It's rare that the weather is cool enough during Epcot's Food & Wine Festival for me to even think about Italian food, but the cloud cover yesterday offered up the unique Florida afternoon pasta craving. I jumped on the chance to see what Italy had to offer this year.
- Crispy Calamari with Spicy Pomodoro Sauce ($8)
I so wanted to love this. I adore a good calamari and a sauce with a kick. The calamari itself was prettily presented and cooked perfectly, but at least this particular batch was much too salty. That actually seems to be a theme at Food & Wine this year. It's rare that I don't like a dish but when it happens it's often the salt content that does it. If you're craving calamari I certainly wouldn't turn away from this, but it wasn't a favorite – especially considering the $8 price tag.
- Spezzatino con Polenta: Beef Stew with Parmesan Creamy Polenta ($7.50)
This. was. delicious. A rich beef stew with lots of sauce nestled in with a healthy serving a creamy, cheesy polenta. The stew was hearty and the polenta with parmesan was everything that a good polenta should be – the consistency of smooth mashed potatoes that cut the richness of the stew perfectly. Admittedly not something that would call my name on a typical hot day, but if the weather is right again I would happily go back for more.
- Absolut Penne: Vodka Sauce with Shrimp ($7)
Yes. Yes. Yes. Eat this. The pasta is cooked perfectly. The shrimp are generous. The sauce is light and has a perfect little kick to it. Sometimes it doesn't have to be out there inventive to be good. And when you're trying to represent a country with a dish, sometimes it pays to keep it simple and good. Japan's BLT sushi roll could learn a lesson from Italy this year. The spezzatino was excellent, but this penne was easily my favorite dish at the Italy booth.
- Cannoli al Cioccolato: Chocolate-covered Cannoli filled with Sweet Ricotta, Chocolate, and Candied Fruit ($4.25)
The candied fruit element in this delicious piece of heaven didn't click until I typed out the description just now. I'd forgotten about it while I was inhaling the cannoli itself – knowing only that I was eating something incredibly sweet and good that had a little kick of interesting going on in it somewhere. It's a sort of cannoli that has a fruitcake somewhere in its family tree several generations back. In a good way. The shell is also very substantial – it manages to tame the chocolate and ricotta fairly well so that the overall taste isn't “too much” the way that some cannolis are. There are a handful of desserts at F&W that I've personally liked more this year – the crème brûlée in France, the cheesecake in Hawaii, the cajeta mousse in Mexico… But at that point it just comes down to personal taste. If you want a cannoli, this is a very, very good one.