Review: Photo tour through Disney’s 15th annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (that’s sure to make you hungry)

in Disney, Epcot, Events, Food, Reviews, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

Today, on the 39th birthday of Walt Disney World itself, Disney has kicked off its 2010 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, entering the event’s 15th year. With 28 separate kiosks filled with food and drinks from around the world, the International Food and Wine Festival offers every Epcot guest something they’ll enjoy.

I previewed this year’s offerings during a festival “soft opening” last night, accompanied by my wife and mother. While it’s nearly impossible to dine at every location in one visit, we did enjoy a sampling of our favorites from the past plus a few new items for this year. So now come with us on a photo journey through our trip around Epcot’s World Showcase, including my thoughts on a few of the dishes…

This year, Disney is making it very clear to all who visit Epcot that the festival is in its 15th year, by way of numerous signs, decorations, and topiaries:

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival signs

DSCN2216aEpcot International Food and Wine Festival signs and topiary

Fresh herbs and other food plants are labeled and scattered throughout the promenade:

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival herb garden

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival oregano

But you’re not here to look at signs and plants, so let’s get on with the food. Working our way counter-clockwise around the World Showcase, our first stop was New Zealand:

New Zealand

New Zealand - Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney

Unlike the lamb slider I had at the Food and Wine Festival last year, this one was juicy, bold, and came with a bit of a spicy kick. It’s smaller than it looks in the photo, but is worth the $4.75 price tag.

Next stop, Greece:

Greece

While I was the only one to eat at the New Zealand kiosk, all three of us sampled from Greece, getting the Greek Salad with Pita Bread ($3), Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki ($4), and Baklava ($3):

Greece - Greek Salad with Pita Bread

Greece - Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki

Greece - Baklava

Of the three, the chicken souvlaki was my favorite, emerging from the kiosk with a great combination of hot chicken, warm and soft pita bread, and cold tzatziki sauce. But the salad and baklava shouldn’t be missed either for any fan of Greek cuisine. It’s an all-around winner this year.

Next we moved on to the new-for-2010 booth, Charcuterie & Cheese:

Charcuterie & Cheese sign

Here my goal was to grab the Cheese Fondue with Croutons and Roasted Potatoes ($3). They had just ran out of the previous batch and had to whip up a new one, which I found entertaining to watch (though other nearby guests were growing rather impatient – and even rude):

Charcuterie & Cheese - Chef making fondue

Charcuterie & Cheese fondue

In the end, this combination of Swiss and Gruyere cheese with wine and a few spices proved to have one of the boldest flavors of the night. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though my wife (who’s not a fan of Swiss cheese or wine) didn’t care for it at all. The most prominent flavor of this fondue is definitely the wine.

Following a healthy dose of cheese fondue, it was time for the yearly #1 seller at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, Cheddar Cheese Soup ($3.75) from Canada:

Canada - Cheddar Cheese Soup

A perfect blend of cheese and bacon flavors, this soup is the go-to dish for the majority of festival-goers, and for good reason.

We reluctantly bypassed Ireland (long line), which had an enticing cheese platter (new this year, pictured below) and Lava Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Ganache (not new this year, but fantastic every year):

Ireland cheese plate

Next around the World Showcase was France, complete with cute chefs in cute little French outfits:

French chefs

My wife and mother each couldn’t pass up the Chocolate Creme Brulee ($3.75) while I dove into the Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes ($4.75):

France - Chocolate Creme Brulee

France - Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes

Yes, that second picture shows short ribs and mashed potatoes. The shredded rib meat hides inside the surprisingly dense potatoes. This is a hearty meal that arrives hot and fresh. It’s also quite filling, so if your goal is to make it to as many Food and Wine Festival kiosks as possible, you might want to skip this one, though it is rather good.

From here we skipped over Spain, Belgium, and Morocco, not because none had enticing offerings, but because we had our eyes on a few favorites down the road. First up, a must-have for me: Grilled Lamp Chop with Roasted Potato Salad and Red Wine Reduction ($5.75):

Australia - Grilled Lamp Chop with Roasted Potato Salad and Red Wine Reduction

It’s one of the more expensive single dishes in the festival, but was easily the best one I ate last night. Each year, a variation of lamp chop makes it to the Food and Wine Festival menu and this year’s is the best I’ve had in a long time. I’m not a fan of red wine, but the reduction sauce added a brilliant flavor to the already well-seasoned lamb chop. Adding in the cold potato salad (with onions and sun-dried tomatoes) and you’ve got a best-in-show dish here. Don’t miss it.

Our eyes were set on Italy next, skipping Japan, the United States, and the Hops and Barley kiosk. Italy did not disappoint, with Polpettine Toscane (meatballs in tomato sauce) with a Rosemary Breadstick ($4.50) and Baked Cheese Ravioli in a Creamy Bolognese Sauce ($4.50):

Italy - Polpettine Toscane with a Rosemary Breadstick (Meatballs), Baked Cheese Ravioli with Creamy Bolognese Sauce

While my wife and mother thought the meatballs and accompanying tomato sauce to tasted wonderful, I found them to be a bit under-seasoned. Then again, I’m extraordinarily picky when it comes to Italian sauce and spices. With that said, the baked ravioli were fantastic, largely due to the thick, creamy, and cheesy sauce they’re smothered in. I was ready for seconds.

By this point, the night was winding down and all three of us were filling up, but there were a couple more stops we wanted to make. I braved the long line at Germany to come out with a Nurnberger Sausage in a Pretzel Roll ($4.25):

Germany - Nurnberger Sausage in a Pretzel Roll

I’m a huge fan of pretzel bread, but the sausage stole the show here. Its flavor was somewhere between a breakfast sausage and a bratwurst, with a perfect char on the outside. It’s served with a healthy dose of mustard on the side (as it should be).

I ate it on the go as we skipped over the Brewer’s Collection, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and China, to make sure we did not miss out on our annual favorite: Kielbasa and Potato Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream ($5) from Poland:

Poland - Kielbasa and Potato Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream

This is the #2 seller of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and while I was completely stuffed at this point, I still indulged myself with it. The caramelized onions melt in your mouth and are a perfect topping for the soft potato pierogi (with a healthy dose of sour cream). The crisp-on-the-outside, warm-in-the-middle kielbasa brings the dish together.

Our final stop in our trip around the World Showcase was at Mexico, not because we had any room left for food, but instead to grab a Frozen Conga Fruit Punch ($2.75). It’s a non-alcoholic combination of orange, pineapple, lime, and cherry juices that blend beautifully. On a hot day, I could drink several of these.

The Food and Wine Festival soft opening wrapped up for the night before we had a chance to grab some dessert (not that we had any room left in our stomachs for it). On the list of must-visits next time we head to the festival are Mexico, China, Ireland, and the Desserts and Champagne kiosk, along with plenty of repeat visits to grab some of our favorites from our first trip around.

In the end, the three of us spent a total of $57.75 on food and $7.75 on drinks (two sodas and one Conga), for a grand total of $65.50 for the night. That averages to roughly $22 per person, which is on par with a typical night out at a standard table service restaurant. But for that price at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, you get to sample a variety dishes from around the world and likely try a few items you’ve never heard of before. The price does rise considerably if you add alcoholic drinks to the experience (as many visitors do), but for us the International Food and Wine Festival is all about the food.

The 15th annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival officially begins today, October 1, 2010, and runs daily through November 14, 2010.

Update (10/4/10): Returning to the Food and Wine Festival last night, I had a chance to try three more dishes:

Mexico - Tamal de Pollo and Taco de Chilorio

From Mexico, the Tamal de Pollo ($4.50, above left) is a chicken tamale topped with sauce and cheese. It’s a little spicy, but not too much, and is tightly packed, providing a lot of food in a small package. The Taco de Chilorio ($3.75) is filled with shredded/pulled pork that is literally dripping in flavor. Be careful when you eat this taco, as juice pours out of the meat. Out of the two, I’d recommend the tamale over the taco.

China - Xinjiang Barbecue Chicken Stick

China is serving up the Xinjiang Barbecue Chicken Stick ($3.50) this year and while it may not look barbecued on the outside, the marinated sauce permeates through the meat, producing a consistently enjoyable taste with every bite. The flavor is similar to bourbon chicken, but more mild.

More photos from the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival 2010:

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