#ArtfulEpcot: Morocco’s Mosaic Canteen at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

I wasn’t wasting any time on my first trip to Epcot’s 2nd International Festival of the Arts last week. I have, however, wasted too much time in getting around to writing up the second country that I sampled that day. So without further ado, today, I give you Morocco.

Like Japan’s offerings, I love how these dishes jump off the plate onto the camera. If Artful Epcot’s food items are nothing else, they are lovely.

  • Spiced Beef…or Hummus Trifle: Layered hummus topped with spiced beef, pine nuts, and dry cherries served with pita chips ($9)

It’s a little laughable that this is listed as “Spiced Beef” on the menu board. It’s name in the Festival Passport, “Hummus Trifle”, makes so much more sense – since it’s the hummus that dominates here. This thing looks SO good on paper. It’s hard to go wrong with beef, dried cherries, pine nuts, and hummus. And don’t get me wrong. It’s fine. But this is essentially a huge cup of hummus with a few chips and some so so meat crumbles, pine nuts, and cherries on top. It wasn’t bad. If you’re craving hummus it’ll hit the spot. (And bring extra chips because they give you more hummus than you can possibly scoop up with the 10 or so chips that they give you.) But generally I think you can do better than this at Epcot right now. And for $9 you can definitely do better.

  • Mediterranean Flat Bread with Za’atar, Olive Oil Artichokes, Olives, Mozzarella an Feta Cheese ($8)

Artful Epcot Epcot International Festival of the Arts Morocco Mediterranean Flat Bread

Isn’t this lovely? It pops on your tongue just as beautifully as it pops off the screen. The flavors are fresh and simple. The za’atar (a middle eastern spice mixture) is fresh and bold, the cheeses aren’t overpowering, and I’d take a good artichoke as a boyfriend any day. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing about this is going to turn your culinary world upside down. It’s simple and fresh and just good. And it’s huge!! For $8, it’s a solid lunch any day of the week. Two enthusiastic thumbs up. Fine holiday fun. 😉

  • Chebbakia: Hand-twisted strips of fried dough coated with honey, rosewater, and sesame seeds ($7)

Artful Epcot Epcot International Festival of the Arts Morocco Chebbakia

If you like a classic middle eastern dessert or have a sweet tooth that you need to punch in the face, this will be your jam. I wanted to taste more rosewater. (I always want to taste more rosewater.) But this was chewy and sweet and sticky and sated my often insatiable sweet tooth. The sesame here (unlike the sesame in Japan’s taiyaki) was not overpowering, but just added a bit of interest to the overall taste. For $7, this wasn’t the cheapest dessert, but it was certainly rich and big enough to serve two people. I think you should go get some.

 

#ArtfulEpcot: Japan’s Takumi Table at Epcot International Festival of the Arts

We kicked off Artful Epcot and the second annual Epcot International Festival of the Arts this past Friday, January 12th, and I came in swingin’ with my passport in hand while the kids were in school.

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Festival Passport

Where did I start, you ask?

In Japan, of course.

The sooner you eat somewhere for the first time, the sooner and more often you can eat there again. Because science.

Takumi means “artisan” in Japanese. There are only two food items at Takumi Table this year – one savory and one sweet.

 

Before we even dig into the details of these items, I’m going to stop and comment on how BEAUTIFUL everything offered at Festival of the Arts is this year. If Food & Wine blogging is a never ending battle with dishes that won’t pose for the camera, Festival of the Arts is a veritable runway show of edible little supermodels. And true to Japan’s always impressive attention to detail, they’ve again chosen to plate their foods on and in dishes that teeter on the edge of disposable and almost make you want to wash them and tuck them into your purse to reuse at home.

But let’s stop talking and start eating…

  • Chirashi Sushi and Haupia Pearl: Salmon, Tuna, and Yuzu Miso with Coconut Tapioca Pudding ($7.50)

Chirashi Sushi and Haupia Pearl Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot

I’m not moaning. You’re moaning.

Oh you’re not? Okay. Maybe it’s me after all. The worst thing about sitting here writing this review is having to look at this without eating it (again).

Chirashi is happy, lazy sushi. Because instead of being a tidy little roll, it’s just a big ol’ pile of the same delicious ingredients. But in usual form, Artful Epcot has found a way to make even chirashi as beautiful as it is delicious. The rice is perfect. The seaweed salad is crisp and chewy and not fishy at all. The mound of salmon and tuna on top is fresh and soft and perfect. And it all sits on slices of orange that add a citrus-y pop to the whole thing.

And then. You guys. When it’s over and you’ve licked that side of the plate clean?? There’s this lovely little shot of sweet coconut milk and tapioca and fresh fruit that is so refreshing and good that its only fault is not being huge.

I cannot wait to eat this again. I want to write poetry about it and have it for lunch every day until February 19th.

But onward…

  • Taiyaki Dessert: Japanese Stuffed Pastry, Sweet Red Bean Filling, Sesame Cream, and Raspberry Sauce ($4.50)

Taiyaki is a lovely little fish shaped cake typically filled (as here) with sweetened adzuki bean paste. It is thought to have originated in Tokyo during the Meiji era (1868-1912), but now you can find it all over Japan.

Like most taiyaki, Artful Epcot’s version was almost too pretty to eat. But unique to most taiyaki, it was bedded next to an unattractive pile of too much sweet sesame paste and whipped cream. It was warm and sweet and teetered on the edge of delicious so closely that it broke my heart.

I love me some adzuki bean paste. Not overly sweet but soft and mild, it’s wonderful nestled inside some warm dough.

Taiyaki Dessert 3 Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot

So why was it leaning up against a pile of whipped cream that appeared to have come out of a can?? WHY??? And why was it sitting in an ugly pile of sesame “cream” that wanted to put hair on my chest when I tried (admittedly, with my tongue) to clean it off the fish??

Listen. Give this a try. The cake itself is warm, soft, mildly sweet perfection. I plan to go back and get it again – just asking them to hold the whipped cream nonsense and put the sesame cream on the side so that I can control how much (or how little) touches my fish. And in rare form, I’ll bring a friend – because this thing is RICH. Try it. But don’t be surprised if when you’re done eating you’re cleaning the sesame out of your teeth and still looking at something like this…

Taiyaki Dessert 4 Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot

I’m sorry little fish tail. I couldn’t handle you.

This booth had two food offerings and I just wrote a full on book about them. I hope the ones to come make me want to prattle on less because momma doesn’t have time to write a novella about all 19 booths…..

In the meantime, one passport sticker earned. Lots to go-

Takumi Table Japan Pavilion Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Artful Epcot

Have YOU had the chance to visit #ArtfulEpcot yet? If so, what did you eat?? If not, what’s on your short list for when you get there??

#ArtfulEpcot – Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

It’s a new year and we’re kicking off another grand Epcot festival!! Epcot’s inaugural Festival of the Arts was just last year and this year we’re getting it back and bigger. It runs from January 12th through February 19th and includes a wealth of unique musical, visual, and, of course, culinary bliss. Festival goers can also see Disney on Broadway events every weekend and take in a long list of seminars, food studios, and other artists. You can even have your hand in a little bit of interactive art of your own….

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot Mosaic Painting

Luck as it was, the kids are (omg finally) back in school after the holidays and I’m more or less walking again after completing my first Dopey Challenge last weekend (recap to come), so I was able to run over to Epcot during the festival’s opening day to wander World Showcase and scratch the surface of its food offerings.

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Festival Passport

SO. FREAKING. EXCITED.

(Ignore the nails……I’ve been a little busy……)

Bottom line – I don’t care if it’s because Disney is aiming to bring in guests in its “off season” (bwahahaha…off season…right) or because they’re too tired to move the Food & Wine food booths and are just thinking of ways to repurpose them year ’round instead. There’s a lot to eat, you guys. This little passport lists 19 booths full of new food and drink. And I’m ready to dig in and start earning my completion stickers.

 

 

Eat This: Epcot Legacy Showplace at Epcot’s 2017 Food and Wine Festival

The old Odyssey building is home to food offerings of its own and some fabulous exhibits celebrating Epcot’s 35th anniversary at this year’s Food & Wine Festival.

If you don’t know where the Odyssey building is, you’ll find it on the walkway/bridges running from Future World East into World Showcase. This year they have 3 food items, one of which deserves your attention and your calorie allotment for the day….

  • Chilled Scotch Egg wrapped in Sausage with Mustard Sauce ($4)

Scotch Egg

So for those of you unfamiliar with Scotch Eggs, they’re basically a sausage wrapped hard boiled egg that is meant to be travel friendly and eaten at things like picnics. I’m just going to apologize to all of my UK friends right now. Because…nope. I don’t even care how ugly my picture of this thing is. It didn’t do it for me. As far as I can tell, you don’t even get a whole egg. And it’s chewy. Like, chewier than a hard boiled egg should be. It tastes like cold, leftover breakfast. And it’s breaded – so it’s not even like you’re low-carbing it when you eat one. The creamy mustard is pretty good –  but it’d be better on something else. Skip it and save room for…

  • Zesty Cheeseburger and Cheddar Cheese Macaroni Handwich ($5.50)

Handwich

Commmmme to momma…. This thing is RICH. You might want to block out time for a nap after you eat it. Mac and cheese and bits of burger piled high into a cone shaped soft pretzel. It speaks for itself. Eat it slowly while you stroll around the 35th anniversary exhibits in the building.

There’s also a third “food” item at Epcot Legacy Showplace. L’Orange Cotton Candy – a mixture of lime and orange cotton candy. Confession: I didn’t get it. I’m not a big cotton candy eater and feel like you guys could probably fend for yourselves out there on this one. Cotton candy is overpriced everywhere, so $4.75 doesn’t seem terrible if you’re into it. And this one is apparently French.  So mangez as you will….

Eat This: Beaches and Cream Soda Shop at Disney’s Beach Club Resort

There once was a time when I set my alarm for dawn 180 days out from our trips to book all of the hard to get ADRs. Now, on park days, I wake up in the morning and browse the Disney app with the kids to pick our day’s plans. Yesterday morning was a lazy-ish Sunday, so instead of running out the door early we did some stuff around the house and just grabbed an early dinner reservation at the Beaches & Cream Soda Shop at Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

Beaches & Cream

To get to Beaches & Cream, you enter the lobby of Beach Club and walk toward Cape May, then around the back of it through the open hallway, which puts you out onto the patio area behind Beach Club’s amazing pool, Stormalong Bay (which it shares with the Yacht Club). You enter Beaches & Cream back there – through either the carryout door or the main restaurant door.

The main restaurant is tiny. I think I counted 10 total tables – 3 booths and 7 small round tables. Sort of explained why reservations can be so hard to get.

 

Try to get a seat near the jukebox in front if you can. You can pick the songs that are played. I think my kids enjoyed that at least as much as the meal.

There was a lot of Sugar, Sugar and Lama Rama Ding Dong going on while we were eating. If anyone reading this was there, I apologize.

Beaches & Cream Menu

The menu is, not surprisingly, no frills 50s style diner fare. Burgers and club sandwiches, meatloaf and a Reuben. It was chilly outside and it was on the menu, so I opted for the grilled cheese and tomato bisque. All sandwiches are served with fries or fruit. I opted for the fries and upgraded them to chili cheese. Because, you know, research.

In the distance you can see the kids’ hot dog and mac n cheese. I’m not bothering with close up pictures. They were, in short, a hot dog and mac n cheese.

The grilled cheese was basically a solid grilled cheese. The tomato bisque served its dipping purpose. The fries were good enough fries covered in chili and cheese sauce.  It was a good, inexpensive (the grilled cheese and bisque were $12), chill meal eaten to the tune of jukebox music just behind Stormalong Bay. If you’re deciding between this and Victoria & Albert’s, you’ve…well, you’ve got more trip research to do – but if you want a chill meal during an Epcot or Hollywood Studios day or while you’re poolside at Stormalong, it’s a great option.

But we all know Beaches & Cream isn’t really about the savory dishes. So I did you guys a solid and took at quick look at the dessert menu…

Beaches & Cream Menu 2

…before ordering the Kitchen Sink. You guys – I don’t even like ice cream that much and was alone with my two skinny kids, so this was hilarious. When they bring it out they put these yellow siren-style lights on and the waitress makes a big announcement to the whole restaurant, which dutifully chants back “A WHOLE CAN??” to the information about just how much whipped cream is in this thing.

Beaches & Cream Kitchen Sink

That’s right. The Kitchen Sink is served in an actual “kitchen sink” style bowl that houses massive scoops of vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream, and mint chocolate chip ice cream, an entire can of whipped cream, massive chunks of cake and brownies, Oreos, maraschino cherries, and “every other topping” that the restaurant has – which seems to include gummy orange wedges, peanut butter, bananas, chocolate sauce, various chips and sprinkles and God knows what else. At $32, it was more than all three of our dinners combined, but it claims to serve 4 people and that seems like a low estimate. After eating for approximately 3 hours, it looked like this:

Beaches & Cream Kitchen Sink After

I don’t even think we’d really hit ice cream yet. People at other tables might have been laughing at us. I also might have been laughing.

So, in short, if you want a really chill meal in an out of the way spot at a great resort, hit up Beaches & Cream. Especially if you love ice cream. With the Food & Wine Festival currently around the corner at Epcot, I’d usually have trouble justifying it – but it was perfect for us last night.

We’d planned on heading into Epcot for Illuminations afterwards but it was unseasonably chilly and I figured just as well not to push it on a school night. So instead the boys toasted marshmallows at the Beach Club campfire and played on the beach for awhile before we headed home. I befriended a lovely couple from Jersey whose child took a liking to me and the boys played with his older sister in the sand. Those little pinch-me moments overlooking Crescent Lake and the Boardwalk are my favorites these days.

Beaches & Cream Boardwalk View 2

How I Ended Up Leaving Big Law and Moving to Disney World

“Just put a date on the calendar. I don’t care if it’s two weeks from now or two years from now. Just put it down. And then spend whatever span of time exists between now and then wrapping your head around this. Because it’s going to be hard.”

It ended up being just about 6 months from that day. It also ended up being hard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I graduated from Harvard Law in the spring of 2004, bright eyed and ready to throw my type A personality into a world of corporate law where I’d perhaps spend forever or perhaps spend a brief amount of time. I was looking forward to being still in one pursuit and actually didn’t choose one particular very prestigious law firm because they asked me, at the interview, what my plans were for after I’d leave them. (Of course the fact that an associate there cried during his interview of me didn’t help either….) I packed up my things in Cambridge, said lots of tearful farewells, and was moved by my chosen firm into my new apartment in NYC – which I shared with a dear law school friend whom I would almost never see because 99% of my time would be spent in the office.

Then life started to happen.

Truth be told, I loved aspects of what I did. Playing with the English language was always my jam. I dare someone to give me a mathematical formula that I can’t memorialize in contract-speak. The people were brilliant. The deals were bigger than my young self could wrap her head around. I worked so. damned. hard. and I was proud of the work that I was putting out and the respect that I was getting. But it didn’t fulfill me and when you’re billing 400 hour months, you’re screwed if it doesn’t fulfill you. I envied the people that were fulfilled. It would have all been so EASY if I was fulfilled.

But life kept happening.

I met a wonderful man. He had a lucrative trucking company but had regrets about never dedicating himself to academics. And we had the means! If we had anything, we had means. So we committed to each other and he enrolled to finish his degree. We got engaged. We left Wall Street for DC. I took the Virginia bar and started a new practice at a new Big Law firm. The people were still brilliant. I was still proud of the work that I was putting out. But it still didn’t fulfill me. I still envied the people that were fulfilled. I was mentored by a wonderful, powerful, brilliant woman who was killing it in partnership. She seemed to outsource everything else in her life and was okay with it. I wouldn’t have been. Because the work itself wasn’t enough.

I know that the idea of being “fulfilled” is eyeroll inducing. I was raised by a father who told me to be grateful that I had work. And he was right – in a way. And to the degree that he wasn’t it didn’t matter because he was my dad and that was how I was raised. I had gone to Columbia and Harvard. I had a “great job”. My qualms about it must have been wrong. I was lucky and my internal dialogue must have been wrong.

I wasn’t getting any younger and I didn’t want to hold up the rest of my life while I figured out this pink elephant in the room, all consuming detail. We bought a house and had two children that were (and still are) my world.

But then my dad got sick. Shortly after the birth of my second child, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and life as I knew it stopped. The nightmare started.

There were no down times in my father’s fight against cancer. There were no quiet moments of togetherness. Acute leukemia in a sixty-something man is not a gentle disease. Over the course of 10 months I mothered my two young children, supported my family financially in corporate law, tried to support my mother emotionally and mentally, and screamed alone in my car while beating the steering wheel. Those 10 months were the sort of time that people on the outside look in on and say they “don’t know how you survived”. Like anyone in that sort of situation, the answer was that survival was the only option. I worked. I cried. I took care of my kids. I tried to be a good wife. I answered calls from my delirious father at 3 a.m. yelling that I’d abandoned him in the hospital and “WHY WASN’T I COMING TO GET HIM???” You just survive. You wake up in the morning and you do whatever you need to do to haul yourself and the people that you love through the day.

I used every tool I knew to keep a clear head. I ran. I meditated. I ate well. I meditated more. I ran more. And more. I ran until the chaos went away. I had never been a runner. But I ran because it was all that worked.

On February 20, 2014 – incidentally my 36th birthday – I got a call from my mom and my father’s oncologist. They were together in his office on speakerphone. The oncologist didn’t mince words.

“We are no longer prolonging your father’s life. We are prolonging his death.”

I was an only child. I was the decisive one. I had written my father’s advance directive. I had not one shred of doubt.

We did the terminal extubation the next day.

They gave him morphine for hours. When they pulled out the tube the sound was horrible. Something inhuman came out of my vocal chords too. I remember it vaguely. I remember falling. Then I remember standing back up. It was a moment of falling apart I’d allowed myself. Then I stood back up.

We started picking up the pieces. I kept working. We waded through the death-related mass of paperwork.

I kept working. I also kept running.

We started going back to Disney with the kids. My heart sang when I was there and ached when I left. I found out about a half marathon there that was exactly 2 years after the date of my father’s death.

I kept working. But I was training for something symbolic. I billed 400 hour months. I spent my younger son’s 2nd birthday closing a deal in a hotel room while my husband celebrated with them in other parts of the resort. But I was training for something symbolic.

On February 21, 2016 I ran the Princess Half Marathon in Walt Disney World. It was my f- you to the universe. I was still kicking. It was everything that I hoped it would be.

And then it was over and I went home. And I kept working. And I started to crumble inside.

My husband had finished his degree in mechanical engineering. No small feat for a man who’d reentered the academic world in his 40s, surrounded by kids who’d been raised on computers. He’d tried a responsible government job at the patent office. Then sales engineering. He could have made it work but none of it felt like him. He didn’t belong behind a desk. To an extent, trucking *had* been him. Now he had his degree and we knew what he was capable of but we also knew what felt right. The wheels started turning. Pun sort of intended.

Then I came home from that race and I kept working. And I crashed. I’d run the half. I’d said my f- you to the universe. But nothing had changed. I got on the phone with one of my best friends.

“We’re getting me out. Soon. We have to. I can’t take it anymore.”

“No. You’re not. You hate where you are but you’re not going to be  able to change it like that.” No matter how much I hated it, it was still a huge part of my identity. It was also how I put food on the table.

What is that Law of Inertia? An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Crisis and my own brute strength desperate determination would become that unbalanced force.

I had the fateful conversation with my friend. Put a date on the calendar and spend the time between now and then coming to terms with it and preparing financially. I wrote August 11th on the calendar. I bought my husband an 80-foot long car hauler. He went on the road. I took care of the kids and kept working. I banked every penny.

On July 28, 2016, I gave notice. I fought for my decision with the partnership for hours. I turned down the idea of a sabbatical because I knew I wouldn’t start to heal without a clean break. They said I would be miserable. I didn’t want to admit to them that I already was.

Ultimately I stretched my remaining time with the firm out for a bit to try to ease the transition. My last day of work was August 22, 2016. I came home and packed and we went to Disney later that week.

The process of detoxing from a life in Big Law is a subject for another day. The months following my exit were, and still are, the sort of soul searching difficult that does not sum up tidily or easily. I had ups and downs. I purged my house. I kept running. I started to allow myself to daydream about what might be next.

Suffice to say that after 13+ years in Big Law and everything else that those years encompassed, and with a dear husband who is now more often than not on the road for work, we found ourselves fully portable from a work perspective, staged and sold our Maryland home, and built a house in Florida immediately north of the Magic Kingdom.

Because when you are forced to wake up to how short life is, following your joy starts to make a lot more sense.

Eat This: China Booth – Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival 2017

I truly don’t know how or why it’s taken me so long to talk about the China booth at Epcot’s 2017 Food & Wine Festival. What I do know is that it’s a situation that needs to be remedied, as it’s one of my all around go to favorites at F&W this year.

So let’s not waste any more time than we already have…. I give you, China:

  • Beijing Roasted Duck Bao Bun with Hoisin Sauce ($6.50)

Duck Bao China Epcot Food and Wine

In retrospect, as I start this review, China is all about this insanely delicious duck bao bun. I’ve had it probably more times than any other single item at this year’s Food & Wine Festival and as I’m sitting here looking at this picture I would like to have it again. The bun is spongy and soft, the duck is lean and flavorful and well cooked. The veggies and onion add a subtle crunch and the hoisin sauce gives that kick of sweetness that hoisin sauce should.

  • Spicy Chicken Bao Bun ($5.25)

Epcot Food and Wine China Chicken

Another tasty bao bun, another day. This is a simple dish – just a fried finger of chicken with spicy sauce and green onions. It’s not the duck, but it’s a solid option.

  • Black Pepper Shrimp with Garlic Noodles ($5.75)

Epcot Food and Wine China Shrimp 2

This is unapologetically just tasty Chinese food. The shrimp are tender and sitting on a bed of soft noodles, all of which are breath-defyingly garlicky. The sprinkling of green onions on top gives a nice little crunch. And they’re kind enough to provide a bottle of Sriracha sauce at the pickup window, which, like all Sriracha sauce, you should use, because it will make your life better.

  • Chicken Pot Stickers ($4)

Epcot Food and Wine China Dumplings 3

For some reason, all things dumpling have been calling my name lately – and these answered the call happily. Like many things at Food & Wine, they are simple and good and don’t need a book written about them. They just need to be eaten. Grab a set to go with your duck bao. Your taste buds will thank you.

 

 

Eat This: Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival – Scotland Booth

I finally had the chance to take on Scotland today. I’d been looking forward to this one and had probably only taken this long because it’s hard to get deep into the UK section of Food & Wine with enough of an appetite for lox and stew. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

The Scotland booth is of course in the UK area, past Rose & Crown and the Ireland stand as you walk toward Canada. This year they are offering two savory dishes and one sweet, along with a handful of drinks (which I skipped for now).

  • Fresh Potato Pancake with Scottish Smoked Salmon and Herbed Sour Cream ($5.25)

Food and Wine Scotland Fresh Potato PancakeI am sitting here looking at this picture and wishing I had another one of these in front of me. It’s so simple and perfect and good and I’m thrilled that it’s back this year. A healthy little pile of lox and generous dollop of herbed sour cream sitting on top of a warm potato pancake. I’m not dainty with it – I just pick it up with my fingers and bite into it. The combination of no frills ingredients works so well together. Go have one for a late breakfast tomorrow. Then have another for lunch. You’re welcome. 😉

  • Traditional Scottish Lamb Stew with Neeps and Tatties ($4.75)

Epcot Food and Wine Scotland Stew 2

I admittedly had to google neeps and tatties. They are a sort of turnip and potatoes, mashed here, under the stew. This was so good. Simple, again – just a mild stew, not too much salt – thank goodness, lamb and veggies – carrots and onions. Nothing about it is wildly different. If you’re looking to try the 5 most inventive things at Food & Wine, this isn’t going to be on the list. But it’s delicious and if you happen upon Scotland and are hungry, it will do the trick quite nicely. I am again sitting here looking at the picture and wishing I had some more.

  • The Tipsy Laird: Whiskey-soaked Cake with Lemon Cream and Toasted Oats ($3.50)

Food and Wine Epcot Scotland Tipsy Laird

This is a pretty little layered dessert. It has a berry compote at the bottom with cake, oats, lemon cream, and a dollop of whipped cream and fresh raspberry on top. It’s moist and creamy and has lots of flavor. I was expecting it to be the sort of syrupy reduced liquor taste that you’d find in, say, a rum cake – but I honestly didn’t taste the whiskey at all. Still, at $3.50 this is a lovely little dessert.

Eat This: Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival – New Zealand Booth

It’s always exciting to be 2 months into Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, feel like you’ve tapped into every food item that really interested you, and then stumble on a country that completely shocks you by hitting it out of the park. Don’t get me wrong – I expected New Zealand’s offerings to be excellent. They always are. But I didn’t expect to love them so much personally – or, to be quite honest, for them to be quite this excellent.

The New Zealand booth is just past Australia near the “top” of world showcase, i.e. the end closer to Future World, if you turn toward Canada and the UK pavilion at the split. This year they offer 3 food items, all savory, and several alcoholic drink options.

To start. I just want to acknowledge how lovely all of the food items at the New Zealand booth are. At a festival where I am constantly wrestling with delicious food that does not want to pose for a picture, the New Zealand dishes are all beautiful and served up with rare attention to presentation.

  • Steamed Green Lip Mussels with Garlic Butter and Toasted Breadcrumbs ($4.25)

Food and Wine Epcot New Zealand Mussels

I had to do a double take at the price of these mussels when I actually received them. At $4.25(??!), these have got to be one of the best values going at Food & Wine. They are gorgeous and HUGE, soaked in butter and garlic, and covered in breadcrumbs. They smell like the ocean and have a briny taste that will make you think you’re on a remote beach somewhere instead of eating, perhaps off the top of a (pristine) trashcan, along World Showcase Lagoon. Having expected a tray of tiny mussels dripping in sauce, I was beyond pleasantly surprised. These are not shy about what they are. They are strong, beautifully seasoned mussels and they are delicious.

  • Lamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney ($5.25)

Food and Wine New Zealand Lamb Meatball

This is a seriously hearty serving at $5.25. A lamb meatball covered in spicy (think little kick more than major heat) chunky tomato chutney with garlic and lots of fennel seeds, all sitting in a soft doughy basket that does a lovely job soaking up everything. The fact that it is lamb rather than a more “common” meat is not in your face. The meat is very mild. It’s probably not a great dish for a hot day, as it’s very rich and hearty, but if you’re looking for a generous portion of something tasty on a breezy evening, this is a very good option.

  • Seared Venison Loin with Wild Mushroom Marsala Sauce and Kumara Purée ($6.50)

Food and Wine Epcot New Zealand Venison 3

This is a very small serving, especially compared to the lamb meatball that I’d just eaten, but it is wonderful. A healthy little chunk of tender venison, presented beautifully and drenched in marsala sauce. The meat is rich and full of flavor, not at all gamey, and so delicious that you’ll forget for a second that you’re eating Bambi. The kumara is apparently a type of yam or sweet potato found in New Zealand and the purée definitely tastes just like you would expect a mashed sweet potato to taste. It’s a great choice, as the mildly sweet starch cuts the richness of the venison and marsala sauce beautifully. This was really just a wonderful dish all around.

  • Frozen Wine Cocktail featuring Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($6.50)

Epcot Food and Wine New Zealand Frozen Wine Cocktail

Oh New Zealand. You had me at frozen wine. This was just a happy little glass of slushy wine that went down easily along with the three savory dishes. I’d order it again in an Epcot minute.

Eat This: Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival – Patagonia Booth

We’ll keep this short and sweet, because Food & Wine’s Patagonia booth only offers 2 items this year – one simple, solid enough dish and one crowd favorite.

  • Beef Empanada ($5)

This is…a beef empanada. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very tasty beef empanada. If you are in the mood for a beef empanada and are okay eating it without sour cream or salsa or other toppings, you should get this. The crust is flaky, it’s spiced very well, the peppers and onions give it a little kick… It’s as straightforward as it gets. You’ll enjoy it but you probably won’t be writing home about it or reminiscing about it next year.

  • Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Purée ($5.75) (Gluten Free)

Oh glorious skewer of garlic and butter soaked, chimichurri covered, thinly sliced beef. There’s not much not to like about this little dish. The beef is thinly sliced and skewered, the chimichurri is plentiful, and the entire thing sits on a bed of mashed boniato – a Caribbean sweet potato that, mashed here, reminds me of a textured polenta or hearty mashed cauliflower that is a perfect vehicle for making sure that no butter or garlic gets left behind. This quickly jumped to one of my favorite beef dishes at the Food & Wine Festival this year.