Not too long ago, I got a chance to sit down for dinner with some great friends at Artist Point, "the" signature dining location at Wilderness Lodge.
I was going to lead the review off with "this is one of those locations that you can almost always get a reservation for when the other signature locations are booked solid" -- however, I just checked and found that most of the signature dining locations had availability at multiple times -- tomorrow, next week, and a month from now. Hummmm. California Grill, Le Cellier, and Victoria & Albert's seemed to be the only signature locations that had consistent limited availability.
The staff was very friendly, the service was fairly attentive and knowledgeable about the menu - at least trying to communicate answers to inquires about the food, if the information wasn't readily available. The environment - I would describe as moderately quiet and adult oriented (in Disney-speak, that just means there weren't children running around in bathing suits), and the tables seemed to be spaced well enough apart that you felt like you had your own space.
From an environment standpoint, (somewhat like Tiffins in Animal Kingdom), the setting just doesn't seem to "wow" -- at least for me. The big high-end draw here is usually the giant canvas paintings on the walls… but I think the problem is, there are so many other amazing things too look at when on a Disney vacation, the original works of art get somewhat lost in the mix. Even the grander of the Wilderness Lodge lobby area seems just as spectacular (if not more so) than the interior of Artist Point. The windows are amazing and the designers have done a lot with a very strange little corner space (which is the whole of the restaurant)… but it still struggles to feel "special".
That sentiment seems to carry over into the food as well. While many of the items were very good, the overall theming seemed to be a little light and I don't think anyone in our party of three found an item that would fall into the "I absolutely have to come back and get this again next time" category.
The wine flights were all very well selected to provide three different tasting experiences and they do have a nice selection of wines available, with a larger than usual selection of wines from the Pacific Northwest.
We started off with the cheese board and the charcuterie board. These boards are usually quite fun at Disney locations, and both of these were quite well put together. Each cheese and meat had it's own little condiment pairing. There was a small amount of whole grain mustard to pair with the Cheshire Pork Sacisse, a small bit of honeycomb to go with the cheddar cheese, etc.
Items like the house smoked Venison Sausage from the charcuterie board and the Point Reyes Blue from the Cheese Board still stand out in my mind as being highlights, but not everyone likes the same things... so I'm not sure how useful it would be for me to go down a list of what I liked most. Check out our amazing photos of both boards… if you like what you see, you'll probably like the board! For those that like cheese boards as dessert, I'm not sure this one quite hits that mark. It was built to go before dinner, more than after. That being said, the cheeses… change seasonally.
Both of these boards are (just my guess) put together as table-sample style boards (for multi-person sampling). I do wish a personal sized "combination highlight board" of meats and cheeses would be available -- it would be a great addition to the menu and provide each person with a small taste of the Pacific Northwest -- if others in the party wanted to sample different starters on the menu.
Moving on to the entrees, here again, I'd say everything was great. Nothing that quite got to "wow" status, but all very good. The steak and buffalo entrees that were on the menu were presented with one house-made side -- on the side -- in their own separate bowls. This left the steak and buffalo quite lonely looking on the plate.
I know, I know -- this is how high-end steakhouses do it. I've never really liked the "giant plate small protein" pleating idea at those places either. A small artistic swoosh of potato or polenta or vegetable puree would go a long way here. At a place named "Artist Point", you would think a swoosh of something on each plate would be part of the theme. Swooshes of some vegetable or another would also act as a canyon, and keep some of those juices from just spreading all over the plate
While being lightly seasoned and cooked to order, the otherwise empty plate seemed to dwarf both buffalo strip and the filet mignon. To make matters optically more challenging, a whole giant spring onion had been grilled and placed on each plate. (Giant, by spring onion standards, and I only call it that because I'm not sure what else to call it.)
I'm thinking the onion was to be used as a garnish, because cutting it with a knife and fork, was a real challenge. The only thing one could do (if so desired) is pick that onion up, stalk and all, and just chomp down on it -- vegetarian caveman style.
The buffalo strip was also served with a really nice sauce - that didn't quite pair so well with the meat. Everyone at the table tasted it, and while we still can't quite place it… it was reminiscent of a slightly nut and floral Indian-style sauce that you might find on lamb.
The wild halibut entree that I had was very much like a paella -- and an amazing one at that. Perfectly cooked flakey halibut with an amazing tomato pepper sauce (no mussels, clams, or scallops in the broth though, it was a vegetable based broth). I have noticed, the entree is no longer on the menu though -- and it has been replaced with a proper Halibut Paella (with mussels, clams, and scallops) -- but is served "for two", at $78. In both cases, I'm not really sure how this one matches up with the Pacific Northwest theme exactly, but it was still a great entree.
We opted out of desserts for the evening -- so no photo there, but I may have to go back just to get the Warm Donuts one day… because you know, how can you not love warm donuts?
All in all, a great meal… for a Disney "table-service" restaurant. The idea behind what makes this a "signature" location though… still alludes me. That's not saying it was an underwhelming experience, it was a fantastic meal at a great location with very friendly and attentive staff ... but I have (in years past anyway) had great meals at locations such as the Contemporary's "Wave
" and Animal Kingdom's "Sanaa
". While being different from a culinary perspective, those are non-signature locations.
Perhaps it's the larger than usual wine selection at Artist Point? Perhaps it's the larger than life original paintings hanging on the walls? Hard to say exactly, and it's probably not up to me to figure out. At the end of the night, I'd have to say this was a great experience and a great meal -- but (and I hate to point this out) if you're on the Disney Dining Plan, you could spend 2 table services credits to dine here -- or go to the Wave AND Sanna … and experience two different meals on two different nights ... as both of those locations only require 1 table service credit. Food for thought.
This just might be one of those locations where stopping in for a wine flight and a charcuterie board and maybe a dessert, keeping it light, just to check the place out for yourself -- might be a good way to go.