Wednesday, October 15, 2014

EPCOT Food & Wine Fest 2014

This past weekend marked our first-ever visit to the annual food and wine fest that the good folks at Disney put on every year at EPCOT, a two-month long fusion of international cuisine, abundant alcohol (provided by sponsors who are no doubt giddy over the prominent exposure), and mouse ears. Fortunately for us, having our annual resident passes meant we didn't have to pay the resort admission fee or parking charges, freeing up additional cash to be surrendered at the various event kiosks (of which there were many, ranging from Africa to South Korea and everything in between). Instead of toting around a large wad of bills or incurring multiple credit card swipes, the missus and I decided to follow the advice of another blogger and placed money on individual gift cards that were easily scanned whenever we chose to indulge in some country's tempting offerings. Although the lines were sometimes lengthy (often with entire groups of people in matching t-shirts exhibiting a variation on the "Disney Drinking Team" theme) and the sunlight intense (highs in the low 90s, warm in October even for Florida), the hard-working park staff kept things moving efficiently, making our experience a mostly-pleasant one (this would have likely been different had the kids been with us - I should note that we left them home with grandma). Below are some of the day's dining highlights:

The Patagonia kiosk was selling a nice, meaty slab of roasted salmon (courtesy of Verlasso, a sustainable farmed salmon provider based in Chile) topped with arugula chimichurri and garnished with a little quinoa salad.  We enjoyed this a bit better than the beef empanada from the stand and washed both down with a slightly-tart Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir Rose, a wine so nice that we picked up a couple of bottles from the festival center on our way out the next day (note - wine sales by the bottle at EPCOT are similar to duty-free in that you have to wait to pick up your wine package until you exit the park) .

A little further in, we came across the Farm Fresh kiosk and scored some Nueske's pepper bacon hash with sweet corn, potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and pickled jalapenos (which were a little on the potent side).  This dish was paired with a Key lime wine from St. Pete's own Florida Orange Groves Winery (this was just ok).

In honor of the now-shuttered Hot Doug's in Chicago, I had to try South Korea's kimchi dog with spicy mustard sauce. Although not a bargain at $4 for half a dog, this was a mighty tasty bite.

After reading that the Brazil kiosk (see above) was serving up crispy pork belly with black beans, tomato, and cilantro, I couldn't wait to get there. It was worth the long trek to the far reaches of the park (as was the Kaiser Xingu black beer we got with it).

Although I'm not normally a fan of escargot (its texture is too similar to mushrooms, in my humble opinion), we had to try France's tartlette aux escargots (escargot topped with garlic, spinach, and Parmesan in a crispy tart shell). One nibble reminded me why I steer clear of snails (luckily, I was able to cleanse my palate with some Kronenbourg beer, bringing me back to the days of my high school trip to France).

My experience at the Puerto Rico kiosk was much better as we snacked on yummy, chewy tostones (fried green plantain patties) with rosada sauce (mayo-ketchup) and a decadent flanchoco (vanilla caramel custard atop chocolate coffee cake) while listening to the rapid-fire sounds of live island percussion music.

Our final stop before we headed to the hotel for a pre-dinner respite was the Desserts & Champagne kiosk, featuring a trio of passion fruit coconut creamsicle, blueberry lime cheesecake roll, and chocolate espresso opera cake, plus a frozen s'mores slushy with toasted marshmallow syrup.

After wallowing in a shower and some air conditioning, Mrs. Hackknife and I made our way back over to EPCOT for the evening's dinner event, something called "Party for the Senses". This gala is held several times during the fest (always at the World Showplace Stage on Saturday night and almost always selling out) and features chefs from all over the country (many of whom are affiliated with Disney properties) preparing small plates of food in a carnival-like atmosphere. We arrived early enough to be herded into a holding pen with all of the other prompt patrons while the event staff finished prepping the room, during which time we saw the most distinguished of the guest chefs, Art Smith (of Table 52 and Top Chef Masters fame) mingling in the crowd with Chef Lorena Garcia (also of Top Chef Masters, but attending incognito rather than cooking). Once the curtain was lifted, there was an initial mad dash towards the stations that quickly spread out through the cavernous space - before long, everyone was able to comfortably approach all of the tables distributing nosh/drinks (although seating was hard to come by) and enjoy the musicians/acrobats of La Nouba Cirque de Soleil performing throughout the night.

How was the food, you ask? By and large, we were extremely satisfied with most of the offerings, which covered the gamut from soups (my favorite was the carrot bisque with ramps, anise hyssop, flax seed, watercress, and edible flowers from the Disney resort Golden Oak Club) to meats (the Berkshire pork belly with edamame hummus, smoked leek, blood orange, and cranberry marmalade from the Disney Grand Floridian put to shame the stuff we'd had earlier at the Brazil kiosk) to seafood (I especially liked the seared cobia with green papaya slaw and aji amarillo-mojo from Dominique's on Magazine in New Orleans) to killer desserts (the spumone tartufato, a creation of pistachio, toasted almond, and chocolate gelato with Italian meringue and Amarena cherries from Lincoln Ristorante in NYC was to die for). I sampled my first-ever Icelandic beer (Einstok Toasted Porter) and also sipped some wonderful sparkling apple ice wine (Neige Bubble) from Quebec. After about 2 hours of snacking and drinking, we had pretty much laid waste to the place and decided to call it a day so we could rest up for tomorrow morning's brunch event.

Although there were times on Sunday morning where I was pretty sure I'd never need to eat again, I managed to rally in time to enjoy the nice brunch provided to us courtesy of Chef Warren Brown, a former Food Network personality who now runs his own baking company in Washington, D.C. Chef Brown (see above) has degrees in law and public health, but eventually heeded the call of the kitchen and learned the pastry business (his venture, CakeLove, is well-known locally for its high-end desserts and is in the process of expanding into other regions of the country). Brunch guests dined on croissants, fruit, sun-dried tomato quiche, chicken breast in lobster cream sauce, and asparagus while the chef conducted a baking demo of some of his most heralded creations, like the salty caramel cake in a jar (which we'd had at the gala last night) and cake icing bite that you see below.

Chef B also makes delicious scones (we tried a ginger-pecan variety) and some of the best cookies I'd ever tasted, a black pepper and chocolate crinkle version that perfectly straddled the line between sweet, bitter, and spice (I now have the cookie recipe and, if I get brave enough, I may attempt to make these in the Canteen sometime).

Overall, I'd say our inaugural experience with the EPCOT Food and Wine Fest was pretty positive and, although it was on the expensive side (it would be even more so in future years without our annual passes), we'll have to strongly consider return visits every year as long as we're living in Florida...

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