We continue from The Artist’s Table.
“L’Arte di Mangiare” returns to this year’s Festival of the Arts in its usual spot across from the rest of the Pavilion.
You never really know what you’re going to get from the Italy kiosk. You know it’s going to be bad. But we’ve seen everything from barbecued ribs served with a side of sweet potato fries to Tyson chicken tenders served with pizza sauce. And that was all on one single Festival menu. I would comment about other sorts of things that we’ve seen here in the past, but it’s taken me eight years of intense electroshock therapy, and four to five lobotomies, just to put the Italy experience from the Food and Wine Festival of 2012 behind me. Supposedly, my personality is split up into three separate entities. There’s “Josh,” who happily goes to Hollywood Studios every day, apparently not realizing or understanding that there are other things that one can do with the day. Or that other places even exist. Then there’s “Francisco,” who evidently carries the burden of going to the Italy kiosk for each and every Epcot Festival. That’s his sole purpose in “life.” They won’t tell me what the third personality consists of, but I can’t imagine that it’s anything good. Maybe he goes to Universal or something.
By some divine grace, Italy has reduced the number of food items to just two. They offered six food items during the Festival of the holidays – more than any single Festival booth had ever attempted to serve in the history of Epcot Festivals. I’m told Francisco was not pleased.
Insalata di Gamberi al Limone di Zagara: Salad of Poached Shrimp in Sicilian Lemons, Arugula, Shaved Fennel, Avocado, and Citrus Dressing – $10
Ten dollars buys you four medium-size shrimp served on top of a bed of what is mostly arugula. The flavor is inoffensive, to the point where it’s almost nonexistent, outside of an acute lemony zest that permeates everything on the plate. On the plus side, it’s potentially one of the healthier dishes offered. On the downside, it’s not a lot of food for the money, and the flavor is entirely one lemony-note. You might consider it for the novelty of using a snack credit on something that costs ten dollars, but it’s a pretty lousy value proposition out of pocket.
Pollo ala Pirandello: Golden Chicken Drumstick stuffed with Ricotta Cheese and Pomodoro Sauce – $10
Above is the picture that Disney has been using to promote the Italy kiosk at the Festival of the Arts. There aren’t too many things more endearing than food wearing a chef’s hat, so I’ve been told that Francisco was particularly excited to get his hands on such a precious piece of poultry.
Of course, we should have known better, because no chef’s hat is actually fashioned onto the end of the drumstick. If you look at the menu image above as seen at the physical kiosk, you’ll notice that the hat is actually cropped/Photoshopped out of the picture. Disney continues to use the promo shot with the hat in their “Foodie Guide” to the Festival.
Amusingly, it actually took me four tries to order one of these things. Italy had “run out of food” several times earlier in the day, and each and every time I visited, they didn’t have any chicken. I was assuming that somebody was in the back furiously producing miniature chef’s hats, and that extreme shortage was the cause for the delay.
Instead, this was probably the Italy booth doing us a solid. Your average Festival-goer would simply find out that Italy somehow did not have any chicken and go about their day, eventually finding greener pastures, and actual edible food, at an assortment of superior booths. Francisco does not enjoy this privilege, of course, and I actually found myself camped out in Italy, waiting for the kiosk to raise up its proverbial chef’s hat and begin serving the drumsticks anew. For better or worse, after some number of hours, and being told “no pollo” a half dozen times, I finally racked one up.
It does not make a tremendous amount of sense to spend ten dollars on a chicken drumstick. Or, at least on one that isn’t wearing a hat. With that said, this was actually pretty good. The skin is deliciously fried up, golden and crispy, and surrounds an impressive amount of juicy chicken that’s stuffed further with slightly sweet, creamy ricotta cheese. It’s then placed delicately on vibrant red, mildly spicy pomodoro sauce with a little extra kick of garlic.
At five or six dollars, I’d actually recommend picking one of these up, if for no other reason than it’s an opportunity to order something from the Italy kiosk that’s edible. For ten dollars, you’re better off taking your money to Tutto Gusto inside the Pavilion, or just about anywhere else.
Rossini: Prosecco Mousse with Strawberry Sauce (contains alcohol) – $10
This dish is hiding among the beverages on the menu, probably due to the fact that it supposedly contains some amount of alcohol, but it’s more of a dessert than anything. I liked the Prosecco Mousse, which was subtly-flavored with a creamy, yet dense texture with notes of peach, pear, and apricot. The Strawberry Sauce was a little overwhelming, with a strong, artificial flavor, but the ripe berry on top helped balance things out, along with the sweet whipped cream and sugary chocolate biscotti. The piece of chocolate resembles a musical note and there’s a sprig of mint in there for good measure. There’s probably very little alcohol content, which doesn’t make it a great choice for those looking for a buzz. And anyone who doesn’t like sparkling wine will probably want to pass it up. But I thought it was tasty and refreshing, without being overly heavy. Surprisingly good.
Peroni Nastro Azzurro Pilsner — $5.50
The Budweiser of Italy returns in place of Moretti Lager for another year at the cost of $5.50 for six ounces, which is pretty absurd. It’s among the most straightforward of the beers offered at the Festival, but I’d probably hold out for something more interesting elsewhere. Even the Beck’s in Germany is a better value.
Amaretto Bellini: Amaretto, White Peach Purée and Prosecco — $13
This was 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.
On the value front, third-party operators seem to have more difficulty competing with the Disney-operated booth,s 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 $10 for a chicken leg, but they probably only pocket seven of those dollars. That’s always going to make the third-party offerings a tougher sell.
After several (dozen) misses, it’s not a terrible year for Italy. There isn’t anything here that I would actually recommend at these price points, perhaps with the exception of the Rossini dessert, but I didn’t laugh out loud after taking the first bite of anything at the absurdity of how bad it tasted. Francisco can’t remember the last time that happened, lobotomies or not.