Picture of the Day: Napa Valley

Napa Valley is beautiful in late July.   The last time I was there the weather was really warm, low 90’s.  I have a few more pictures from that trip below for you to enjoy.   I really can’t wait to go back again.   rk


View of vineyards from St. Helena Hwy


The Beringer Mansion


View from Sterling Vineyard Gondola


Another view from Sterling Vineyards


These grapes look about ready to harvest

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival 2016 Review

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival this year for a couple of days with my wife.    If you are not aware, the Epcot World Showcase normally has eleven countries and it is a rite of passage to eat and drink yourself around the world.   During the Food and Wine Festival each autumn, Disney adds 35 different booths representing countries or unique themes.   They issue you a passport where you can get a sticker and check off each item from each booth.   The temptation to excess is extreme with all that is normally there along with the Festival booths.

We stayed at the Walt Disney World Dolphin resort with a short walk to the back door entrance into the Epcot World Showcase.   This location was really nice as we could sneak back to the hotel to take a nap and get right back without losing a ton of travel time if we had to take a bus.   The Dolphin is a very nice hotel, but note that you do not get the Disney Magic Bands or access to the Extra Magic Hours when you stay there.   I had allotted 3 days in Epcot to hit every booth.   We managed to get at least something from all 35 booths in the first two days, but made ourselves miserable in the process.   The portions aren’t real large and if you split each item you only get 2-4 bites.   The drinks were sometimes large but usually the wine was only about 3-4 ounces.  But when you are cruising through the booths, it ends up being was way too much rich food and alcohol in a short time and honestly by the end I felt a little sick.   The Food and Wine Festival also has events you can pay extra for and I wish I had done some of those to break up the constant eating and drinking.   Epcot doesn’t have a ton of rides and the ones it does have are mostly across the park from where the Festival is.   I did do the Frozen and Soarin’ rides several times and probably should have watched some of the dated films in France, China, and Canada.

Okay, I decided to go ahead and break down by booth in order what I tried and missed and what I thought of each location.   This is a lot of information, so you may want to take a seat and relax while you read this.   Many of the booths are pretty much the same from year to year so if you decide to go next year you can probably still use this guide to make wiser choices than I did.

The Festival Center:   This is where you should start to get basic information about what is going on and to see exhibits and buy souvenirs.   It is near the front of the park by the Universe of Energy building.   If you are interested in signing up for the events, it is too late to do so now.   Reserve those months in advance if you are interested.

Craft Beers:   This is in a building in the transition area between “Future World” and the “World Showcase”.    It is on the right near Mexico.   I was excited just to go into the building as I hadn’t been in it before.   This was a first stop of the day so we were hungry and tried everything.   The Piggy Wings with Korean BBQ sauce were really good.   I recommend those.   The Charcuterie plate and the Pimento Cheese Dip were both average.   Unless you really like charcuterie and pimento, I would skip them.   I did the beer flight trying Concrete Beach Stiltsville Pilsner, 3 Daughters Bimini Trist IPA and Shipyard Midnight Snack Milk Stout.   The Stout was my preferred of the three as it wasn’t overly bitter and was tasty.   My wife who doesn’t like beer at all said the stout was “okay” and actually had a second sip.


Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea:  There are 4 Joffrey’s locations scattered around the World Showcase.   These are always there, but each had a themed drink for the festival.   We tried 3 of the 4.   The Tiki Torch was fruity and vodka laden, the Spiked Chai Latte was very good.   I had it made with Bailey’s.   The Kahlua-tini Iced Coffee was overpriced and not good in my opinion.   I didn’t try the Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset.   The temperature was cooler by then and I didn’t want another frozen drink.

Islands of the Caribbean:   Here we tried the Mojo Pork with Black Beans, the Pescado con Coco, and the Quesito.   I didn’t try the Jamaican Beef Patty.  The Mojo Pork was great.   Get it.   But the best dish to me was the Pescado con Coco.   It was a seared grouper with rice pilaf and a coconut sauce.   The sauce was sweet, didn’t taste like coconut to me.   I really liked it.   Drink wise, we skipped the Presidente Pilsner and tried the Frozen Mojito and Caribbean Sangria.   The Mojito wasn’t very minty and nothing special.   The Sangria was good.


Refreshment Port:  This is a permanent stand as well like the Joffrey locations unlike most of the booths across the festival.   If you have been here before, you know about the “Cro-Nut” they serve which is fabulous.   I went for the iconic Disney Dole Whip with the added Bacardi Coconut Rum.   The Dole Whip by itself is insanely good and I think Coconut Rum makes everything better.   My wife got the Dragon Berry Refresher with the Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum.   While both were good, I got the better drink here.


Greece:  Here we skipped the Loaded Greek Nachos (meatless sausage crumbles scared me off) and got the recommended Chicken Gyro and Spanakopita.   We also skipped the Vanilla Cake.   It didn’t look like anything special to me.   The Chicken Gyro was the best.   The Spanakopita was plain and bland to me.   They had 3 different Greek wines.  I picked the Syrah from Florina which was okay.   It was served ambient temperature which was about 82* F so that didn’t help.

Desserts & Champagne:   This location is bubbly wines and Hard Soda floats.   My wife got the “Yellow Label” Brut which she seemed to like.   The long fluted glass was cool.  The cast member at the booth recommended the Hard Cherry Cola Float which was a winner.

Patagonia:   We tried everything at this booth.   The Beef Empanada, the Grilled Beef Skewer, and the Roasted Salmon with Quinoa & Arugula.   I was trying to narrow it down to just one to recommend but really all three were good.   We got both wines which were a very tasty Malbec and an also good Pinot Noir.   Both wines were from Rio Negro.


Hawaii:   Here we got both the Pork Slider and the Spicy Tuna Poke.   I had high hopes for the Hawaii booth but both items disappointed.   The Pork Slider was okay but nothing special.  The Tuna was completely raw and the sauce on it was so hot it was basically inedible.   The Mai Tai did make some amends and my wife enjoyed her Sparkling Pineapple Wine despite it being actually from Florida.   We skipped the Koa Brewing Big Wave Golden Ale.

Farm Fresh:   Here we got the Loaded Mac N Cheese and the Chicken & Dumplings.   Surprisingly, the Chicken & Dumplings was one of our overall favorites on the festival.   I felt on the Mac N Cheese that they tried too hard.   The green onions and peppers was the predominant flavor not the bacon or cheese which is what I had hoped for.   We skipped the pickled beet salad (of course) and did get a Dry Pear Hard Cider and a Elderberry Hard Cider.   Both were cold and satisfying.

New Zealand:   Everything at New Zealand was good.     The Steamed Green Lip Mussels were fresh and garlicky, the Lamb Meatball was as good as it sounds, and the Seared Venison Loin was tender and had a delicious Wild Mushroom Marsala Sauce.   To drink we paired with the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, both from Marlborough.

Australia:   We tried everything at Australia as well.   The Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp was spot on.   The Grilled Lamb Chop with a Mint Pesto sauce was good as well, but I really enjoyed the Lamington dessert.  We paired this with a Shiraz from McLaren Vale.

Mexico:  Mexico is one of the countries where we started to get really full.   I am sure the Barbacoa Enchilada was good but we settled for just the Taco de Camaron.   This was a battered shrimp with way too much purple cabbage.  It was okay.   We also skipped the Flan as that is something that isn’t mass produced very well normally.   The Jalapeno and Pineapple Margaritas were very popular but we passed on all 4 of the Mexican alcoholic beverages.   Tequila isn’t a good way to finish a day of drinking.

China:   We had hit China early in the 2nd day and tried most everything.   The Beijing Roasted Duck was really good.   We ditched the bread it was served with.  The Sichuan Spicy Chicken and Black Pepper Shrimp were both okay, but the Chicken Pot Stickers was one of the best things I ate all day.  It was served crisp and tender.   Very nice.   I had the Kung Fu Punch and my wife had the Happy Peach which were both very tasty and strong.  We skipped the Tsingtao Lager, Strawberry Plum Wine, and the Ritzy Lychee drinks.   They also had a Mango Bubble Tea that I planned to go back to get but never did.   I regret not making it back for it.   One other note for China is that the Terra-Cotta Army was removed and replaced with an exhibit on Disney Shanghai.   I found the new exhibit very interesting but I wish they could have found somewhere else for it.   The Terra-Cotta Army is always something that mesmerizes me.

South Korea:   This was one of my favorite countries when it came to food which surprised me.   The Korean-style BBQ Beef was really tender and I liked the BBQ sauce a lot.  The Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap was also delicious.   We didn’t try the Vegan Korean BBQ item.    I had no idea what any of the drinks were so we picked the Raspberry Wine over the Grapefruit Sparkling Wine and the Fruit Slushy.    It was sweet and went well with the BBQ Beef.

Refreshment Cool Post:   I had the Spicy Hot Dog with Kimchi and Mustard Sauce.   It was the right amount of spicy and was really good.   It warmed me up after a couple of Frozen rides.  We also shared the Frozen Brown Elephant drink.   This was frozen Coca-Cola with Amarula Cream Liqueur.   We were fighting over this drink, it was that good.

Africa:  The Buttered Chicken is a traditional favorite and it was okay, but I actually liked the Berbere-style Beef Tenderloin Tips more.   If I had to pick one, I’d get the beef.   We paired this with the Pinotage from Stellenbosch which was the right choice.   The Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz you can get at Kroger and Chenin Blanc didn’t seem to match the food well to me.


Brewer’s Collection:   Considering this is the Food and Wine Festival, it was surprising how much beer was here.   I had to pick between the Zwickel Pilsner, Hefe Weisse, and the Zitrone Weizen-Mix.   I had no idea was any of this was, but gambled on the Schofferhofer name and got the Zitrone Weizen-Mix.   This turned out to be a really sweet Lemon Citrus beer similar to the grapefruit one this brewer is known for.   Jackpot.   I really enjoyed it during the hot part of the day.

Germany:   We declined on the Schinkennudeln which is pasta gratin with ham and the Apple Strudel just because I was really full here.   We did get the Roast Bratwurst in a Hard Roll.   We ditched the roll and just ate the bratwurst.   It was long and skinny, but tasted like a bratwurst so it was good.   We passed on all three Reislings and the Zwickel Pilsner here and instead got a Schoefferhofer Hefeweizen each at the regular stand in Germany.   Anytime you can get that on draft you must do it.   This is the very refreshing grapefruit beer.

Poland:   Poland was another country that really surprised us was so delicious.   Plus we sang the Veggie Tales Christmas song about the 8 Polish Foods of Christmas.   Google it if you haven’t heard it before.   The Kielbasa and Potato Pierogi was really good as was the Golabki.   Golabki is pork stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce.   To drink we got the Hungarian Wine and the Frozen Szarlotka.   The Szarlotka was like dessert, basically an apple pie blended with vodka.

Italy:   I think we made the wrong choice here.   We got the Pennete alla Parmigiana in honor of my friend who loves his Chicken Parm and couldn’t make the Festival this year.   It was bland and chewy.   The chicken was obviously fried in a factory somewhere and not fresh.   I think we should have gotten the Spezzatino alla Toscana con Polenta (Tuscan Stew) and the Cannoli al Cioccolato.   I did pair with a nice Chianti from Placido.

Hops & Barley:   This is the American restaurant.   We went with the New England Lobster Roll and ate the lobster right out of the bread.   It was fresh and good.  We passed on the Smoked Beef Brisket Pimento Cheese sandwich thing and the Carrot Cake.   You can get the Carrot Cake all year round at Disney.   There were a bunch of commonly available US wines and beers but we chose the Frozen Orange Spiked Tea with “Orlando Orange” vodka since it sounded unusual and local.

Block & Hans:   Sadly, this permanent location also in the USA section wasn’t open when we came through the area.   They only had a Pale Ale and the Festival Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon which were all items you could get in other booths so no big loss.

Japan:  The food in Japan didn’t look that great when we came through.   I’m not sure if that is because we were stuffed or it just wasn’t that great.   We ended up getting the Garlic Shrimp which was notably less fresh than the shrimp in China and passed on the Spicy Sushi Roll and the Grilled Spicy Edamame.   We passed on the common Kirin and Sapporo beers and chose the Pineapple Breeze Sake Cocktail.   It was better than expected (not a big Sake fan here).

Morocco:  We were pretty full by the time we made Morocco and got just the Chocolate Baklava.  It was served like an eggroll so the presentation was unique, but it was good.  We passed on the Kefta Pocket and Spicy Hummus Fries.   We chose the Mimosa Royale to drink and passed on the Pale Lager, White Wine and Moroccan Sangria.


Belgium:  The Beer-braised Beef with Gouda Mashed Potatoes was as good as it sounds.  We passed on the Belgian Waffle options since you can get those anywhere.  We also skipped all three Belgian beers.   Stella Artois isn’t that good and neither the Hoegaarden Witbier of the Leffe Blonde Belgian Pale Ale sounded good at the time.

Brazil:   We came by here as an early in the day stop and got all three food items.   The Escondidinho de Carne (Meat Pie with Mashed Yucca) was good but I never did find out what kind of meat it was.  The Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans was the best thing here.   The Pao de Queijo was a waste of money.  It was a bland spongy cheese filled bread.   We actually gave half of it away to some other folks we were chatting with.   I skipped the Black Beer and Sparkling White Wine to get the really strong Frozen Caipirinha.   I mean really strong.

France:   Ah, France.   One of the best places to hang in the World Showcase and enjoy the views and also one of the best places to eat.  The Gruyere and Cognac Onion Soup was tres terrifique.  The Croissant aux Escargots is a must try.   I always like but can’t pronounce Boeuf Bourguignon.    The Crème Brulee Caramel Chocolat was more like a pudding with the caramelized sugar topping but I still really enjoyed it.   I could have eaten a dozen of these small delights.


Ireland:   I really liked the Seafood Fisherman’s Pie.   I don’t think my wife did, but I ate her share happily.  We also got the Irish Cheese Selection Plate which was okay and the Warm Chocolate Pudding with Irish Cream Liqueur Custard.   That was really good and I was sad I didn’t get to eat my wife’s half.  We chose to drink the Bunratty Meade Honey Wine and the Frozen Pumpkin Chai Tea with Caramel Vodka.   I don’t really care for pumpkin but it was a subtle flavor and I really enjoyed the Chai.  We passed on the Irish Cream Ale.


Scotland:  We got all three food options here as well.  The Fresh Potato Pancake with Scottish Smoked Salmon was kinda weird tasting.   I’d pass if I were you.  The Traditional Scottish Lamb Stew with Neeps and Tatties was very good.   I didn’t know what Neeps and Tatties were so I asked.   Turnips and Potatoes I was happy to find out.  The Tipsy Laird whiskey soaked cake with lemon cream was as good as it sounds.   We chose the Citrus Thistle gin drink over the Irish Whiskey Aged Stout.   It was a good choice but I’m sure the Stout would have been good as well.

Canada:   I was very much looking forward to Canada.   Their Cheddar Cheese soup is famous but didn’t live up to the hype.   It was more potato soup tasting than cheesy.   We talked to some others and it was different than what they remembered so either they changed the recipe or forgot to add the cheese.  The “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce was as good as I hoped for and more.   I can now see why Le Cellier is such a hard reservation to get.    We passed on the common Moosehead Lager and tried the Apple Ice Wine and the Red Conception from Niagara.   Both were very good and I recommend them.

This next group of booths were up closer to the Imagination pavilion and I recommend visiting them at night as they are lighted up and have more permanent places to eat.   It made for a cool atmosphere.

The Chew Collective:   All of this was very good.  Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli, Grilled Beef Skewer with Romaine, Apricots and Feta, and the Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mouse.   The Grilled Beef Skewer in particular was marinated and seasoned well.   Again, I liked all of this.   The drinks here were just the Festival Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Greenhouse Guru:   After all the meat, cheese, and heavy foods we eagerly ordered the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Balsamic.   It was so good and refreshing.   We passed on the rest of the items here.   Duck Confit, Chilled Tomato Gazpacho with Lump Crab Meat, and Mini San Marzano Tomatoes.   The wines here were a Riesling from Washington and a Pinot Noir from Oregon that you could get at your local grocery store.

Chocolate Studio:  The Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel.   The name says it all.  I should have ordered about six of these.   I loved this.  We also got the two other options, the Ghiradelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte and the Red Wine Chocolate Truffle.  They were both good, but the Truffle was the highlight.  We chose the Sweet Red Sparkling Wine over the Cab Sav, Port and Madeira.   Probably should have gotten the Madeira.

Wine & Dine Studio:  This was a cool place to hang out and we very much enjoyed what we got here.   The Seared Scallop was perfect and the Artist Palette of Wine and Cheese was fun to share.   The three cheeses were all very unique and paired well with the California wines.   This dish really summed up all of the best of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.