This is Part 2 of my report on the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic.
Click here to read Friday's Report (including the Wine Blending and Sake seminars).
Friday's rains continued through Saturday so it was announced fairly early in the day that the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic would take place Saturday evening in the Swan Ballroom. I must say, in some respects this actually was a fantastic venue. Would we have loved to be outside on a perfect night? You bet! But did the fact we were inside take away from the experience? No Way. The venue turned out to be perfect!
Most of the food and beverage booths were in the main ballroom but some were outside in the hallways. This was a good thing, as people flowed from one area to the other and back again. While there was a good crowd, I don't think any of us felt "crowded." The first two photos below are from the outer area and the last is of the ballroom.
Once again, we got into the spirit earlier by attending more seminars (scroll to the bottom for those reviews). When we arrived at the ballroom we walked around to get a lay of the land.
The beverage stations remained the same for both nights, but much of the food was different.
The Saturday night winner (in addition to the "can I stuff another lobster roll into my body") was Il Mulino's hand-cut tagliatelle pasta, braised lamb ragu (and I'm not a lamb lover) and pecorino romano. I had it before I knew it was lamb and I would never have guessed. This was outstanding and I believe it's on the regular menu at the restaurant.
Saturday's favorites included Kimonos Spicy Yellow Fin Tuna, the Cabana Bar's Crab Eggroll...
...the Garden Grove's Shrimp Po' Boy...
... Bluezoo's Heirloom Beet Salad...
... and I always enjoy a good falafel.
The only food I didn't care for was the Pork Belly from Cib's Smoke Shop -- way too fatty and greasy for my tastes. But others in my group thought it was awesome.
We got to sample lots of different wines and found some favorites, including a Robert Oatley Shiraz from Australia, a Beringer Merlot from California, Chandon Chardonnay and a couple others I neglected to note.
A stage had been set up for the entertainment. I neglected to mention in the previous blog that there was some dynamite entertainment this year. I remember last year the band was at the base of the Dolphin fountain. And while I recall them being very good, they were more background than anything else. We rarely wandered up and just listened to them. But this year, because we were inside, was much different.
The four groups this year were: The Groove Masters, The Current, The Beu Sisters......
... and the overwhelming crowd favorite, Four Divo.
These gentlemen were absolutely amazing. At one point during their set, it was as if the whole ballroom was up near the stage in silence listening to them. I had seen Il Divo in person a few years back and Four Divo are every bit as good! When "Unchained Melody" ended, the room erupted in shouts and applause. Many folks raised their wine glasses high in the air in appreciation (similar to the old days -- yes, I'm dating myself -- when we held up cigarette lighters!)
The evening ended all too soon, but a great time was had by all!
The clear food winner of the weekend was Todd English's Browned Butter Basted Lobster Roll. Many folks made multiple visits to this station both Friday and Saturday, plus there was the bonus of Chef English serving the rolls on Friday and mingling with the crowd on Saturday. He was friendly, approachable and happy to take photos with everyone who asked.
If there was a disappointment, it was the shining food star of the 2010 Food and Wine Classic, Shula's Steakhouse, which served filet of beef medallions. I had several and each was tender and tasty, they almost melted in your mouth. It was the talk of the 2010 Classic and everyone raved about it.
However this year, Shula's was the big disappointment and not just with me. Everyone in our group of 8 and most folks I spoke with felt a huge letdown. Both nights Shula's served Carved New York Strip. In addition to having too much gristle, the beef was tough. The seasoning on the outside of the steak was tasty, but the pleasure ended there. We tried again on Saturday night and it was the same thing.
Base to Bubbles
This seminar was presented by Olivier Zambaux, certified Sommelier and General Manager of Shula's Steakhouse.
At Base to Bubbles we learned the history of champagne including its five regions and the thre grape varietals typically used in its production. We enjoyed tasting each varietal: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. We then got to taste the champagnes that are brut, rose, and sweeter and learned what grapes and methods produce those. On the side we enjoyed three cheeses, slices of bread, water, a chocolate covered strawberry and French biscuit. We walked away with a better understanding of how champagne is produced, the history, and reinforced our preference of Brut.
The instructor for the wines from Spain seminar was Maria Marcano, Certified Sommelier and Catering Sales Manager. Maria was very passionate about Spanish wines, which shined throughout her presentation.
We learned the history of wine-making in Spain, as well as the five regions. We tasted five different wines, learned about the classifications of the wine, the major grapes and the terms for the age of the wines.
Maria also helped us decipher Spanish wine labels.
We were served two cheeses (one was manchego), Serrano ham-wrapped melon, bread, two small appetizer bites of potato.
We also had three small ramekins for scents: clove, anise, and mushroom. Maria encouraged us to take a whiff of the scents as we smelled and tasted the various wines. It really help define and put into words what we were experiencing. I'm a bit tempted to start experimenting with this on my own.
I came away with a better understanding of Spanish wines, a better understanding of what "earthy" means, and was surprised I enjoyed the Cava, a sparkling wine.
The real value of Spanish wines is that they are ready to drink now!
First, thank you to everyone who said hello to me during the event. It's always great to meet fans of AllEars.Net and even better to share great food and wine together!
My friends and I had an awesome time at the 2011 Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic. In fact, we made a "pact" for next year: "Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel."
I was happy to see an additional food table (Cib's), as my issue last year was that there was not enough food to balance all the wine. I realize I'm in the minority here.
My suggestion for 2012 is to have a gourmet cheese table with breads! This is the one thing I think is really missing from the experience.
Clearly the weather impacted the plans for the event, however, the Swan and Dolphin staff went right to Plan B and it worked. The staff kept the food supplied at the tables and were hustling all night to keep things cleaned and orderly. Kudos to them.
An area that could use improvement is communication. When we checked into the hotel a few days prior to the Classic, the front desk had the same public information we did and really couldn't answer any questions we had. An informative flyer (with the event map) to those who booked the package would have been a nice addition. A table was set up in the Swan lobby Friday and Saturday, but the folks there were not as informed as I had hoped. Also, there should have been maps available for those who had already purchased tickets instead of waiting until the event began to hand them out.
Also, on Saturday I stopped at the table to discuss a small issue I had on Friday. I asked for someone to call me (gave my cell) and was assured someone would, but I never received a phone call. I realize it was quite crazy for the team over the weekend, but a call even on Monday or Tuesday would have been nice.
I highly recommend attending the 2012 Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic. The seminars were great and the "causeway" experience wonderful. The $65 fee (note that the 2010 price was $50) for the unlimited food, wine and beverages PLUS live music is a great bargain, especially when you consider the quality of what you are getting. If the $65 (or whatever next year's price is) is too steep, at least visit one of the evenings, purchase a couple tickets and get a feel for the atmosphere. If you love food and wine, you'll want to return!
The seminars are well worth the $35. They were educational and fun, plus offered some wonderful wines/beverages to taste. I love going to tastings and seminars, no matter what level of audience they are geared toward. I always learn something new and get to taste wines I may not have had or desired to taste before. Sometimes you are surprised to find a wine you thought you wouldn't like but do!!
Check out the resort package for 2012 as well. This year's was a great buy, and how nice it was to just stroll back into the hotel to get to your room at the end of the evening!
I hope to see you there next year!
Please click on the comments link and share your thoughts about the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic.
Disclosure: There is none. I paid for everything myself -- and yes, I am still raving about how much fun it was and can't wait for the 2012 Classic!!