Epcot Food & Wine Festival :: Tables In Wonderland Food and Wine Festival Preview Lunch
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Tables in Wonderland occasionally hosts special events throughout the year for it's members. Mostly, these consist of wine dinners at Jiko's and a preview dinner event for the Food and Wine Festival
. The Food & Wine Preview event was converted into a lunch this year, to better accommodate the large number of guests that wanted to attend. Considering that 250 people would be searching for food and drinks at the same time, the event was held in the large WorldShowplace Events Pavilion (where the Party for the Senses is held), so there would be plenty of room for everyone.
Upon entering the "East Hall" of the building, guests were offered a warm towel wrap (which is far more enjoyable when it's not 98 degrees outside, but still… nice touch), and the opportunity to pick up a Beso Del Sol White Sangria which is going to be a featured beverage at this year's new "Sustainable Chew" kiosk during the festival. Rehydrating with sangria is probably not a great idea on my part. You would be surprised at how much more difficult it is to take impactful photos when your day starts with sangria.
Passed upon arrival a Beso Del Sol White Sangria featured at the Sustainable Chew marketplace.
Also available in the East Hall were some preview programs, that listed many (if not all) of the special events that would be taking place at this year's festival. All of that information has been added to our main Epcot Food and Wine Festival page
for you to look at online, along with any additional information that I can gather about the festival. Be sure to click the link above, and check out our nicely organized pages!
Within 15 minutes, (and it was quite nice having this time to cool down in the air conditioning and let your eyes acclimate to the darker environment), the giant curtain that separates the East Hall from the West Hall was opened and guests made their way into the main dining area.
Unlike most other dining locations at Disney, the tables in the colossal WorldShowplace building, were separated far enough from one another that you actually needed to use long distance to call your nearest table-mates.
The spacious West Hall at Epcot's World Showplace Events Pavilion was
used as the main dining area at the 2015 Tables in Wonderland Food &
Wine Festival Preview Lunch.
Normally, I enjoy this kind of privacy. One of the fun takeaways at this particular event though, is that there are 250 other people in the building that all really love the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. In the four previous "preview" events, I was always amazed at how much I genuinely enjoyed meeting six or seven total strangers at a larger, assigned table… that all shared a common interest. While just about everything at this year's event, was better than last year's event… that is the one thing that I missed.
While there were some standing tables around, there were enough seated tables for everyone that wanted one. All were nicely pre-set with ice water (which is probably what I should have started with), and another little booklet that listed all of the food and beverage options that were available to sample.
Each table was set with ice water and a great little preview booklet that listed all the food and beverage items that were available at different stations around the room.
The format was very similar to a quarter-sized Party for the Senses, where several cooking and beverage stations were set up around the room. Once you appropriated your table, guests could freely move around the room, investigating the different small plate options and either bring them back to your table, or eat on the go, moving from station to station.
The little booklet proved to be quite invaluable in trying to figure out what I had brought back to the table to eat. Having abandoned the idea of trying to find a specific dish in a specific order, (the small tablet-based digital signs at each cooking station didn't help much when you've had a few too many sangrias)... I just tried to remember where I had been, and go someplace new each time I got up to get something new.
The cooking stations were set up around the room very similar to a mini-Party for the Senses.
If you're familiar with the Party for the Senses format, the schedule here was very similar… there is a free-roaming period, a presentation of covering some of the new and returning events at the festival which was presented by the Food and Wine Festival's Content Development Manager, Marianne Hunnel... and then another free-roaming period for you to go back and pick up a couple "last bites" of your favorite food and beverage items. All in all, a well paced two-hours, that never felt rushed.
Most of the information that was presented at this "preview", has already been Tweeted out to the universe by a myriad of other sites, so I won't rehash any of that here. Pretty much all of the information that we have is on our previously mentioned Food and Wine Festival page
, so be sure to check that out for all of the latest info on this year's festival.
On to the food! While some of the items available were guest favorites from previous years, some new items were also previewed… but not just items from the food booths!
One of the new events this year is the Rockin' Burger Block Party (click for the official description), which will happen on three separate nights during the festival.
The first item available to sample from that event was an Oklahoma BBQ Beef Slider with Mmmhops Pale Ale Onion Fries and Smoked Bologna Baked Beans. The dish was paired with the Mmmhops Pale Ale (which will be available at the Fife & Drum at this year's festival).
The Oklahoma BBQ Beef Slider with Mmmhops Pale Ale Onion Fries.
This was a really great BBQ Slider, and the Mmmmhops Onion Fries are amazing… adding a nice beer battered punch to the semi-sweet bbq sauce. Now, I have to show another photo here… because even though I ate two of these, I only ever saw the "Bologna Baked Beans" on the pre-made "for show" item that was on a glass counter. I guess they were good. Or maybe not. I'll never know unless I go to the Rockin' Burger Block Party I suppose.
A rare photo of the Oklahoma BBQ Beef Slider with Mmmhops Pale Ale Onion Fries with the often missing Smoked Bologna Baked Beans.
Next up, from the same Rockin' Burger Block Party event, is a South African Vegetarian Bunny Chow Slider with The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay Watermelon Salad, which was fittingly paired with The Dreaming Tree Red Blend, or The Dreaming Tree Everyday White wines (your choice, or both). I was told no "bunnies" were hurt in the making of this slider. Did I mention that I was dehydrating with wine at this point?
No actual bunnies were used to make the South African Vegetarian Bunny
Chow Slider with The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay Watermelon Salad.
This was actually quite nice for a vegetarian entree. What I mean by that is, it wasn't "trying" to be meat… which I really liked, and come on… chardonnay dressed watermelon and onion salad… how's that not going to be great!
Next up, the Farm Fresh booth will be returning this year, but with a new item, a "Loaded Mac n' Cheese with Pepper Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Peppers and Green Onions". This one was paired with the ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider (also available at the Farm Fresh booth).
The Loaded Mac n' Cheese with Pepper Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Peppers and
Green Onions could have used more cheese punch, and more bacon. Where's
I hate to say it, but as pretty as it was, I didn't like it as much as last year's Pepper Bacon Hash (this dish which it's replacing). There just wasn't enough cheese punch for me. The ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider is… interesting.
The Scotland booth hasn't mixed things up too much, but that's okay… the Fresh Potato Pancake with Scottish Salmon and Herb Sour Cream is a great item… that I pretty much roll up and eat like an awesome fish taco… but that's just me.
Scotland's Fresh Potato Pancake with Scottish Salmon and Herb Sour Cream is still a great item.
What is slightly new this year, is an actual "meat" based Haggis with Neeps and Tatties. Previously, the Scotland kiosk's Haggis had been a vegetarian dish. Now… I hate loosing a vegetarian item… I really do. That being said… the previous incarnation of Haggis wasn't really convincing as Haggis… and it wasn't a particularly great vegetarian dish either, so all in all, an improvement.
This year, a proper meat-based Haggis with Neeps and Tatties will be available at the Scotland kiosk. Small yellow and purple flower petals will not be included.
A "Citrus Thistle featuring Hendricks Gin" was the beverage available as a pairing at the Scotland table.
The Dominican Republic kiosk is returning from 2007 with a new entree, a Seared Grouper with Pigeon Peas and Rice with a Coconut Sauce. This was a great dish, but pretty subtle in the mix of things at this event (i.e. it's not overly spiced, which is great, if they can get the fish seared as perfectly in the booth, as it was at this event). This was paired with a "Presidente Beer" another new item, but (honestly) the beer didn't really bring anything new to the table.
Seared Grouper with Pigeon Peas and Rice with a Coconut Sauce from the returning Dominican Republic booth.
Brazil has a great new item… one of my top picks from this event, which was the "Little Hidden One" Layered Meat Pie with Mash Yucca. I liked this one so much, I ate it without taking a photo. So sad. I'm sure it will be served in a little black plastic bowl at the festival though (similar in size to the Fisherman's Pie, which is also returning). The Layered Meat Pie, was a total comfort food, dense, meaty, nicely spiced, and it stayed warm from start to finish. I can't wait to get one on one of the colder days of the festival.
The next entry comes from a new kiosk this year, the "Chew Lab". I have to admit up front... that I'm a little biased against the whole premise here. I don't really get into the whole "lab" idea, when it comes to food and foam and smoke and all of that. Make no mistake, this "New York Strip, with Parsnip Silk, Balsamic Glaze and Arugula Foam" is a gourmet dish that was executed perfectly.
A New York Strip, with Parsnip Silk, Balsamic Glaze and Arugula Foam from the new "Chew Labs" booth.
But can it be executed perfectly at a high-volume food booth? We'll just have to see about that when the festival starts. Already though, you can see from the photo that the Arugula Foam looks more like… green slime. I'm sorry, it does... and so even in a controlled environment, where the items are being plated and shot within minutes… the foam breaks down. My other issue (and again this is probably just me) when I see the words "New York Strip", I'm looking for a hunk of meat I can draw a knife through. No matter how perfectly cooked the steak on this dish was, thinly sliced strips of beef loose their juice and temperature quite quickly, and so you're not really getting how great this dish could be, if plated full-sized, at a nice restaurant. As far as the price goes, here again, only time will tell, but steak items have been on the rise for several years at the festival. If this hits anywhere near a $7.00 mark, it's not going to get a "must try" recommendation from me. It's just not "festival" food.
The beverage featured at the Chew Lab was fortunately more interesting. "The Smoking Hibiscus" featuring Montelobos Mezcal Joven is a great drink, if you like Montelobos Mezcal Joven. (Tasting note: Montelobos Mezcal Joven is a slightly over proofed, un-aged mezcal that has a very smokey profile and an almost bbq like sweetness, before the char of a campfire comes back into play. I know, bizarre, but it really works for the 86.4 proof spirit, as it fills a unique void in the mixology world, that nobody knew existed… no, I'm actually not drinking any as I'm writing this. … i.e. the flavor profile grows on you).
The cool looking "Smoking Hibiscus" features Montelobos Mezcal Joven.
Here again though… in an open, air conditioned environment, where there is no wind… it was very cool watching the poor little Hibiscus flower get frozen in the liquid nitrogen (sorry, too tipsy at this point to even attempt getting a photo of that), and the liquid nitrogen smoke fill the glass.
But in a food kiosk, where you'll be handed the drink, and take a few steps in one direction or another, and the "show" factor will evaporate quite quickly, and all you'll be left with is a glass of smokey milk. Our tip… hold your hand over the glass until you get where you're going, it'll help a little bit. Better still, have your entire party crowd around the kiosk and enjoy the show!
Another new "Chew" inspired booth the "Sustainable Chew" will feature a Pork Sparerib item with a Red Wine and Fennel dressing with Cheese Mascarpone Grits. This one… was a total winner. I ended up eating two helpings of these!
Pork Spareribs with a Red Wine and Fennel Dressing and Cheese Mascarpone Grits from the new Sustainable Chew booth.
While the flavors are quite nice, this one is going to be judged by the quality of the pork as well. Both times... my plate had great pork spareribs. The challenge in a high-volume setting though, is making sure they're not prepped too far ahead of time, and are allowed to dry out. There's no coming back from that, no matter how much red wine you pour over them. If you have dry or overly fatty ribs, this one won't be good.
The beverage pairing at this booth, was a Frozen Chew-tini, which features a Meyer Lemon Vodka, Carrot Mando Juice and a Citrus Sour Mix. Okay, okay, I had three of these… or maybe it was four… don't be off-put by the word "carrot" in there… it's a great drink to be sure and the carrot is more for color than anything. I hope the price point isn't crazy high on this one.
A new Frozen "Chew-tini", which features Meyer Lemon Vodka, Carrot Mango Juice and a Citrus Sour Mix.
Finally, the desserts… I think I'll go from my least favorite, to my top pick. The fifth runner up… Croissant Doughnuts with Cinnamon and Sugar.
Croissant Doughnuts with Cinnamon and Sugar don't fair too well when they've been kept under heat lamps for more than a few minutes.
I love a good, fresh, doughnut. These were (I'm sorry to say) neither. You just can't leave a fresh made doughnut under a keep warm lamp for more than ten minutes and expect it to still be a fresh made doughnut. I'm sure at the festival's Refreshment Port booth… they will be made-to-order, and much, much better.
In fourth place, the Tipsy Laird from the Scotland booth, features a whiskey-soaked cake (and I use the word "soaked" liberally) with lemon cream and toasted oats.
Scotland's Tipsy Laird features a whiskey-soaked cake and lemon cream with toasted oats.
If you like toasted oats, you'll love this dessert. If we can get more whiskey in the cake along with even more lemon curd and get the whole "wet cake" thing happening… than I'll love this dessert aside from the dry toasted oats. I absolutely adore the fact that someone took the time to put a little red glittery drop of gel atop each and every one of the raspberries.
An up close shot of the Tipsy Laird shows that someone put a red glitter gel topper on each raspberry.
A tiny little detail that was probably missed by everyone. Kudos to you red glittery gel topping person. I noticed your work!
In third place, another new entry from the "Chew Lab". A Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel. I did manage to capture a bit of the liquid nitrogen smoke on this one.
New from the "Chew Lab", A Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel... which is still smoking when handed to you!
Here again though, the liquid nitrogen smoke wafts off the truffle which is flash frozen in the stuff, and if you're walking more than a couple of paces with the item, you'll loose the effect. Once the effect is gone, the not-so-sweet chocolate truffle didn't seem to have any discernible flavor on it's own, and the whiskey caramel wasn't punchy enough to save the day.
The Chocolate Almond Truffle looks a lot like a scoop of chocolate ice cream, but it's not chocolate ice cream.
I guess at the end of the day, if it looks like a scoop of Häagen-Dazs, I'm expecting it to taste like a scoop of Häagen-Dazs. To be fair, I've never had a flash frozen Chocolate Almond Truffle before though, so maybe it was exactly as it should be.
Runner up in the dessert department… Ireland's Warn Chocolate Pudding with Kerrygold® Irish Cream Liquor Custard. It's stuck somewhere between a slightly underdone brownie, and an overcooked pudding. If you like chocolate… this is probably your dessert of the festival.
The Ireland kiosk' very popular Warm Chocolate Pudding with Kerrygold® Irish Cream Liquor Custard.
I'm always looking for more "Irish" in the cream but, then again, I've had around a dozen real drinks at this point… so that might have effected my judgement.
Finally, the winner of the dessert was the surprisingly satisfying Lamington from the Australia kiosk.
The Australia kiosk's Lamington has been at the festival for quite a few years now. It's a simple and winning combination of yellow cake, dipped in chocolate, and covered in shredded coconut.
While not new, the simple mix of yellow cake, dipped in a proper chocolate, and covered in shredded coconut gives me the multiple profiles that I like finding in these kiosk items. Crunchy and soft, sweet and nutty, dense but not heavy… it's a great mix. Granted, you have to like coconut, and not everyone does, but for me, it's a very satisfying dessert item.
All in all, a great lunch that was well-paired, informative, and not rushed. There were enough food items and beverages presented for everyone to explore, and find favorites among the options. While I do miss the plated dinners of days past, this event has become so popular that a plated dinner format wouldn't be practical.
The price... it does keep rising from year to year. This year's event was $142.69 per person once you add in the tax and predetermined tip. There were however, at least 14 food items and 14 beverage pairing. You would be hard pressed to get one food item and one beverage item at 14 different booths at the actual Food and Wine Festival, and keep it under the $150 mark.
At the Tables Preview Lunch, you have air conditioning, a flat table, and a chair all to yourself as well… not to mention that you're not limited to just one trip to each culinary table. You can go back for as many small plates (and glasses) in the two hours as you want to. In those terms, the pricing seems quite fair, for such an amazing preview lunch!
I was (honestly) a bit skeptical after last year's event, but the format change here, has really done wonders for the event, and I hope it's a format that we see again next year!