We continue from The Artist’s Table.
“Italy” returns to this year’s Festival of the Arts in its usual spot across from the rest of the Pavilion.
For years and years, Italy has attempted to serve Italian food, which makes a lot of sense since it’s located in the Italy Pavilion. Unfortunately, that food has historically verged on inedible and almost always comes in obscenely overpriced. This has led to some entertaining reviews and, on a personal note, three bankruptcies.
This year, Italy has made some bold moves. They no longer appear to be trying to serve Italian food. And because of that, a couple of the items now approach edibility, though I’m doubting two ribs with sweet potato fries for eleven dollars is going to present much value. Let’s see what Marco Polo helped bring over from China.
Barbabietole Dolci, Caprino Fritto: Roasted Candied Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Fritters – $9
Nine dollars buys you four pieces of Beet and three Goat Cheese Fritters, in addition to a wisp of greens. Unlike many of the other dishes that we’ve seen, each more artfully prepared than the one that came before it, there appears to be some amount of graffiti going on in the background with the Fritters rolling around loosely on the plate as it’s carried from Food Studio to Top of Garbage Can. On the plus side, the aromatic, ruby red Beets enjoyed a nice smoky sweetness with a little bit of a crispy quality to each bite. The Goat Cheese Fritters were more pungent than I was expecting, sharp and full of the same sourness that I typically feel writing Italy Festival reviews three to seven times per year. They weren’t “bad” – just “different,” – but there’s exactly three of them and they’re on the small side. Overall, this is an above average entry from an Italian booth that is clearly trying. Three or four years ago, these Fritters would have been defrosted, thawed, and lightly fried before being thrown in the general direction of the kiosk and then sold to unsuspecting tourists or given away to other bloggers in exchange for positive reviews. Even with a noble attempt, there’s still not a lot of value here.
Costine di Maiale Aceto Balsamico: Sweet & Sour Balsamic-glazed Pork Ribs — $11
I’m not entirely sure why Italy decided to go with Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs, but they did well for themselves. The succulent meat is tender and plentiful with a complex sauce that marries the tang from the balsamic vinegar with the sweetness of honey and brown sugar. The best part is the thin layer of crispiness that runs along the top of the rib before it gives way to the juicy meat below. There’s no mention of the Sweet Potato Fries on the menu, but they’re light, flavorful, and not at all greasy. On the downside, the ribs are a messy proposition that’s a little harder to share than most other dishes. Fortunately, the meat is easy to cut off the bone if you want to go in that direction. I’d recommend grabbing these for a snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan as this is the most expensive eligible item at the Festival. Out of pocket, it’s a bit of a gamble that your ribs will come out as good as ours. And even if they do, they cost a pretty penny. Surprisingly, this is not nearly as egregious as one might expect.
Spuma al Miele d’Arancio: Orange Honey Mousse with Peaches and Mint Marjoram Cream — $8
True to form, the large “4 oz.” from the cheese container is imprinted on the top of this jiggly blob of Orange Honey Mousse. I liked it more than anyone else in our group – it’s light, airy, and very subtly sweet with a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel. The Mint Marjoram Cream is cool and fragrant, adding a very light herbal quality to any bite that includes it, while the Peaches are bright and fruity with an almost candy-like quality. While this probably isn’t for everyone, largely because of a texture that might be best described as “gloppy,” I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I wouldn’t order another one for myself. It’s definitely interesting to try, though.
Amaretto Bellini: Amaretto, White Peach Purée and Prosecco — $13
This was surprisingly refreshing with just a little bit of nutty almond showing past the sweet bubbly wine and subtle, fruity peach flavor. At $13, the price is pretty maddening, but it does benefit from being tasty and easy to drink. It’s easily five dollars overpriced, though.
Vodka Rossini: Vodka, Strawberry Purée and Prosecco – $13
We had less luck with last year’s Rossini. The puree was chunkier than you’d probably hope for and spent most of its time sunk at the bottom of the cup. That means there’s bitter prosecco up top and sickeningly sweet, syrupy strawberry pulp underneath. Let me know if you have better luck this year.
Peroni Nastro Azzurro Pilsner — $5.50
I’ve railed against the Moretti Lager that’s been served here in six ounce cups for $5+ for years, so I’m glad to see something different pop up. Unfortunately, Peroni is even more common and even less expensive than Moretti and you’ve basically got the Budweiser of Italy at an absurd price.
Value: NOT GREAT BOB.
Overall, it’s an interesting run for Italy as they move away from what most people would consider traditional Italian food. On the value front, third party operators seem to have more difficulty competing with the Disney-operated booths as they assuredly have to kick back a substantial portion of their revenue in exchange for running their operation. Pop Eats, The Masterpiece Kitchen, Cuisine Classique, etc. are all run by Disney, which means all the money goes directly to Disney. France, Italy, China, Mexico, and the like are run by the restaurant groups that operate dining in the Pavilion. So Italy might charge $11 for the ribs, but they probably only pocket seven of those dollars. That’s always going to make the third-party offerings a tougher sell.
Italy is a bit of an oddity. The kiosk remains popular with tourists that are looking for something familiar and they’re probably pleased to come away with the $8 pastas and $10 meatballs that I review so poorly. Now, it seems like they’re serving items that casual tourists are going to be far less likely to try, but now garner much more positive reviews from uppity bloggers with a clear superiority complex. I think we all collectively cower waiting to see what they come up with for Flower and Garden.
Cuisine Classique is up next.