2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival: Food for Thought with Chef Rick Bayless

With a full week plus a weekend, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, going on right now at Walt Disney World!

Welcome to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival!

Welcome to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival!

Today, I’m back to tell you about one of the Food and Wine Festival Special Events I had the opportunity to attend recently.

While I love spending time strolling the Promenade around World Showcase and taking in all of the fantastic food and drink, there’s so much more to the Festival than the International Marketplace Booths.

Each year, I also enjoy attending a sampling of the Low Cost Demonstrations and Seminars as well as Festival Special Events. And one of the biggest highlights is enjoying time with chefs whom we’ve admired in an up close and personal way!

Recently, I was given the opportunity to attend Food For Thought, a Festival Special Event that’s new for 2014. Replacing the Kitchen Memories series from past years, Food For Thought events allow guests to hear the story of a favorite chef before he or she walks the audience through a demonstration of dishes.

Food For Though at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival

Food For Though at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival

I was so excited when I learned that one of my favorites, Chef Rick Bayless, would be rejoining the Festival line up after an absence of several years! Bayless is the Chef and Owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, in addition to a collection of quick casual dining spots.

In addition, he’s about to begin the tenth season of his critically acclaimed PBS cooking show Mexico — One Plate at a Time. You can also find his line of Frontera Food Products throughout the country.

At My Place Setting

My Place Setting

Join me as we listen into his conversation with Disney’s Pam Smith, and watch as he puts his apron on and provides us with a dose of kitchen wisdom via authentic Mexican flavors.

Food For Thought with Chef Rick Bayless

My husband and I have followed the career of Rick Bayless for a while. We were first inspired to explore authentic Mexican cuisine by cooking our way through his books. Having the opportunity to hear more about his journey in such an intimate setting was a great way to spend the morning.

Food For Thought with Chef Rick Bayless and Disney's Pam Smith

Food For Thought with Chef Rick Bayless and Disney’s Pam Smith

If you’ve watched his PBS series Mexico — One Plate at a Time, then you know that Chef Rick excels at telling a good story and conveying the excitement of an experience. That combination, along with his wry sense of humor, made for an interesting chat session. Having grown up working in his family’s restaurant, his passion for Mexican cuisine was born out of his study of and love for that country’s rich culture.

Chatting with Chef Rick Bayless

Chatting with Chef Rick Bayless

Soon, however, it was time to turn our attention to the food! At that point, Chef Rick and Pam made their way to the exhibition kitchen for a demonstration of the food and drink we’d be sampling.

Cooking Demonstration

While a big draw of Food for Thought is getting to hear the backstory of a culinary notable, the event also makes for a delicious morning, as the featured chef shares a few of his recipes.

Menu

Menu

It’s always fun to see what the suggested pairings are for courses during an event. Typically, guests enjoy a few different wines with tasting portions of dishes, but on this occasion, we had the chance to enjoy a beer pairing instead. A glass of Negra Modelo stood at each place setting.

Negra Modelo Beer

Negra Modelo Beer

Normally, servings are tasting portions, but we enjoyed a full glass of beer as we’d be pairing it with each of the three courses. In addition, we learned how we might use the beer to create a delicious Fall-themed [Read more…]

Review: Beef Nachos and Vegetarian Burrito at the Magic Kingdom’s Tortuga Tavern

AAAARRRRRR ye ready to grab some food with yer fellow Pirates at Tortuga Tavern?!

If you AAAARRRRRR, you should know that Tortuga Tavern falls under the “open seasonally” category of Quick Service restaurants, so you’ll only catch it during the busiest times of year such as the holidays, spring break, and peak weeks in the summer.

With summer upon us, and especially busy weeks such as the 4th of July holiday week soon approaching, you may have more of a chance to catch it open in the coming months. We thought we’d take a look now in case you should find it open during your vacation, so you can decide if this is a place your inner Pirate needs to visit.

Tortuga Tavern Sign

Tortuga Tavern Sign

Tortuga Tavern

Tortuga Tavern

Please join us for some Grub and Grog in this ever-elusive spot…

Grub & Grog here!

Grub & Grog here!

… if ye be brave enough to enter under the Jolly Roger, that is!

Jolly Roger Flags

Jolly Roger Flags

Atmosphere

Tortuga Tavern sits directly across from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Adventureland. The thing about the Tavern is that, since it is only open occasionally, there isn’t much in the way of detailing.

Juuuuuust kidding. Thar’ be plenty of treasure here, mateys! (Okay, I’m almost out of Pirate-speak, I promise… almost. ;) )

Proprietor, A. Smith, welcomes you to this Pirate hangout!

A. Smith, Proprietor

A. Smith, Proprietor

And he offers plenty of fine dinnerware for the crew.

Platters and bottles

Platters and bottles

Mugs for Grog

Mugs for Grog

Though Blackbeard makes his presence known above the Toppings Bar…

Blackbeard guarding the Toppings Bar Treasure

Blackbeard guarding the Toppings Bar Treasure

Captain Jack Sparrow’s “Black Pearl” has the largest Crew in the Roster, even over Blackbeard’s “Queen Anne’s Revenge.”

Window looking towards the courtyard

Window looking towards the courtyard

Closeup of Crew Rosters

Closeup of Crew Rosters

Although, Captain Jack’s Roster also includes [Read more…]

Review: San Angel Inn in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion

Today, we are heading into the pyramid once again for dinner at one of Epcot’s most atmospheric restaurants — San Angel Inn Restaurante.

We have had a myriad of experiences here, ranging from very, very bad to excellent. In the past, San Angel Inn has suffered from a Disney restaurant’s biggest drawback — inconsistency.

We haven’t visited the original Mexico table service restaurant since the pavilion’s latest spot, La Hacienda de San Angel, opened on the waterfront. But we continue to love to drop by La Cava del Tequila and Cantina de San Angel, Mexico’s counter service option, so we thought it was time to give San Angel Inn a try once more.

Besides, they had undergone some changes since our last meal, and we wanted to see them for ourselves.

Atmosphere

Walking through Epcot anytime of the day is a treat, but it’s especially beautiful at night. And that’s when we decided to visit Mexico for dinner one evening on a recent trip.

You’ll find San Angel Inn by heading into the Aztec Temple, which serves as the centerpiece for Mexico.

Pyramid -- Up Close

Aztec Pyramid in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion

And inside the pyramid, it’s always nighttime. As you make your way toward the back of the building, you come into an open courtyard setting, which feels like the town square of a quaint Mexican Village. In the distance, you’ll spot another Aztec Temple that looks very like the one you just entered. Beyond that, there’s also an active volcano. It’s really quite pretty, and sets the mood for the entire area, which also houses shopping, as well as La Cava del Tequila and the Three Caballeros Attraction.

In fact, boats of riders make their way along the quiet river below the restaurant — very similar to Blue Bayou in Disneyland.

View of the Aztec Pyramid

View of the Aztec Pyramid Inside

Among the other village building facades that border the square is the entrance to San Angel Inn, through this archway.

San Angel Restaurant Entrance

San Angel Restaurant Entrance

Step through the archway, and the floorplan for the restaurant opens up before you. It’s actually a fairly small space. But tables are placed very close together. This was a new detail of the recent renovation and restaurant updates, and I’ve gotta say — it’s not my favorite aspect of dining here. I’m uncomfortable in a restaurant whenever I feel like I can reach out and touch the person at the table next to me.

Seating Area and Restaurant Scenery

Seating Area and Restaurant Scenery

This table for two, near the rail that overlooks the Three Caballeros attraction, does offer a bit more intimacy. We always recommend requesting a waterside table here!

Aztec Pyramid, Volcano, and Intimate Seating

Aztec Pyramid, Volcano, and Intimate Seating

The layout of the restaurant is quite nice. The floor is actually comprised of varying levels, which lend some interest to the space. I took this photo near the railing, looking back up into the courtyard.

Lower Patio Seating Area

Lower Patio Seating Area

Although tables are uncomfortably close together, they are [Read more…]

Guest Review: Tortuga Tavern in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Ahoy me hearties! Let’s welcome back Julie B. with a review of Tortuga Tavern in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. Isn’t it fun when you find this place open?! And we love that Julie found the place empty. Wow.

If you’re like me, you can never get enough pirates! You love the ride, the movies, and the hilarious, charming Jack Sparrow (pardon me… Captain Jack Sparrow). But you may not know you can eat like a pirate too!

Tortuga Tavern Sign

Enter Tortuga Tavern! Formerly known as El Pirata Y El Perico, the restaurant was refurbished and updated a while back.

The menu is basically the same, but the restaurant was renamed to match the island of Tortuga known from the Pirates series.

Tortuga Tavern

Tortuga Tavern Code of Conduct

Atmosphere

Tortuga Tavern is a calmer retreat from the busy Pirates plaza. With outdoor and covered seating, you can get a little reprieve from the Florida heat.

It also offers a mild Caribbean theme mixed in with a pirate tavern.

Pirate Theme

Courtyard at Tortuga Tavern

Tortuga Tavern Outdoor Seating

The tables are all spread out and the [Read more…]

Dining in Disneyland: The Chimichanga

I know you’ve seen people walking around Disney parks with giant turkey legs. BUT, did you know that at every stand that sells turkey legs in Disneyland also sells chimichangas?

Disneyland Chimichanga

Yep, crispy fried burritos filled with beef and beans. I myself had not eaten one until recently. Mainly because they look pretty disgusting. 

However, I am almost embarrassed to say that they are sinfully delicious. Served up warm, the outer “shell” is crisp while the center is soft and flavorful. In the mixture, the beans and beef are almost blended together as one, which sounds crazy, but it’s true. You can see in the photo above it’s hard to distinguish… 

Whole Chimichanga

The filling is not too spicy; in fact most stands offer [Read more…]

Dining in Disneyland: Dia de Reyes Celebration

This past weekend marked the first time the Disneyland has celebrated Dia de Reyes, also know as Three Kings Day. This special event is celebrated at the end of the Christmas season marking the occasion when the three kings, or three wise men, followed the star to Bethlehem to deliver their riches to the Christ child.

Three Kings Day Signage

Dia de Reyes Floral Display

Disneyland celebrated the event in Frontierland with special menu items, activities, performances, and character greetings.  We started our day off at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante for a holiday feast.

Rancho de Zocalo Restaurante

Rancho del Zocalo Specialty Eats

The restaurant was offering four special menu items for the event: a Tamale Platter, a Carne Asada/Tamale Platter, a Sweet Corn Tamale dessert, and Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Rancho del Zocalo Holiday Specials

Rancho del Zocalo Holiday Dessert

Since Rancho del Zocalo is a counter service cafeteria type restaurant, we grabbed our trays and ordered one each of the entree specials. We also ordered a Sweet Corn Tamale, a  fruit platter, and [Read more…]

Review: Maya Grill at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

Hidden in Coronado Springs Resort’s El Centro, between the lobby and the Casitas section of the resort, Maya Grill offers a Latin American menu in the midst of Mayan architecture.

Atmosphere

You really do feel like you’re at the entrance to a Mayan pyramid when dining in this restaurant, and the decor — with soaring ceilings and moody lighting — is stunning. But many folks shy away from Maya Grill due to its distance from…well…just about everything.

Maya Grill sign

We arrived without a reservation, and although I could see many empty tables, we were told there would be a 45-minute wait. This was disturbing, since I think of Maya Grill to be one of the lesser-populated restaurants in Disney World. But since we were already staying at Coronado Springs (and since we had to eat here anyway so that we could cover it on the blog), we just told the hostess that we’d come back in 45 minutes, and spent the time catching up on work in our room.

When we returned, she’d [Read more…]

Review: Disneyland’s Rancho del Zocalo

In an effort to finally finish out my reviews from my trip to Disneyland last year, you’ll see a few of my own Disneyland-related posts alongside Heather’s over the next few weeks/months! Today, we’re visiting Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland Park!

This gorgeous counter-service restaurant is found in Disneyland Park’s Frontierland features Mexican favorites that rival anything you’d find in [Read more…]

Dining in Disneyland: Tortilla Jo’s Taqueria in Downtown Disney

Dining in Disneyland columnist Heather Sievers spices things up at Tortilla Jo’s Taqueria in Disneyland’s Downtown Disney district!

When you’re in the mood for Mexican and don’t have the time or budget for a full sit down restaurant meal, the small  Taqueria outside of Tortilla Jo’s is the perfect dining solution.  My family and I LOVE Tortilla Jo’s, however, a meal inside the “regular” restaurant takes a minimum of one hour (worth it if you have the time) and that’s with a reservation or without a wait.

Tortilla Jo's Taqueria

The colorful Taqueria can not be missed as you are walking through Downtown Disney.  It is located directly across from Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, closer to the hotels than the parks.  Their outdoor-only seating consists of [Read more…]

Review: Epcot’s La Hacienda de San Angel

Huzzah! I’ve finally made it to the newest restaurant in Walt Disney World — La Hacienda de San Angel! This Mexican restaurant focuses on Southern Mexican cuisine — fresh staples with a new flair. Home made corn tortillas, incredible margaritas, and a view coveted by every other restaurant in the World Showcase are the major players here.

Atmosphere
Located in Epcot’s Mexico in Walt Disney World, the restaurant was built this year as an add-on to an existing counter-service restaurant (La Cantina de San Angel), and now juts out into World Showcase Lagoon.

Externally, the bright yellow building and bright blue tiled cupola look a bit out of place with the muted colors around World Showcase, but they do bring a lively look to [Read more…]