant and nuanced with so much more going on than what you receive inside of a brown tray in October.
I thought the $6 Shrimp Ceviche with Lime Mint Foam was even more impressive.
While the cup initially “felt” small, I quickly realized that it was packed with eight nice-size shrimp packed in tight with a mixture of peppers and onions.
Again, I appreciated the burst of color which also carried over to the flavor profile, with the snappy marinated shrimp combining nicely with what ended up being a spicier-than-I-was-expecting dish. The foam on top, which is perhaps a little silly and completely passé circa 2k17, didn’t seem to add much to the texture or flavor of the shrimp, but what was likely supposed to be a touch of citrus may have been overwhelmed by the peppers. This was another winner that is easily shared – you’ll get your money’s worth.
The $4 Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Chocolate is probably a dish that you recognize if you’ve caught any of Disney’s marketing for the event. Reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s work as early as 1919, this is a “must get” for any aspiring Instagrammer. And also for any non-aspiring Instagrammer as the frangipani is rich and velvety in between the sweet raspberry jam and decadent chocolate ganache icing. “Literally” everyone that I’ve encountered raves about this thing and at four bucks, if you’re going to pick up just one item at the Festival then you may want to make it this.
Each of the Marketplaces offer a $6.50 White Chocolate Puzzle on an Artist Palette.
Each is “the same” save for the character, so you may want to select which one to get based on the character or whenever you’re in the mood to decorate some chocolate. Your money otherwise purchases three colorful icings, a spoonful or two of sprinkles, and several unbranded blue chocolate candies, along with a paint brush. It’s a fun little thing to do at some point in the day if you’re in the mood for it, but the relative value just for what you get may be a bit low. Fun though.
Each of the Marketplaces also features a $4 “Pop’d Art- Modern-design Sugar Cookie with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling ,” all of which are identical in flavor but different in topical decoration. While it looks like a “Pop Tart,” it is much more of a sugar cookie than a toaster strudel. The cookie itself is incredibly, almost impossibly, sweet and that sweetness is ratcheted up further with the icing on top. There is a bit of Nutella in the center, though it “felt” more like it was a thin layer underneath the white icing than something actually baked into the cookie. Overall, it looks a lot more novel than it tastes and while it might be worth getting one for the photo, I don’t think many people are going to be considering a second offering with so many other options.
There is not much information about the $9.50 “Popping Bubbles Cocktail,” which is perhaps a shame as it’s one of the better values at the Festival.
The popping bubbles are reminiscent of boba or tapioca pearls, but are actually little balls of cranberry juice that have undergone “spherification,” which is a process that I won’t bore you with unless you really want to get into powdered sodium alginate.
Anyway, your cocktail first consists of a hefty spoonful of cranberry juice balls, each of which offers a nice “pop”(GET IT? POP EATS????) when they’re sucked up through the wide straw and bitten into. As is common with cranberry juice, the flavor is a bit sour and a bit sweet. Then Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee is poured over the top. And there’s quite a bit of sparkling wine involved for the $9.50 price, considering Disney charges $14 for a smaller glass of the same stuff at outlets like Amorette’s Patisserie in Disney Springs. Anybody looking for a champagne cocktail should start their day here. And maybe get two.
Finally, a glass of Cloudem Silver Sparkling Wine is available in a regular plastic flute for $9 or in the branded Festival of the Arts cup with the black bottom for $16. At 9% ABV and considering the bottle price is as low as $7 if you commit to purchasing six of them in the UK, which is the only place it seems to be available, the wine is perhaps best skipped. The Fairy Tale Cuvee, which is exclusive to Walt Disney World, is about $40 a bottle retail when purchased at a resort store. So consider sticking with that, though I am not sure if they would serve it to you without the spheres, which also reduce the amount of sparkly you receive.
Overall, it’s an auspicious beginning to our tour around World Showcase for the Festival of the Arts. The cocktail and cake are among the best items we’ll run into and the Venison and Ceviche are worthy candidates as well. I would personally favor the shrimp over the venison, but it could go either way.