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June 3, 2011

Sanaa Surprises at Kidani Village

by John Bowers
AllEars Guest Blogger

The Kidani Village is sort of 'off the beaten path' at Disney World. It doesn't have a
real big, real grand lobby like many of the other resort hotels do, which is probably
why it draws fewer people just wanting to sight-see, eat, and shop.

But it certainly has the Animal Kingdom feel to it, with a large outdoor area to watch the giraffes and all the other animals that roam freely. And Sanaa is a terrific place to dine for lunch and dinner, if you have a somewhat adventurous side to your palate. And if you're actually eager to try new things, you'll be starry-eyed.

I had dinner at Sanaa with a friend of mine a few nights ago. In restaurants like this, I think it's always fun to tell the server to make suggestions based on how adventurous you are. I sometimes just say "I don't care, surprise me. The weirder the better." Of course you're not going to get something Andrew Zimmern might eat on 'Bizarre Foods,' so there's not too much to really worry about. And it's only one meal, it's not like you're going to have to dine there for days on end. So taking a chance can be fun.

I was new to Sanaa, my friend had dined there on previous occasions. She led the way
ordering. We started with the bread selection. We had three flatbreads: Naan, Paneer Paratha and Papadum. To go along with the breads we had Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus, Tamarind Chutney and Cucumber Raita. Delicious, all of it. Don't overdose on the bread, though, because you get a lot of it.

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Our appetizer was the sampler for two, which included Potato and Pea Samosas, Pulled Duck with Red Curry Sauce, and Roasted Cauliflower. The cauliflower was tongue-tingling spicy.


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For our wine selection, my friend pointed out the Spice Route Chakalaka from South Africa. It's a blend of about five red grapes, and it was sensational. Hearty and with plenty of spicy
flavors. $57, I think, on the wine list. It retails for about $20.

My friend had the Coconut-Curry Lamb and Spicy Durban Chicken with Basmati Rice. The coconut flavor was very faint, she would have liked a little more. I had the Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce and the Spicy Durban Shrimp. Being a Florida boy, I find it hard to pass up shrimp. And if I have a shrimp or two left over, I take it home to my four cats. Being Florida cats, they too find it hard to pass up shrimp.


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For dessert we split a slice of Orange-Sesame Cake with Tropical Fruit Kulfi. Even two people on one piece of cake was tough, we had had so much food. It was fabulous.


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I've been visiting Disney World since it opened in the fall of 1971. I was in high school in Jacksonville Beach at the time. Friends of mine and I would drive down to Orlando during the winter/spring of 1972. I think we even forced ourselves to miss school one day to drive down on a weekday.

There was only the Magic Kingdom at the time, of course. And trying to think back, I can recall that there was very little in the way of food variety. We'd get a cheeseburger and fries at the Tomorrowland Terrace for lunch. Dinner? We'd go back up I-4 and eat at the Red Lobster on Lee Road on the way home.

I could never imagine that almost 40 years later I would live in Orlando and be able to eat
the amazing variety of food that you can find now at Disney World. What a treat. Give Sanaa
a try if you have the chance. You only go around once, you know.


Sanaa Lunch Menu

Sanaa Dinner Menu

Read what others think about Sanaa and post your review!


June 11, 2011

Tables in Wonderland IllumiNations Dessert Party

by John Bowers
Guest Blogger

Tables in Wonderland hosted an "Illuminations Dessert Party" on Saturday, May 28, 2011 at Epcot. The cost was $50, which did not include park admission. However, if you arrived at Epcot at 7 p.m. or later, a Convention Guide was near Guest Relations to allow you into the park without purchasing a ticket.

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The event was to have been held outdoors. There's a terraced area in front of the France pavilion, sort of beside the bridge that leads from France to England. But the concern over the possibility of rain moved the party indoors, into the American Adventure. It was held in the rotunda, where the Voices of Liberty group sings. That was a great place to have it. Air-conditioned, plenty of room, and you could take time to read all the inspirational notes that are on the walls, celebrating the American spirit of adventure and liberty. That space gives you a wonderful sense of patriotic pride, which is really nice.

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Here's the menu:

Mini Pastry Display Station
Pistachio Cannoli
Strawberry Rhubarb Tart
Kiwi Mandarin Orange Tart
Assorted Chocolate Truffles


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Kid in You Station
Chocolate Fudge Brownie
Mickey Crispy Treats
Oreo Cheesecake Pushups
Chocolate Chip Cookies


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Fire and Ice Action Station
Warm Apple Custard Crumble with Caramel Gelato
Tropical Fruit Crème Brulee with Rum Gelato

Beer, Wine, and Cordials

There were about 13 tables set up for eight people each. The dessert stations, plus the coffee and tea setups, and the champagne and beer/wine setups, were around the outside of the room, with the tables more or less in the middle.

All I can say is if you have a sweet tooth, this was pretty close to Heaven.

It was a 'help yourself and eat all you can' event. If you wanted to try everything, you had to only take a very small amount of each one, because there were so many different goodies. Everyone seemed to get full pretty quickly, probably since most of us had already dinner somewhere else.

The Disney pastry staff never fails to 'wow' you with their amazing creations. I especially enjoyed the Pistachio Cannolis, and the Apple Custard Crumble. I didn't get to try everything, but I heard several people swooning over the Oreo Cheesecake Pushups (in the photo below on the right). Now my stomach is growling as I'm typing.


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About 10 minutes before 9 p.m., we were led out to the area in front of Italy, which is similar to the terraced area near France. It extends out a little ways into the World Showcase Lagoon, and it had been roped off for our private group. We were able to get a 'front row' seat for the nightly spectacular 'IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.'

Illuminations lasts about 15 minutes, so we were finished at 9:15.

Very nice party. Disney always seems to put quite a bit of thought and effort into these events. They often are not exactly inexpensive, but I very rarely feel like any of them are unreasonably priced, considering the number of people who show up and the quality of the food and drink. Whenever you talk to fellow attendees, everyone seems to being enjoying themselves. Disney consistently has a way of making you feel very special. If you've been to enough events, you know what I'm talking about.


June 15, 2011

Dining on the Boardwalk at Big River Grille

Andrew Rossi

One of my favorite locations in all of Disney World is the Boardwalk Resort. In terms of its picturesque location, charming atmosphere, and beautiful theming, the Boardwalk is the perfect spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.

By day, the Boardwalk is a great place to take a leisurely stroll or enjoy a relaxing bike ride along the shores of Crescent Lake. By night, the area comes alive with various entertainers performing magical acts and comedy routines. The Boardwalk's atmosphere is enhanced by its numerous food offerings ranging from carts selling classic seashore favorites like corndogs, funnel cakes, and fried ice cream to the Boardwalk Bakery that offers some of the best pastries and desserts in all of Disney World.

The Boardwalk also includes an impressive lineup of sit-down dining locations that includes Kat Kora's Kouzzina which features a menu inspired by the Iron Chef's Greek heritage, the signature Flying Fish Café that showcases exquisite gourmet seafood dishes, and the ESPN Club which is the ultimate bar and restaurant for any sports fan featuring hundreds of televisions, walls jam-packed with sports memorabilia, and kicked-up versions of classic ballpark cuisine. One restaurant on the Boardwalk that tends to get overlooked in relation to these other three is the Big River Grille and Brewing Works, but despite its lesser-known stature it can certainly hold its own with the other Boardwalk dining options.

Big River Grille Signage

Overview:
While the name Big River Grille might not be familiar to many Disney guests it is actually a chain. Although, the one at the Boardwalk is the restaurant's only location outside of Tennessee, with two locations in Chattanooga and one in Nashville. Big River Grille was inspired by the great river boats of the 1800's that sailed the waters of the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers and brought fresh goods to the cities along their banks. The location of the first Big River Grille in Chattanooga is actually an old trolley barn just a short walk from a landing on the Tennessee River where fresh grains and produce were offloaded to be brought to local mills, markets, and breweries.

One of the things that makes Big River Grille so unique is that not only is it a restaurant, but it is also a working brewery that produces a variety of different beers. Some of their in-house brews (available to order individually or in a flight) include the colorfully named Southern Flyer Light Lager, Gadzooks Pilsner, Steamboat Pale Ale, and Rocket Red Ale. Even more interesting than the names is that you can actually witness the beer being produced first-hand at the restaurant. Big River Grille is open for both lunch and dinner and it should be noted that they do not accept reservations. While most guests tend to eat at the theme parks rather than the resorts during the day it is typically not difficult to get a table for lunch, but be prepared for a little bit of a wait if going for dinner.

Atmosphere:
The Big River Grille is not the largest of restaurants, but it does offer three distinct dining areas. First is the main dining room, which has a casual, relaxed feel. The décor is minimalist, simple, and streamlined, featuring very little decoration and detail. I felt the dining room had a somewhat geometric feel, enhanced by the modern art adorning the walls and the interesting design of the ceiling.

Modern Art

Ceiling

The atmosphere's greatest asset is the restaurant's large windows that offer great views onto the Boardwalk and let in plenty of natural light, giving the smaller space a more open, airy feel.

Dining Room Seating

The dining room's smaller size does give it a more intimate feel, but I felt the tables were positioned a little too close together. Also, the kitchen is separated from the dining room by a just a half wall. My table was located right by the entrance to the kitchen and it was very easy to hear orders being placed and the clanging of pots and pans.

Another seating option is to dine al fresco. Big River Grille may not have the largest indoor dining space, but it does offer ample outdoor seating. While this may not be the most appealing option during the hot, humid days of summer, at night this becomes a very desirable dining location with the cooler temperatures and light breeze coming off the water. The outdoor seating area offers stunning views of Crescent Lake and, especially at night, is a great place to people watch and absorb the vibrant atmosphere of the Boardwalk.

Boardwalk Seating

The final dining area at Big River Grille is the bar. It is this area that I felt really defines the restaurant best and the area I will definitely request to sit in whenever I dine here again. Big River Grille is an actual working brewery and it is in the bar area that you can witness first-hand the beers you are drinking being produced. The glass walls of the bar reveal the large machinery used in the various stages of the beer-making process and each section is labeled to explain what is actually taking place, starting with the milling room, moving to the brewhouse, and then to fermentation. This helps to give the bar area a much more lively and active atmosphere than the rest of the restaurant.

Beer Milling Room

Brewhouse

Beer Fermentation

Bar

The bar area also has a more open feel than the main dining room, with the tables positioned less closely to one another. The bar area really helps make dining at Big River Grille a more unique dining experience (especially when the beer is being brewed), whereas the main dining room felt much more generic. If you are going to eat here I would definitely suggest requesting a table in this area.

The Menu:
The Big River Grille is a restaurant that prides itself on its hand crafted beer and "made-from-scratch" regional cuisine that provides a perfect complement to the varieties of beer that they have available. The menu may not be the most elaborate nor the most gourmet, but it features a wide selection of offerings that pair well with the relaxed, laid-back feel of the restaurant.

The menu begins with several appetizer offerings that are great for sharing with large groups. There is a Jalapeno Spinach Cheese Dip ($9.50) that comes served hot with tortilla chips, an Asiago Artichoke & Crab Dip ($12.50) accompanied by pita chips, a Chicken Quesadilla ($9.99) with grilled chicken, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese, and Beef or Chicken Nachos ($11.99) loaded with pepper jack cheese, sliced jalapenos, and topped with pica de gallo and sour cream. While I did not order the nachos myself I did notice many other tables getting it and the serving size looked absolutely huge. This is definitely something I want to try the next time I go back.

For entrees, the menu features a plethora of sandwiches and salads. The California Chicken Sandwich ($10.50) is topped with Swiss cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing. There is also the Blackened Mahi Mahi Sandwich ($13.50) with a chipotle mayonnaise, the Honey Dijon Chicken Sandwich ($10.99) topped with crispy smoked bacon strips and Swiss cheese, the Blue Ridge Pork Sandwich ($9.50), as well as a trio of burgers: the Big Brew Cheeseburger ($10.99), the Mushroom Cheeseburger ($11.99), and the Hickory Bacon Burger ($11.99) with smoked cheddar cheese, bacon, and sweet magnolia barbecue sauce.

On the lighter side, the salad choices include a Grilled Chicken Cashew Salad ($12.99) served on a bed of mixed greens with artichoke hearts, feta cheese, tomatoes and cashews, with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, a Grilled Salmon Caesar ($12.99), and a Grilled Chicken Caesar ($11.99).

If you are looking for something a little more than just a sandwich or salad, there are many other choices available including many traditional favorites. If you are in the mood for pasta there is the Chicken Alfredo ($15.99) or the Shrimp & Scallop Penne Pasta ($22.99) served with a pesto cream sauce. From the grill there is the Signature Ribeye ($25.99) or the New York Strip ($22.50). The menu also features Rocket Red Ribs ($22.50), dry-rubbed, slow-cooked, and basted with Rocket Red Barbecue sauce, the Flame-Grilled Meatloaf ($15.50) made with ground beef and Italian pork sausage and topped with rich, brown gravy, as well as Atlantic Salmon ($22.50) topped with dill butter.

For my meal I started with a cup of the Beer Cheese Soup ($4.50). I was very interested to see how this compared with the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup from Le Cellier, which I have always said is one of my favorite things to eat in all of Disney World. The Beer Cheese Soup from Big River Grille was good, but nowhere close to being on the level of Le Cellier's soup. Whereas Le Cellier's has a stronger cheese flavor and just a hint of beer to give it a little kick, the soup at Big River Grille had a much more distinct beer flavor.

Beer Cheese Soup

That being said, the soup at Big River Grille was still very rich and creamy. It was also very filling. I was glad that I ordered just a cup of the soup rather than a bowl because I might not have otherwise had room for the rest of my meal. It may not be the same high quality of Le Cellier's Cheddar Cheese Soup, but it is definitely a viable alternative if you have a craving for it and are not able to get reservations there.

For my entrée I decided on a dish that stood out as something unique among the otherwise straightforward and traditional offerings on the menu. When I ordered the Hazelnut Crusted Chicken ($16.50) I was a little skeptical because I have never heard of this combination before, but my curiosity and intrigue got the better of me and I am glad that they did. The combination of chicken and hazelnut was surprisingly good. Not only did the hazelnut crust give the chicken a very unique texture, but it also complimented the flavor of the chicken rather than being overpowering.

Hazelnut Chicken

Overall, this was actually a very light tasting dish, much more so than chicken coated in just regular breadcrumbs. My only complaint was that it was a little dry. The chicken came topped with a sun-dried cherry sauce, which I was surprised was actually more brownish in color than red. I am not usually a fan of cherries, but this sauce was delicious; the chicken and hazelnut actually would have been a little bland without it. The sauce added just enough sweetness to the dish without being too overpowering. I wish there had been more of the sauce served on top of the chicken.

The chicken also came accompanied by mashed potatoes, which paired well with the chicken and were especially good with some of the cherry sauce on top, as well as a mixture of vegetables including green beans, carrots, peppers, and squash. The vegetables were probably the most disappointing aspect of the meal as they were just steamed and had no real flavor. Overall, this was a very original dish that offered a unique combination of flavors and textures. I would certainly order it again, but would make sure to request additional cherry sauce on top or on the side.

Service:
This was the area in which I was most disappointed with the restaurant. Big River Grille is owned and operated by an outside company, not Disney, so the service was not quite on the same level as you would receive at other restaurants across Disney World. After being seated at my table it took a very long time for my server to come over and greet me. There was really no excuse for this because the restaurant was not very crowded at all.

I ordered my soup and entrée at the same time and then I waited a very long time until the soup was brought out. I actually think my server forgot to put in the order for the soup because it was not brought to me until I reminded my server about it. Then, just after I began enjoying my soup, my entrée was brought out. This is one of my biggest pet peeves when dining out and I was very disappointed. My server was apologetic and redeemed himself a little by taking the soup off the bill.

The overall feel of the restaurant is very laid-back and relaxed, and the service matched the atmosphere in that regard, but a little too much so. If you are looking for a quick meal, then this is not necessarily the restaurant for you. It may be that the service I received was a fluke and I am certainly not going to use it as an excuse to condemn all the servers at the restaurant (and neither am I going to use it as a reason for not going back to dine here again).

Dining on a Budget:
If you are looking for a good sit-down meal at an affordable price, then the Big River Grille is a great option. With most of the sandwiches in the $10 to $12 price range, there are a wide variety of economical options available on the menu. Even if you are not in the mood for a sandwich and want something a little more substantial there are still many affordable alternatives. The Grilled Salmon Caesar for $12.99, Chicken Alfredo for $15.99, and Flame-Grilled Meatloaf for $15.50 are all reasonably priced selections. Even my meal, the Hazelnut Crusted Chicken, for $16.50 is a good value in terms of both quality and portion size.

My suggestion, if you really wanted to save money, would be to sit at the bar an order a couple of appetizers to split as a group for your meal. The Spinach Cheese Dip for $9.50, Asiago Artichoke & Crab Dip for $12.50, and Beef or Chicken Nachos for $11.99 are great for sharing and would make for a very affordable meal shared amongst family or friends.

The Overall Experience:
While the Big River Grille & Brewing Works might not be among my favorite restaurants in Disney World, I would certainly dine there again. I always like to tell people that I have yet to have a bad meal at Disney. While there are certainly some restaurants that are better than others, I have never left a restaurant at Disney World saying "That was terrible. I am never going to eat there again."

If you are looking for a quiet, relaxing lunch away from the crowds of the theme parks then Big River Grille is a great option; I was able to walk in, without a reservation, and get seated immediately. If you are staying at the Boardwalk Resort the restaurant is definitely worth a try. In addition, it is just a short walk from Epcot so it is a possible alternative if you are unable to get into a restaurant inside the park. Also, if you are a connoisseur of beer (which I confess I am not) the restaurant offers a variety of freshly-brewed beers that cannot be found anywhere else in Disney World.

Big River Grille might not be as well-known as many other restaurants at Disney World (or even the other restaurants along the Boardwalk), but it still offers a tasty, affordable, relaxing meal, making it a good restaurant to try if you are looking for something different or new.

Check out Reader Reviews of Big River Grille and post your own too!

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About June 2011

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in June 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2011 is the previous archive.

July 2011 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.