Today was opening day for the 2010 edition of Disney's California Food and Wine Festival. Wow...I'm not even sure where to begin!
I'll start with a little bit of a World of Color update, though. (For which there is still no official opening date, unfortunately!) The construction walls around the viewing area are finally down (came down last week), and when we arrived they were actually testing some of the fountains.
Here's a look at some of the viewing area, which is called Paradise Park.
And here's something you don't see every day - blue-suited Disney Divers!
But back to the Festival...
The Festival is certainly bigger than ever, with more events, more demos, more guest chefs, more merchandise and more food and wine offerings than ever before.
This year's theme is The Art of Flavor, and new banners are set up all over the park.
In past years it has been centered mostly in the Golden Vine Winery and Pacific Wharf areas, but this year, partly because of all of the construction going on, most of the activity takes place in Stage 12 of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot (now called the Festival Showplace), and in the Chef's Showcase Stage which is still in Sunshine Plaza.
The Festival Showplace is home to the Wine, Beer, and Spirits demos. I think it's going to be very nice to have those in an indoor area - in past years the wine and beer got much too warm sitting outside on a hot day. This area is also where the Sweet Sundays events will be held, again, much nicer in an area where you can control the elements and not worry about the wind blowing things over, or stray leaves falling into the food! (I had a leaf fall into my wine glass last year.)
The new Star Lounge is also located in the Festival Showplace. It offers Belgian beers, Festival wines and even some special cocktails.
The Wine "Seller" has a large selection of bottles of wines from wineries appearing at the Festival. In addition there's a larger selection of Festival merchandise than I've ever seen, with more of a variety. While browsing there we met All Ears reader Kimberly who had come all the way from American Samoa! Hello Kimberly!
I'll talk more about the Taste of California Marketplace later.
Also back in the Hollywood Backlot area is the Belgian Brewer's Collection and the area used for the Jr. Chef program.
The Wine and Beer Walks have moved from the Pacific Wharf area to the walkway between Grizzly Peak and "a bug's land".
I was able to interview Moises Carranza, the chef d'cuisine at the Blue Bayou (or the "world famous Blue Bayou", as he told me.)
And I also spoke to April Ventura, Sommelier at the Golden Vine Winery, about the soon-to-reopen Wine Country Trattoria restaurant.
For lunch, the Disney people gave us a $25 gift card (the same type of wrist card they have at Epcot's F&W Festival) that we could use at the Taste of California Marketplace. I'm SO glad this is back this year - last year they didn't offer it because of restaurant renovations that were going on at the time. This year it's in the new Festival Showplace, which used to be the Hollywood and Dine food court when DCA first opened, but has been closed for years. Anyway...they offer 10 different food items - we tried about 5 of them. (I will get a menu posted to the F&W page Real Soon.)
For fountain drinks, rather than the usual serve-yourself they had one of those new Freestyle Coca-Cola beverage dispensers that lets you pick from a couple of menus to customize your beverage.
First you pick a type of beverage, such as Coke Zero or Dasani Water, and then on the next menu you can pick a flavor to add to it.
Supposedly there's over 400 flavor combinations possible. There's more information on it on this Wikipedia page. It was fun to try it.
I think the consensus among the five of us dining together was that the Beer Battered Halibut was the most outstanding - it was featherlight and crispy. Really wonderful.
The Karl Strauss Pale Ale and Canadian White Cheddar Cheese Soup is back - always a Festival favorite. And this year I have the recipe for it - it was included in our press kit. I will be posting that.
More on other things we tried later.
We were able to attend Guy Fieri's cooking demo - which was VERY popular - people arrived at park opening and immediately got in line to get into it, even though the demo didn't start until 3:30!!! I'd really never seen him before, but he was very entertaining and well-spoken. He brought his 13-1/2 year-old son Hunter up on stage to help him out- and it was Hunter who actually did most of the cooking! They made Lemongrass Chicken and Green Papaya Slaw. Fieri is the host of the new show Minute to Win It, and actually brought three audience members up front to play the "Face the Cookie" game. One guy almost managed to do it before the time ran out.
He told us that he wasn't feeling well and was loaded up on Claritin-D and only operating at about half his normal energy level - if that was Guy Fieri at half-strength, wow...I think he'd be downright scary at full strength! :-)
Afterwards we had the opportunity for a short interview with him - we'll have more on that later.
As we were leaving the Chef's Showcase stage area, we saw a new group, The Jammin' Chefs, who were performing at the entrance to Sunshine Plaza. Percussion, tap dancing, and even getting audience members to participate in a game of Follow the Leader (drumstyle) and a conga line. Lots of fun to watch.
This year's Festival also features special menu items at most of the counter service restaurants around DCA, so we tried a combination of those for dinner.
First was the Southwest Pulled Pork Sandwich from Taste Pilot's Grill. This is pulled pork in chipotle bbq sauce with caramelized apples and onions on a toasted cornmeal bun. This was good, except that the apples and onions had a really odd flavor - tasted of something that wasn't apples and onions so we didn't enjoy it as much as we had expected to.
Next was the Thai Rice Spring Roll from the Lucky Fortune Cookery. Rice noodles with carrots, green onions, basil and red bell peppers wrapped in a rice paper wrapper and served with ginger sauce. Not bad, but a bit small for $3.99.
Last but not least was the Anaheim Chile Relleno from Cocina Cucamonga. Battered Anaheim chiles stuffed with cheese and covered in Ranchero sauce. Served with rice and beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. I thought the sauce was overwhelming on this - it was a little too spicy, and I couldn't taste the chile relleno until I scraped the sauce off. Other than that I really enjoyed it.
We also did the California Classics Wine Walk. This was quite popular - it was pretty crowded when we went in. For $10 each we were able to sample four different wines out of the 12 that were available. I have to say that I was really impressed - I really enjoyed all of the wines that I tried, and Lee did, too. Between the two of us we tried 7 of the 12 - we both had the Tobin James Zinfandel, which was awesome.
There we met All Ears reader Yvonne from Florida, and her friends whose names I didn't catch. They were out visiting the California parks for the first time - though compared to Epcot's Food and Wine Festival they were a bit underwhelmed by the one here. And I understand that - there's not the variety of foods here - it's more about the events than "eating around the park".
A couple of special treats tonight after we returned to our room - we were able to see Disney's Electrical Parade (soon to be on its way to Florida) from our room - sort of. With all of the construction walls that are between us and the parade route we could really only see the taller floats.
And even more exciting - we were able to see a run-through of the World of Color show, which they did about an hour after the park closed. Video of that will be posted soon, if it hasn't been already. It was pretty cool - we were off to the side and couldn't see the projections on the mist screens at all, but the fountains themselves were pretty amazing!
It was a great day!
The previous post in this blog was An Au Revoir to Jewel of Orleans in DIsneyland.
The next post in this blog is World of Color Full Run-Through April 16, 2010.