We continue from the American Holiday Kitchen in the United States Pavilion.
Yes, we might have lost Horizons, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and a Soarin’ attraction that includes at least one scene rooted in the natural world, but I think we can all find solace knowing that no matter what Disney hits us with, or what budget is cut, that Italy will deliver under-cooked pasta and soggy mozzarella with each and every passing festival. You might not really want Drunk Uncle Ned to show up for Christmas, three hours late like every year, but there’s comfort knowing that he’s still out there, somewhere, doing his thing. In a way, the Italy booth is Drunk Uncle Ned – sloppy, and always asking for money – but when you’ve been covering Epcot Festivals for as long as I have, it’s hard not to smile after laying eyes on whatever the Mediterranean country is calling itself this time. Of course, this is somewhat less true given the fact that there’s exactly five days between the end of Food and Wine and the start of the Festival of the Holidays. But until we pass by the Pavilion and the sign over the booth says, “Definitely Not Italy,” I’ll continue to find reassurance in forking over the eight dollars for shockingly unremarkable pasta that begs a purchase because it’s a slightly different shape than last Festival.
Let’s see what goodies Italy is microwaving up for us this time.
Since Italy expanded the size of its Festival Kitchen a couple of years ago, we’ve actually seen some improvement in its offerings. At the Festivals, like in the “real world,” the freshest foods typically taste best. That’s why Mexico is almost always among the worst performers – “literally” nothing is made inside of the booth. And a taco that’s sitting there for two hours isn’t going to taste as good as salmon or steak fresh from the grill. Still, Italy’s price points are higher than the other Festival Marketplaces – ordering one of each food item (and occasionally, I use the word “food,” loosely) will set you back a staggering $42. That’s as much as a cup of Minestrone and a 12-ounce New York Strip Steak from Tutto Italia, the Pavilion’s sit-down restaurant. Furthermore, you can order a Mezzo Metro pizza, Via Napoli’s largest and a size that’s easy for four adults to share, for less money.
It’s always been my guess that Festival Kitchens operated by third parties, like Mexico and Italy, have to cut Disney in for a significant amount of their revenue. If that kickback is around 30%, then an $8 dish at Italy nets the booth about as much as a $5 dish from a booth operated by Disney, like the Yukon or Feast of the Three Kings. Of course, other third-parties do things a little better – China, Japan, and Morocco are all third parties as well, and aren’t typically on the receiving end of the levels of condemnation levied against Italy and Mexico.
Here’s last year’s spread, when I balked at the $29 cost of the four fresh items.
Here’s this year, where the cost is up 17.2% to $34 for four similar items.
Cavatappi ai Quattro Formaggi: Baked Four-Cheese Pasta, Parmesan Crumble and Truffle Essence — $8
Typically, Italy at least adds some variety of meat to the description, ostensibly to help people rationalize the high cost of the dish. This year, we’re promised whatever “truffle essence” might be in its stead.
At best, that might mean that at least one ingredient was at some point in the general vicinity of a truffle shaving or perhaps several of the ingredients were sourced from the same planet as the Truffle of the White Madonna. In reality, it probably means that we get a little squirt of artificial truffle oil.
Amusingly, the fact that the pasta is cooked and then placed in this drawer before being reheated in that toaster oven is actually an improvement over their operation from a few years ago. At least on day one, they had not quite gotten the ratios right, and our pasta was even more under-cooked than usual. Yes, there’s something to say for classic al dente, but this was more like unfortunate al gummy. The sauce itself was actually really good – creamy, rich, and decadent with a slight earthy flavor that actually worked in the context of the dish. Even better, the parmesan crumble helped offset some of the chewiness of the pasta and added even more of a fresh cheese flavor.
Still, the $8 price point remains rough, but those looking to use a snack credit may want to “take advantage” of the above-average price point. There is quite a bit of heft with the portion size; I don’t think you’ll get more chews-per-dollar than this pasta.
Mozzarella in Carozza: Golden-crusted Fried Mozzarella Sandwich and Tomato Sauce — $8
After reviewing well over a thousand items at the various Festivals over the years, you’d think that I would have learned my lesson by now, particularly considering that I’ve spent more money at the Italy booth than most people will pay for their children’s college educations.
But I saw this delicious-looking, golden-fried platter of grilled cheeses and thought, “Wow, that actually looks pretty good.” And indeed it does. Indeed it does. But the four little sandwich pieces are incredibly greasy and because of it, not as crispy as you’d probably like. The flavor is also dominated by those greasy, crispy bits hanging off the bread instead of the delicious, melted cheese sandwiched in between. There were a couple of very good bites here – you can see a thick piece of delicious cheese there in the middle of the picture and the small amount of sauce underneath adds a nice zesty tomato quality. But there was an awful lot of greasy fried bread, too. This is not the worst you could do and given the fact that it’s cut into four pieces, the sandwich can be easily shared between four people at two bucks a head. But I wouldn’t recommend it strongly.
Crespelle di Mele: Cinnamon Apple Fritters and a Vanilla Sauce Drizzle with Chocolate Caramel Sauce — $8
These little apple fritters are delicious – perfectly crispy with a soft, yet dense doughy interior filled with cinnamon and apple. The vanilla sauce this year is thicker and more decadent, which goes a long way and there’s just a bit of chocolate in there too to add a little more complexity. As far as doughnut holes go, these are above average in size, but they’re also a pretty rough value at eight bucks for the two of them. We’d be in slam drunk territory with four and even with three, there would be some amount of value here. As it stands, I’d save three bucks and instead go with the Beignets from Sapphire if you ‘re paying cash. Even with snack credits to spare, there’s far more food for the money, but these are quite tasty.
Bacio al Cioccolato: Warm Hazelnut Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Mascarpone Cream — $10
The fact that this rings up as ten dollars boggles the mind a bit, even if this is the same Festival Kitchen that once served two small ravioli for twelve dollars. Still, the ten-dollar ask should make this the most expensive Festival dessert of all time (of all time,) and because of that, our expectations should be on the lofty side. Does it deliver? Not exactly – I thought the cake was dry and personally, far too heavy on the hazelnut for my tastes. The Mascarpone Cream was a little thicker than you’d probably like and there wasn’t enough of the fruity sauce underneath to overcome the dry quality of the cake. You might have more luck with a fresher batch, but betting ten bucks on that happening is a little rich for my blood. Richer than the chocolate in this cake, anyway.
Granted, the plating isn’t anywhere near as elegant, but this Warm Chocolate Pudding with Irish Cream Liqueur Custard is $4.25 during Food and Wine.
Even this Triple Chocolate Mousse, with real gold leaf, costs less than $10 at the Festival of the Arts, where the average price point is significantly higher than any other Festival.
Panettone Mignon: Miniature Traditional Italian Christmas Fruitcake — $8
Italy switched brands of boxed fruitcakes from last year’s Tre Marie Panettone to Bauli. I’m not sure what that means, but the box is purple this year instead of white.
Wine and Beer
If you’re interested in wine on the go, I’d head into the Enoteca wine store for a better selection along with a brand name attached to the price and varietal. The La Rossa is the smarter beer purchase, but $5.50 for a 6-ounce draft is still a hefty price point.
Overall, Italy continues to improve, but the prices also continue to increase from levels that were already the highest at the Festival. Whether you let the fact that everything is two to four dollars overpriced stand in your way of trying chewy pasta is up to you, but there are better values and better food available.