Sunday, October 28, 2007

WDW - Race for the Taste trip - Day 2

Friday, October 5, 2007 – EPCOT

After stuffing ourselves silly at the Brown Derby last night, I was feeling guilty for not having run or walk for the past 2 days so I got up at 8 am to go for a run around CBR. It was like running with a wet blanket on and getting drizzled on didn’t really help. Yuck. I did make pretty good time but was starting to tire after only 3 miles. It wasn’t looking very pretty for the 10K on Sunday morning. I’m going to have to start off a lot slower and not worry about my pace (which was under 9:30 for my first mile this morning). I was amazed to see about 15 golf carts filled with what looked like CBR mousekeeping staff go by dropping off staff at each village. The walking path around CBR was a bit congested with the distance from our building all the way around to the first village being about 1.4 miles.

After showering, DH and I left for EPCOT at about 9:30 for our first Food and Wine festival event scheduled for 10:30 am. Now, on the map, EPCOT looks like it’s just practically right across the street from CBR but it still took over 10 minutes to get there. It’s just amazing to me how massive the Disney World Resort is.

We got to EPCOT and headed first to get Fastpasses for Soarin’ after stopping to take some pictures in front of Spaceship Earth which was closed for rehab.

We then walked around toward the Odyssey and as we started to cross the middle bridge (which is actually a bit hidden behind a wall), I stopped to take a picture.

What I didn’t notice as I took that picture was the small crowd on the bridge. As we walked up, the crowd had moved on and I approached the 3 CMs standing there assuming they were checking people in for the F&W event. We then realized that this was the Dream Team!! We were presented with EPCOT Dream FastPasses and I was so excited and happy that I hugged each CM. I had only yesterday commented to DH that during our 10 day December trip, we never even saw the Dream Team and had no idea what they looked like! I was SO happy that we actually won! It felt so special.

We walked along to the right and found the Chef’s Showplace but nobody was waiting outside. It was after 10 am. I was a little worried because the schedule posted outside did not list our event.

We then walked back along the Odyssey in the other direction and found the line for the event we were scheduled for: the Cook, the Book, and the Bottle. There are 2 entrances to the Odyssey each with their own schedule of events which I thought was odd because the doors both led to the same place – just on opposite sides. We joined the line and checked in with the CM.

It started to rain at about 10:35 and we still hadn’t been let in yet. There were 23 people in line that I counted. We were finally allowed to enter the building and were each handed a F&W festival bag with a signed copy of the chef’s cook book, Nirmala’s Kitchen (hardback) and a bottle of wine. It was a little bad planning, I guess, but we ended up hauling these bags around for the rest of the day until we got back to our resort.

The room was very large but there were only 4 round tables set up with a raised stage and video screens on each side of the stage.

The tables were nicely arranged and each place setting had a stapled guide which listed the event, the menu and wines that we would be tasting, and then the recipes for each of the items we would be sampling. As others had commented on in previous reviews, the table was large enough to sit 10 but was only set up for 6 so that nobody would be sitting with their backs towards the stage.

The hostess for the event , Pam Smith, welcomed us and did a great job chatting with the cook and the rep from the vineyard and even gently prompted them to explain things in more detail and to remember to add ingredients to the dishes.

Pam first introduced a representative from the Bodegas Salentein winery in Argentina, Dennis Koelewigne (pronounced “Cool wine” Pam pointed out), who showed us some slides of the winery with snow-capped mountains in the background and explained the wines that we would be tasting this morning.

We were then shown a brief video about Nirmala Narine, our guest chef from Long Island, New York. Nirmala was born in Guyana and grew up cooking at the age of 6 with no running water or electricity. She mentioned her grandfather who was an Ayurvedic scholar. The video was nicely done and showed Nirmala to be a very outgoing person who likes to laugh. Pam then introduced Nirmala who told many stories about cooking in her youth. The morning was very relaxed and I did not feel that the participants were in the least bit rushed.

Nirmala likes to travel and commented many times on her visits to orphanages and working with children although she didn’t beat around the bush about not wanting to have her own kids (“yuck” she said, lol). She commented that when she left her hotel room this trip, there were SO MANY kids around! Pam didn’t miss a beat and replied “Yeah, Disney likes that” to which the audience chuckled.

We were first served a glass of Trang Lemongrass Iced Tea and then watched as Nirmala prepared this simple drink.

She gave us some tips about using lemongrass and passed around a stalk of lemongrass for us to touch and smell. The tea was not very sweet and the taste was very subtle. I would have liked a slightly sweeter tea and probably would have sprinkled a packet of Splenda in the tea if there were any on the table.

Next, Nirmala made the Spicy Almonds with Coconut and Honey. She used unsweetened shredded coconut and toasted it which smelled wonderful. She pointed out that instead of honey, agave nectar could be used which is an alternative sweetener and is better for diabetics. She does have a website where spices and agave nectar can be purchased and mentioned that the Disney F&W Festival Welcome Center also had some of her products. This dish was also simple and straight forward to prepare. We were served a very large portion of this dish just as Nirmala was finishing her cooking.

An audience member suggested using pumpkin seeds and Nirmala also suggested using cashews. Even DH, who doesn’t care for almonds, really liked this dish. I was surprised and impressed at the very LARGE portions that we received. The almonds were delicious and had a hint of heat from the cayenne pepper. It was almost a little strange to eat the nuts with a fork. The almonds were paired with the El Portillo Chardonnay which was just about the best Chardonnay that I’ve ever found not being a white wine fan. The pairing was excellent.

Nirmala then launched into preparing the next dish, Ju’s Curry Noodle Soup, as Dennis described the next wine, the El Portillo Malbec Rose. The Thai red curry paste was made in a blender and I really lamented not having a small plastic Tupperware bowl to bring some of that curry paste home. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be throwing it out! Nirmala then combined the paste with some coconut milk and added chicken. She also took the time to demonstrate opening a coconut for us (by whacking it with the dull side of a large knife) even though she didn’t have her trademark machete with her. She poured out the juice then showed us how to make coconut milk which was simply chopping up the raw coconut meat and blending it with some water in a blender. The curry noodle soup was AWESOME and went well with the Malbec rose. When the waiter came by to clear my bowl, I wouldn’t let him take it because I hadn’t finished the soup part! It was all I could do not to put the bowl to my face and drink the rest of that delicious soup!

Finally, Nirmala made a Jackfruit sorbet which was a mixture of sugar, water, jackfruit, lime juice, and Madeira which could be put into an ice cream maker and made into a sorbet. This dessert was then served in a martini glass coated with flavored sugar. This dessert was different and the jackfruit was interesting but just a little too tart for me. That didn’t, of course, keep me from finishing it.

We thoroughly enjoyed The Cook, the Book, and the Bottle and would, without hesitation, do it again. What made it most enjoyable, though, was the easy going and outgoing nature of our host chef. Oh, and the food was excellent.

Afterwards, we headed to the World Showcase to visit some attractions and to use our Dream Fastpasses. We went to Mexico first and rode the Gran Fiesta ride which now features the Three Caballeros. Our next stop was Norway to ride Maelstrom but there was virtually no wait and we didn’t have to use our Dream fastpasses. When we exited Norway, it was raining pretty heavily. We walked over to Test Track without thinking that the ride would be down due to the rain (which it was) so we didn’t get to use our Dream fastpasses here either. We decided to walk over to ride Soarin’ with the fastpasses we had picked up that morning so we shared my umbrella and made our way over to the Land pavilion. We decided that we would leave our Dream fastpasses with all the tabs intact and save them as souvenirs of our trip.

We stopped by the Food and Wine Festival Welcome Center which was in the Universe of Energy pavilion. I was really surprised at how practically deserted the place was. We bought a festival pin, festival cap, some agave nectar, a festival t-shirt, and a copy of the festival cookbook. For the kids we bought a sundae set and for my in-laws, some gourmet salt. Between dinner at the Brown Derby last night and our purchases today, we used our Disney Reward dollars completely up.

It was about 3 pm and we decided to head back to the resort so we could rest and change for our Exquisite Evening. I was surprised again that when we got back to our room at about 3:30, it still hadn’t been made up yet. We put our privacy sign up and, later, received a message that someone had come by to make up the room at 3:50 but didn’t bother us. Instead, they left a bag hanging on the door handle with towels, toilet paper, and refills for our coffee maker. DH was a little put out by this service and complained to me that he didn’t like staying in a moderate resort. I have to admit that I agree with him after having stayed at the Grand Floridian twice and the Polynesian. “Downgrading” from a deluxe resort to a moderate resort was certainly noticed. I had chosen the CBR because of its proximity to WWoS and EPCOT but we won’t be staying at this resort again. DH even complained to me that the room “smelled funny”.

DH napped a bit while I started my trip report. We soon got dressed and ready for our Exquisite Evening. It was raining again outside as we made our way to the bus stop. We waited for a bit then boarded the bus for EPCOT. When we arrived, I remembered that this particular venue didn’t require park passes but I couldn’t remember where we were supposed to meet. We walked by Guest Services and some CMs were standing at a podium so we decided to check with them. They were, indeed, checking people in for the Exquisite Evening so we checked in and were escorted behind Guest Services to the lounge area in the back.

I had read online previously that some people didn’t like having to wait to be “taken” to the Odyssey by car and would have rather been given the choice of walking there. Tonight, though, this car service turned out to be a blessing because of the rain. We would have had to walk in our nice clothes in the rain all the way over to the Odyssey. We waited for a good bit in the lounge then people were taken in groups of 4 to be driven to the Odyssey. We were almost the last ones to be transported over. The CMs tried really hard to keep us dry with umbrellas as we got into and out of the car.

When we arrived at the Odyssey, we were taken into the foyer, given cards with our seating assignments and joined a reception prior to the dinner with waiters offering selections of hors d’oeuvres that were just delicious.

It was a definite sign that we were in for a real treat tonight. The hors d’oeuvres that they served included: Shichimi Togarashi Tuna with Ogo Salad and Thick Soy; Spicy couscous with dried fruits, quinoa and toasted pine nuts in phyllo cup with orchid essence; Petite black mission fig and Serrano ham flatbreads with gorgonzola, and Crisp green apple and crab salad with endive and pomegranate. We were also offered glasses of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve champagne.

The dining area was decorated beautifully and included a string trio which was a very elegant touch.

Within 10 minutes of our arrival, the dining area was opened and we were seated right next to the string trio at a table with 6 other people. On top of a golden charge plate was a personalized place card and a personalized program for the evening with a picture from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts depicting General Jackson and his Lady, ca 1831 printed on heavy cardstock and held together with a golden tassel. The silverware was the same that we had seen used at the other venues.

Once everyone was seated, the program started with an introduction from our host for the evening. Our Elegant Evenings was entitled “The Vineyard Collage, Californian Inspirations”. We were warmly welcomed and given a brief overview of what would be happening this evening. Our hosts were sitting with their guests at the center table and after brief introductions, the chef, Terry Letson from Fume Bistro and Bar in California described his dish. 4 waiters then came out single file with our first course, headed to the center table with the lead waiter walking around the round table and the waiters simultaneously served 4 of the guests then simultaneously served the other 4 guests. They repeated this process with each table which was very classy and reminded me of how courses are served at Victoria and Alberts.

Our first course was a Panko-crusted Asparagus, Heirloom Tomato and Arugula Salad with Fresh Mozzarella and Citrus Chardonnay Vinaigrette. This was served with a Silver Unoaked Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2006. This pairing was just beautiful and although I’m not a Chardonnay fan at all, I absolutely LOVED this chardonnay. The asparagus was crisp and wrapped in mozzarella and the slight tartness from the tomato gave the dish a wonderful taste. The pairing with this Chardonnay was delicious.

Our next course was a Braised Pork Belly and “Barbecued” Grilled Sea Bass with Micro Greens, Seckel Pear Compote and Tomato Foam served with Piper Heidseck Rose Sauvage, Champagne, NV. Chef Robert Denninger of Disney MGM and Animal Kingdom described his dish just as the waiters came out again in single file. It hasn’t been often at all that we’ve enjoyed a dinner course like this with champagne but the pairing really worked well. I didn’t care much for the pork belly (maybe because it was just so fatty) but the sea bass was excellent and the tomato foam was very different. The pear compote was delicious.

Chef Terry then introduced the next course which was a Braised Lamb Osso Buco on Wild Mushroom and Balsamic-roasted Cipollini Risotto with Lemon-Parsley Gremolata and Cabernet-thyme Sauce. This was served with a Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 2004. In general, I don’t like the taste of lamb but this dish was wonderful. The risotto was particularly good – tasty and wonderfully creamy. We love our red wines and were not at all disappointed with the Cabernet.

Chef Jens Dahlmann of the California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort introduced the next course which was a Progression of Goat Cheese and Tomatoes with Conundrum, California, 2005. The most unusual part of this course was the tomato jello – 2 small, transparent jello cubes which really tasted like tomato! It was very interesting and I have no idea how it was made. The Conundrum was a blended white wine and was also delicious considering we prefer red wines.

We finished our beautiful evening with the Epitome of Californian Strawberries (Strawberry and Chocolate Molten Cake, Strawberry Lemongrass Napoleon, Strawberry Basil Sorbet, and Strawberry Coulis) served with a Piper Heidsieck Sublime Demi-Sec, Champagne, NV. Now, I’ll have to pause here for a moment to make an observation that the portions for each course were more than generous and the waiters were not shy about refilling wine and champagne glasses to our heart’s content. I have to admit that by the time dessert rolled around, I was feeling all the wine and champagne that we had consumed this evening so far. I’m certain that I finished off this dessert but I can’t honestly remember what it tasted like. My husband did comment on how much he liked the strawberry basil sorbet . I do remember, however, the demi-sec champagne which was delicious and, again, enjoyed having a champagne with a dessert course – something we’ve not ever had before.

We chatted a bit longer with our tablemates – a young couple from New York who were also going to be at the Party for the Senses tomorrow. They had attended the event before and advised us to “make a bee line for the back” when we arrived to get a table. We thanked our dining companions and were taken back to Guest Services in the same car that we had arrived in. It was a wonderful evening and, in our opinion, well worth doing. We would do this event again in a heartbeat comparing this experience very closely to our experiences at Victoria and Alberts.

WDW - Race for the Taste trip - Day 1

Thursday, October 4, 2007 – Oklahoma to Orlando, MGM

We were so ready for our brief vacation especially after I had been chewed out by an unhappy mother of a patient I had seen in walk-in clinic yesterday. As usual, we were up early for our 7:30 am flight out of OKC – before 4 am. We finished our packing and I drove us to the airport this morning leaving just before 4:30 am. We arrived at the airport without incident and boarded the plane for Atlanta which arrived about 20 minutes early. Our outbound flight to Orlando, though, was late and didn’t leave until almost 12:30 and we arrived in Orlando about 1:30 pm. We found the Disney Magical Express counter in the Orlando airport on the B side, on level 1 and were met with a very short line.

I walked up to the CM at the counter who greeted me and I handed him our transfer voucher. He then asked me jokingly if I knew there was a man following behind me (meaning DH). I told him that we had met on the plane and that he was coming to WDW to share a room with me. The CM laughed and checked us in for ME and after giving us brief instructions (“go to the red carpet and you’ll be taken care of”), he was done and commented on how easy the process was to which I replied “Yes, we like easy! Thank you.” Without missing a beat, the CM said “Obviously” and winked at me. ROTFLOL. He took a step back and apologized for not being very “Disney” but we all had a great laugh and I pointed out that we WERE traveling without the kids this time. What a great start to our vacation.

We headed to the red carpet and were directed towards the line for the Swan/Dolphin and CBR. We waited about 30 minutes for the bus to arrive. The lines were not long at all. It was about 2:30 pm when we left the airport.

The first stop for the ME was CBR but by the time we reached the resort, it was pouring rain. We checked in and after a slight snafu (the CM brought up the wrong name and was trying to figure out why our ressies said 4 nights when the computer said 2), we headed to our room.

Now, I had meant to call the resort earlier in the week to check on our room assignments but forgot. I’m not sure it would have made a difference but our room was located SO far from the Custom House (check-in/check-out lobby) I think the only rooms further than ours were the handful of rooms just down the hall to the South of us. Our bus stop was the Trinidad South which, as we found out, is the very LAST bus stop on their route. There was still quite a hike from the bus to our room in building 39 (guess how many buildings there are on property…..yes, 39) and after we climbed the first set of stairs we saw, we hiked around to the other side of the building. LOL.

We fiddled with our Key to the World cards in the door and after a bit finally got into our room. CBR is a moderate resort and reminded me a lot of the Coronado Springs resort that I stayed in 2 years ago during a medical conference. We had a king sized bed. There wasn’t a desk but, instead, a round table with 2 chairs. The bathroom is separated from the sleeping area by a curtain with a door leading into the toilet/shower. We briefly put a few things away and organized our things then left immediately for MGM. It was past 3:30 and our dinner ressies were at 4:50 pm.
It was still raining pretty well when we hopped on the MGM bus and arrived at MGM.

We checked out Voyage of the Little Mermaid for fast passes but the wait was nothing. We decided to see Voyage and Magic of Disney Animation after dinner. Since we had left so early in the morning, we had only had a granola bar and Luna bar all day so we were pretty hungry. We checked in early at the Brown Derby and were seated in just a few minutes by 4:30 pm.

We love the Brown Derby and have fond memories of the restaurant as we had eaten here for the first time on our Honeymoon 15 years ago. We were seated in a cozy booth in the corner and had a really hard time deciding what to choose from the menu. We were doing the Fantasmic dinner package so our dinner included an appetizer, entrée, and dessert on top of preferred seating at the show. I looked at the wine menu first and the “Derby Delight” caught my eye: Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua, Skyy Vodka, ice cream, and chocolate syrup. I ordered one and LOVED it – so did DH who had a Trois Pistoles Ale after having had this beer last December at Le Cellier.

I’m not a beer drinking but this particular beer really wasn’t bad, imo. We also shared a glass of Coppola Merlot with our entrée. DH ordered the Barbecued Kurabota Pork Belly with Teppan Seared Sea Scallop, Gingered Butternut Squash, and Crisp Shallots. I had the Blue Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Potato Crust, Savoy Cabbage Slaw, Dijon Mustard, and Remoulade Sauce.

Both of our appetizers were excellent. DH’s scallop was cooked especially well, imo, as I’m pretty picky about scallops because most are horribly overcooked. My crab cake was quite good and I particularly liked the Dijon mustard with the cake.

For entrees, DH ordered the Grilled Filet Mignon on warm New Potato-Cress Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Sweet Tarragon-Lobster Butter. I ordered the Pan-fried Black Grouper with Aged Balsamic Roasted Asparagus, Sweet Onion Marmalade and Citrus Juices. Again, our entrees were just wonderful. I really liked my Grouper and the sauce (not sure what the sauce was – it wasn’t listed in the menu) was particularly tasty on the Grouper. I used up every bit of that sauce and almost asked for more. The Sweet Onion Marmalade with Citrus Juices was served cold and DH didn’t like because he doesn’t like citrus sauces in general. I thought it was ok but was surprised that it was cold (like out of the fridge cold).

For dessert, DH ordered the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Port Wine Chocolate Sauce, Fresh Berries, and Sweetened Crème Fraiche. I had the Banana White Chocolate Toffee Tower on Cocoa Almond Cookie and Banana “Foster”. Hands down, I thought mine was the better dessert but then I’m not a chocolate fan. DH’s dessert was too sweet to me. My dessert had a wonderful taste and was not too sweet at all. The cocoa almond cookie was the best part – light, crisp, and buttery. Even though I was about to burst from eating so much food and starting to feel a little nauseous, I still managed to finish that cookie by slowly nibbling on it. LOL.

After paying for our meal with Disney Visa Reward points (wahoo!) and a potty stop, we headed over to Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The show was very cute and the gal playing Ariel was quite talented. We then headed over to the Magic of Disney Animation which was a brief 10 minute show involving a CM interacting with a video focusing on how Mushu from Mulan was created. After the show, we were free to wander the animation studio. It was almost time to get to Fantasmic but we did stop to play with a computer program that took a picture of you then, after answering a series of questions (eg “do like to eat lunch with friends or eat friends for lunch?”), we were told which Disney character we were most similar to. DH was closest to Cogsworth and I was closest to Mrs Potts.

We walked back toward the front of the park and stopped again to use the bathroom before checking in with our turquoise colored Fantasmic dining package pass that we had received with dinner. The entrance was right next to Oscar’s Super Service where a CM let us pass through a gate.

We walked for a bit and eventually another CM took our pass and directed us into the amphitheater. We were seated in the “Witch” section. As it had been raining off and on all day, the benches were wet. We had arrived early (7:15 pm – just as our waitress at Brown Derby had recommended) and there were plenty of seats up front and near the middle. We had great seats with an empty row in front of us.

After a few rounds of the “Wave” through the audience, the show got underway and was wonderful. We had seen Fantasmic at Disneyland a couple years ago but DS was so freaked out by the dark and the pyrotechnics, he was climbing all over my lap during the show and I really didn’t get to watch it. I’m sure the show in WDW is very similar and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As we exited the amphitheater, we walked the same way we had come in thinking we’d be allowed to exit by Oscar’s but we were all herded to the amphitheater’s main entrance and had to walk all the way back around to get back to the front of the park and the exits. We figured this was to get more people to do some shopping before the park closed for the night.

The line for the CBR bus was really long and we boarded the 2nd bus that came by after the first filled up and the bus driver advised that we take the next bus. This was fortunate because we had the FUNNIEST bus driver on the way back to the resort that I can ever remember. He cracked some jokes to get everyone on the bus to move back and allow more people to board (“if you look back and the person behind you is still breathing, you’re not close enough to him”). He would then tell us that we were on our way back to CBR “IF we don’t get lost… the woods….” At which point he turned the internal lights on and off laughing “bwhahahahaha…..”. The kids just loved it and giggled every time he did this. As he pulled up to the first bus stop at the resort, he said “Get OUT!.......OOPS, that’s not very Disney of me, is it? Get OUT….and have a magical day”. He also reminded everyone to remember to take their children or else “we’ll take them to the Magic Kingdom, turn them into cast members, and teach them to sing ‘It’s a Small World’ in 42 different languages.” It was a riot and really recharged everyone on the bus after having had a long day. DH and I were, of course, the LAST two on the bus but the bus driver declined taking us to his house for the night.

Our bags had magically arrived and we unpacked then watched ER. I was asleep before ER was over.