It's Back! The 2016 Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival
A long time ago, in a theme park not so far away....there was a Food and Wine Festival. It wasn't the biggest one around, but it experienced steady growth over the years, and every year there were even more interesting events and unique experiences. Its faithful fans loved it, and looked forward to it each spring.
And then came construction. And the Festival went on hiatus.
Construction ended, and the theme park was re-dedicated. And guests started asking: "When will the Food and Wine Festival return?" But the question went unanswered.
Several years passed. Guests asked: "WILL the Food and Wine Festival return?" But the question still went unanswered.
Until February 15, 2016. When there was an entry on the Disney Parks blog announcing that the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival would be held on weekends from April 1 to May 1. The announcement was very brief, with few details: there would be Festival Marketplaces serving food and beverages, there would be "culinary demonstrations, appearances by celebrity chefs and informative seminars", and there would be some "premium experiences" which could be reserved.
Much excitement and celebration ensued - ok, maybe that was just me. :-) No, really, there were a lot of other people equally as enthused, though I think we were all a little puzzled that there was so little information available when the opening date wasn't very far away!
Some additional details emerged over the next month. Reservations opened for the Beverage Seminars ($15/person) and the Celebrity Kitchen featuring a star lineup of chefs ($99/person, with an Annual Passholder VIP experience offered for $149). And my mouth watered when I read about some of the menu items that would be available at the Festival Marketplaces.
Then we waited for April 1 to arrive...
Upon arriving at DCA that morning, I was a little surprised to see that there was no banner across the park entrance, nor on Buena Vista Street, advertising the Festival. However, there was a nice fold-out Festival brochure available at the turnstiles as we entered. I thought it interesting that the brochure contained a schedule only for the first weekend, and not for the entire Festival. (Click on the map image below to see the full-sized version.)
The first sight of the Festival is the Festival Marketplaces. There are eight of them, and they are placed along the parade route between the Carthay Circle Theater and the entrance to Paradise Pier. This is a big change from previous Food and Wine Festivals, where all of the food items had to be sold out of existing restaurant spaces. These new Marketplaces made it feel much more like what we're used to at Epcot. I thought it also made the Festival experience much more central to the park - we didn't have to seek food items out (and previously they were sometimes in very out-of-the-way areas) like we did in the past.
The booths were not highly decorated (we found out later that they were built on pretty short notice), but I thought they made a good attempt to fit in with the Golden Vine Winery area.
One very nice thing: they all had eating areas attached to them. There were counters with lattice-type roofs over them to provide some shade. In addition there were tables as well as wine barrels that could be used as places to set your food down.
The Pixar Play Parade is on hiatus during the Festival - the food booths take up too much space along the parade route. It makes the area feel more crowded than it really is.
We had a short conversation with Jim Ames, Show Producer for the Festival. As you might imagine, he was quite busy on Friday. :-) The reason that there wasn't much advance notice on the Festival is that the decision to hold the Festival was made on December 31, 2015! The decision was also made to focus on the Festival Marketplaces this year. Those individual food kiosks are something quite new to us, since California food handling laws are quite different than those in Florida. This time Disney was able to work with the people who regulate such things to get permission to build and run them. One of the considerations which is not an issue in Florida is earthquake safety - Jim told us that they are all have bolts that go 1-1/2 feet into the ground! So if they come back next year they will be in exactly the same places.
Considering the very short timetable I'm pretty surprised they were able to put as much together as they did. A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people.
But back to the Festival overview...
The rest of the Festival events take place in Hollywood Land and in the Golden Vine Winery area. The Sonoma Terrace at the Golden Vine Winery hosts the Beverage Seminars. There are three each day on Fridays and four each day on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the sessions are wine tasting with a featured winery, but at least one each day involves beer tasting or spirits such as vodka, whiskey, or tequila. These sessions are $15/person, plus tax and gratuity, and must be booked in advance. There is still limited availability. Reservations can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance, so it's possible there could be some last-minute openings.
The Blue Sky Cellar is hosting an Annual Passholder Lounge during the Festival. Each weekend a different button and recipe card will be available to Passholders. This week the recipe was for fried artichokes.
There are tables inside where passholders can charge phones, etc. Passholders can also sit in the viewing area and watch the Seasons of the Vine movie, which played in the cellar when DCA originally opened in 2001.
The remaining Festival events are held in Hollywood Land.
Stage 17 in Hollywood Land is where the Celebrity Kitchen events take place. There are two sessions on most Saturdays. Participants receive food tastings, and there's featured wine pairings for those 21 and older. Following the presentation is an autograph session. The scheduled chefs are:
-- Robert Irvine (Restaurant Impossible)
-- Andrew Sutton (Disneyland Resort Executive Chef)
-- Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives)
-- Keegan Gerhard (Food Network Challenge) and Hayden Wood (“Flair” Bartender)
-- G. Garvin (Road Trip with G. Garvin)
-- Graham Elliot (MasterChef)
As I mentioned earlier, the price is $99, or $149 for the Annual Passholder VIP experience. Plus tax and gratuity. Cancellations must take place at least 72 hours in advance to be refunded.
A new event was just announced on the Festival's opening day: A Conversation with Kurt Russell. During this 90-minute Q&A session Kurt Russell will talk about his experiences as a wine maker. Wine tasting will be included. This event will be held in Stage 17 on April 16. Reservations can only be made by calling 714-781-DINE. The price is $199/person plus tax and gratuity.
Also in Hollywood Land, the Culinary Demonstrations and Lifestyle Seminars take place in the backlot area. The Culinary Demonstrations are held on the Backlot Stage, where a demonstration kitchen has been set up. This is a free event but it is a demonstration only - no tastings will be served. There is some seating available on benches, and there is standing room at the back. (The web site and the Festival Guide both say that the Culinary and Lifestyle demos are standing room only, but that was not the case on opening day.)
The Lifestyle Seminars take place on the stage most recently occupied by the Mad T Party band. These are more of a mixed bag: presentations on topics like gardening, wellness, and entertaining, but also live demonstrations by featured artists. This area also has some bench seating available, but most of the viewing area is standing room only.
Festival merchandise is available at The Studio Store in Hollywood Land, just outside Stage 17.
There were several different t-shirts, including an AP-exclusive shirt, as well as hats, wine glasses, and other event merchandise.
These combination plate and glass holders were popular items.
It was opening day, and there were some opening day hiccups. The biggest issue seemed to be with point-of-sale terminals that weren't working, resulting in long lines at most of the food booths in the beginning. Most of the booths had only one working register - and sometimes it wasn't working. That situation improved as the day went on - by late afternoon the lines were short/non-existent. There were also some supply issues - they either ran out of a couple of Marketplace items before the day was over, or had to tell guests that it would be a 15-20 minute wait until they had more. That was frustrating.
Still, people were excited - lots of people there who were fans of the previous Festivals. But we saw lots of young people, too, who would have been too young to drink five years ago when the last Festival took place. :-)
And now I'm sure you're asking: "So what about the food???"
There were only two of us, but we attempted to sample a variety of items. We were hampered in the beginning because of the long lines, but eventually we just couldn't eat any more. Overall I thought the food was good. Nothing that I'm going to rave that "you've got to try this!", though there were several items I'd recommend because I thought they were interesting. I'm looking forward to trying additional items on future visits. I felt the portion sizes and prices were in-line with what you see at the Epcot F&W Festival.
We started at the Gold Rush booth, where we tried all three food items plus a glass of wine. First up was Triple Cheese Mac with smoked chicken, Fontina, cheddar, and Gouda cheeses. This may have been our favorite item of the day. It was a good-sized portion for $6.00, and the mix of cheeses and smoked chicken was very tasty. The crunchy bits on top added some nice texture.
Next was the Artichoke Chips with Spicy Aioli for $5.00. This was not what I was expecting, but it was good. I was expecting the artichokes to be crisp like a chip, but they weren't. I think they had a bit of a Parmesan crust, which was crunchy.
The dessert was Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie with maple cream cheese icing and bacon brittle for $3.75. I was really not sure what this was going to be - but it was really very good! This would be one of those "I recommend you try it" things. It did not taste bacony to me - I wouldn't have known the bits on top were bacon. The apple-cream cheese filling was really good. Maybe too sweet for some people, though.
I also tried the glass of Zaca Mesa Viognier for $5.00. I like white wines, and this was nice and refreshing. Not as dry as a Sauvignon Blanc, but not as sweet as a Riesling. In between.
Lee wanted to try the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, but that was one of the things that was unavailable.
By the way, those eating areas attached to the booths that I mentioned earlier? Brilliant. Even though the booths were busy, we never had a problem finding a place to set our food down so that we could eat.
Next we visited The Farm. Lee tried the Tenderloin Slider with chimichurri. At $7.75 this was one of the most expensive Marketplace items. He said that it was very good.
I tried the Golden Thai Vegetable Curry with jasmine rice for $5.75. This was a pretty generous serving but the vegetables were mostly red peppers and mushrooms, two things that I don't like. The curry sauce was good - a little bit of heat, but not too bad. Tasted good on the rice.
Lee tried the Southern California Beer Flight from The Brewhouse for $12.25. It was supposed to include Hanger 24's Orange Wheat, Karl Strauss Columbia Street Amber, Bootlegger's Brewery Palomino Pale Ale, and Barley Forge's "The Patsy" Coconut Rye Stout. But no Columbia Street Amber, so they substituted something else. The Coconut Rye Stout was really good - definitely could taste the coconut.
By the Bay is appropriately named, as it's the last Marketplace and closest to Paradise Pier. We tried all of the food items here, also, though it took us two visits, because they were out of the Chilled Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail the first time. (And on the second visit I got the next to last one!) It was good, but again not what I expected - instead of cocktail sauce, it was more like gazpacho. And a gazpacho that was very heavy on the cucumber, which I don't like. This one was $8.00. For the amount of shrimp in it, that's probably a reasonable price, as long as you like the cucumber in the sauce.
The winner here was the White Cheddar Ale and Bacon Soup served in a Boudin sourdough mini-boule for $5.50. The soup was really good, though it was a very small serving. But the mini-boule was crunchy and chewy and filling and all of those things that good sourdough bread should be.
We also tried the dessert: Coconut Tapioca layered with fresh mango and lychee boba, topped with green tea micro sponge and mango-couli sesame tuile. What, you might ask, is green tea micro sponge? I wondered that too. It really was an airy spongey thing. Edible, but weird texture and flavor. The tapioca and fruit and boba were interesting, but not really my thing, and $4.25 seemed too pricey. Though given all the layers, there was a fair bit of work assembling this.
At the Wine Country Marketplace Lee tried the other $8.00 Festival item: Zinfandel-Braised Wagyu Beef with creamy polenta and spring pea puree. He said the Tenderloin Slider was a lot better.
To pay for our more expensive Festival items we used our Festival Marketplace Tasting Passport. These are available for purchase by Annual Passholders. Each passport comes on a lanyard and has 6 detachable tabs. Each can be exchanged for one food item at any of the Marketplaces. Food items only, no beer or wine. The Marketplace menus are listed on the back of the passport, which is handy. The passport costs $45. So if you use it for food items that cost $7.50 or above (and there's only three of those) you'll come out ahead. Otherwise, there's no savings at all.
One thing I didn't mention before: in addition to the Festival Marketplaces, there were also special Festival-Inspired Menus available at some of the restaurants. We tried the Shredded Pork Tostadas from Cocina Cucamonga. This was the standout item of the day. Plenty of shredded pork, topped with grilled pineapple slaw and chipotle crema, and served with Mexican rice, gucamole, sour cream, and salsa fresca. This is a full-sized entree, and was $13.49. It was served on two tortillas, which looked like they were made of a mix of blue corn and yellow corn - very interesting color. We could've shared this, and then gotten something else later.
Here is the list of the other participating restaurants, and their menu items:
I haven't yet talked about the Beverage Seminar and Culinary Demonstrations that we attended, but this is enough for now. Overall it was a good first day. I'm looking forward to going back again next weekend.