La Isla Fresca returns on the promenade either before or after arriving at the Mexico Pavilion depending on which way you’re walking.
The Jamaican-braised beef is the only food item to return this year while all of the drinks join us again.
$6 Jamaican-braised Beef
Served with Pigeon Pea Rice and Micro Cilantro. This is one of my favorite beef dishes of the Festival when just considering taste. One only has to poke the beef once before it falls apart – that’s how tender it is and the flavorful sauce that’s spooned over the top is packed with a variety of spices. Very good and in the grand scheme of things, a decent value.
$6.50 Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer
Served with Steamed Rice and Coconut Lime Sauce.
We had seen a lot of positivity about this dish, both on Twitter and people yelling, “Josh, you suck! But the shrimp at Isla are pretty good this year!” in my general direction. Above is the dish we were served on day one.
And this is day two. We didn’t care much for the first edition – it was hard to get the shrimp off the thick skewer with the sauce splattering around and the shrimp had a tendency to tear apart. They also suffered from a fishy smell and a soft texture with little flavor. Our subsequent dish wasn’t any better and the portion on the shrimp was reduced from five to four. The colorful, creamy sauce had a nice mild spice to it and the coconut rice underneath was prepared well with a fresh aromatic quality to it. Overall, this dish certainly could be a winner even with just the four shrimp, but I’m not sure about the execution and it’s pretty messy even if your tendencies are more delicate than mine. I like the Shrimp and Grits from Florida Fresh a lot more.
$5 Caribbean Conch Salad
Served with Avocado, Mango and Onions.
There are precious few days that I don’t wake up wishing that I didn’t know what conch is, but those sea snail fritters from Olivia’s at Old Key West Resort are so good with the spicy remoulade. This salad on the other hand is much lighter and more refreshing, but I thought the mixture of conch, red onion, tomato, peppers, and avocado was bland when the bright fruitiness of the mango wasn’t involved. The texture is also gritty with the conch being diced so finely and it “felt” like some kind of filler was being used to cut down on the amount of conch. Overall, I award it points for novelty as this isn’t something that we’ve really seen in recent memory, nor does conch grace very many menus property-wide. And it was a nice serving for the money. But I think I would have gone with larger pieces of conch in a smaller cup with some more lime and orange juice to add some citrus acidity. Still, an attempt was made and I respect that.
Vanilla Caramel Custard with Chocolate Coffee Cake.
This Puerto Rican dessert impressed and I thought the chocolate cake underneath added a nice solid texture to the creamy flan on top, in addition to adding some nice chocolate overtones to go along with the sweet golden brown caramel sauce. It might be my favorite dessert at the Festival and it’s a nice portion for the money.
$4.25 Red Stripe Jamaican Style Lager
While “Jamaican” is in the title, Diageo (Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Ketel One, etc.) moved Red Stripe’s U.S. production to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2012. I would otherwise recommend this straightforward lager more at the $3.50 price point. One of the reasons why I come down so hard on Moretti in Italy is that at $5.50, it’s priced higher than any of the other beers for an objectively poorer product. But since Italy is operated by a third party and has to cut Disney in by say…30%…the Pavilion “has” to charge the customer more to make the same amount of money that Disney is bringing in on their $4.25 selections. Anyway, this is a light, easy drinking beer that tastes good on a hot day, but there are better, more flavorful selections available at this price point.
$9.25 Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink
Served with Cruzan Mango Rum for $9.25 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 offers several reliable favorites in addition to a couple of things that may be worth trying. Perhaps with the exception of the beer, there’s value here across the board.