Epcot Food and Wine Festival Review: Japan Food and Beverage Pairing

We are ramping up for another fantastic Epcot Food and Wine Festival! Today, we’re reviewing a fun Special Event from the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

We are heading over to Tokyo Dining in the Japan Pavilion for the Food and Beverage Pairing experience. The light meals feature beverages paired with tasting-sized portions of the restaurant’s cuisine.

I’ve enjoyed dinner at Tokyo Dining as well as lots of fun meals at Teppan Edo, so I was pretty sure I was in for a treat! While we’d done the Morocco food and beverage pairing event, we’d not yet experienced the Japan version. Here we go!

Atmosphere

When I arrived for the Food and Beverage Pairing, I checked in at the stand that serves both Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining. The cool, sleek waiting area features simple, modern decor and comfortable low lighting.

Waiting Area Serves Both Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo

This area is also shared by the two restaurants.

Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo Waiting Area from Another Angle

Step into the Tokyo Dining seating area, and the same modern Japanese vibe is prevalent throughout. A sushi show kitchen takes up space along one wall.

Tokyo Dining Seating and Open Sushi Kitchen

The other side of the restaurant is dominated by [Read more…]

Dining in Disneyland: Dinner and Updated Menu Review at Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure

It has been just over a year since I’ve visited Ariel’s Grotto at Disney California Adventure. On past visits I’ve found the food just so-so. Not bad, not fabulous, but obviously it took me a year to head back… .

Because I chose to to stay away for quite some time, I was not aware that their menu had a major overhaul just about a year ago! So, on that last visit I must have just barely missed the changes.  Anyhow, I’m back and happy to report that the new menu items are actually quite fabulous! And I apologize up front for the photos. My camera died, it was dark, and all I had was my phone.  Next time I promise to be more prepared!

Ariel's Grotto

Ariel’s Grotto

Now, I know many people go to Ariel’s Grotto for the princesses, but please note that the princesses ARE NOT there during dinner service.  They are only there for breakfast and lunch, so if it’s princesses you’re looking for, make sure to dine early.

We made a reservation through Disney dining (714.781.DINE) to hold our spot for dinner, which I highly recommend. It gets very busy in the evening due to the fact that dinner includes preferred viewing to World of Color.  After dinner, you will be handed one ticket per diner, which will allow you to have a fabulous view of the show.

World of Color Tickets

World of Color Tickets

Atmosphere

When you enter Ariel’s, you descend a spiral staircase into the entryway and dining room area. Be sure to check out the bubbly chandeliers on your way!

View from entryway

Chandelier in entryway

The dining room has a great view of Paradise Pier, and “under the sea” touches can be found everywhere — including the walls!

Ground floor restaurant entrance

Wall mosaic mural

One of the restaurant chandeliers

Ceiling Decor

Once you’re seated, you’ll quickly launch into your meal… .

Eats

Now, on to the food! The menu was previously designed as family style appetizers, you choose an entree, then family style dessert.  You can read more about the old way  here.

Now, everyone orders everything individually. You choose an appetizer, entree, and the dessert is a fixed trio of treats, but it is served individually.  The current menu features soup or salad, 6 different entrees, and the dessert trio.  The dinner menu is a fixed price of $41.99 for adults (over 9 years old) and $19.99 for children under 10.

Ariel's Grotto Menu

Ariel’s Grotto Menu

The Kids’ Menu includes fresh fruit and veggies as an appetizer, 4 different entree options, and dessert.  Unfortunately, my growing every minute boys don’t order off of the kids menu any more…  And bummer, because I was really pushing them towards Ursula’s Octo-Dog!

Two of the four items on the Kids’ Menu are Mickey Check items, which means they are “healthier” choices.

Kids Menu

Ariel’s Grotto Kids’ Menu

Bread Service

Dinner starts with a basket of warm sourdough bread. It’s very tasty, but I do miss the trio of salted butter & dipping sauces from the old menu.

Hot Sourdough Bread

Hot Sourdough Bread

Dinner Salad & Soup

Upon ordering you choose whether you’d like soup or a dinner salad.  Soup options were Crab Chowder or Butternut Squash Bisque.  I’m a huge butternut squash lover so I didn’t think twice about my order. But since my kids didn’t want their soup or salad, we were able to sample both soups and the salad! Thanks, guys!

The bisque was lick your bowl (or at least mop it up with a piece of bread) good.  Fall flavors in Spring are A-OK with me! The bisque is thick, creamy, and topped with a swirl of sour cream & a sprinkle of pepitas.

Butternut Squash Bisque

Butternut Squash Bisque

The Crab Chowder was also a hit at the table. My husband — who normally isn’t a seafood chowder person — really enjoyed it. The Crab Chowder came topped with bacon and chives.

Crab Chowder

Crab Chowder

The Dinner Salad consisted of mixed greens, candied walnuts, pears, and blue cheese topped with a vinaigrette dressing.  Also, very good, but I’m a huge blue cheese & pear fan.  If this isn’t your thing, you can order the salad to your liking without the goodies!

Dinner Salad

Dinner Salad

Entrees

The menu at Ariel’s Grotto has six entrees to choose from.  Unfortunately everyone but me chose the same thing, so I don’t have a lot of entree photos to share.  Let’s start with my entree, the Citrus Glazed Chicken Breast.

Served in a bowl with Udon Noodles, Bok Choy, Edamame, Carrots, and Miso Broth this dish is such a great addition to the new (to me) menu.  I thought it was unique and very flavorful.

The noodles were cooked perfectly as was the chicken, very juicy.  The Miso Broth complemented the chicken very well.  After my last visit I went in with some low-ish expectations and was quite surprised by how good this dish was.

Glazed Citrus Chicken

Glazed Citrus Chicken

Everyone else at the table opted for the Red Oak Smoked Honey-Whiskey Barbecue Tri-Tip.  My boys were very happy to learn that they could substitute the mashed potatoes for french fries.

 Tri Tip & French Fries

Tri Tip & French Fries

The two grown-up boys (aka my husband and a friend of ours) at the table went for the Grilled Lobster Tail and Red Oak Smoked Honey-Whiskey Barbecue Tri-Tip which is served with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.  The portions were very generous and everyone cleared their plates.

Lobster Tail & Tri Tip

Lobster Tail & Tri Tip

 Dessert

The dessert trio features 3 mini desserts. Everyone receives the same dessert which includes a Chocolate Covered StrawberryS’mores Bar & Creme Brulee.

The Chocolate Covered Strawberry was sweet & juicy. They are smaller versions of the ones that are sold at Candy Palace and Marceline’s.  The S’mores Bar was the table favorite; a chocolate ganache filled crust topped with 3 dollops of chocolate mousse, a graham cracker, and toasted marshmallow.  The Creme Brulee was actually a little runny.  It tasted OK, but the other two items trumped the brulee by far!

Dessert Trio

Dessert Trio

Drinks

Because the Cove Bar is right there at Ariel’s Grotto, the restaurant serves up a full bar plus specialty drinks.

Drink Menu

Drink Menu

We sampled a few adult beverages including the Skinny Coconut Mojito and the Habanero Lime Margarita.  The mojito was SO delicious.  One of those, “Are you sure there’s alcohol in this?” types of drinks. Way too easy to drink.  Ingredients include Skinny Girl Island Coconut Vodka, coconut water, fresh lime juice, mint and agave nectar.

Skinny Coconut Lime Mojito

Skinny Coconut Lime Mojito

The Habanero Lime Margarita had some serious kick to it.  Ingredients include Patron Silver Tequila, habanero lime syrup, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice.  Interesting to taste but be prepared for a little burn!

Habanero Lime Margarita

Habanero Lime Margarita

Overall

Overall, I am 100% impressed with the change of menu at Ariel’s Grotto. I felt like the food was more flavorful and there was a more interesting variety of entrees. The soups and salad were great and the dessert was also a big improvement.

In addition to the food upgrades, I noticed a difference in service. My last visit was rather sluggish and unimpressive.  This visit started off a bit slow, but once we ordered, our server was fabulous and very attentive.

I really think that Ariel’s Grotto has brought itself up to par with the other table service restaurants in Disney California Adventure. I might even go as far to say that it’s one of the better dining options in the park (ranking just below Corn Dog Castle, 1901, and Carthay Circle, ha!).  I would definitely recommend a visit, especially if you are interested in seeing World of Color. It’s a great meal, plus you get the added bonus of preferred viewing – win win!

Have you been to Ariel’s Grotto for dinner since the menu change?  What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Heather Sievers is the Disney Food Blog’s Dining in Disneyland columnist. See more of her columns here!

Top 12 Salty Snacks in Walt Disney World — What’s Your Favorite?

We talk a lot around here about Disney’s sweet snacks, and with good reason: nothing says indulgence like a bit of Disney ice cream or a monster cupcake.

But everyone knows that sweet snacks are even better with a salty chaser! ;-)

Salty indulgences abound at Disney World, too! And we think it’s time to give them their day in the spotlight!

So without further adieu, we’d like to take a brief look at some of our favorites in our salute to the Top 12 Salty Snacks in Walt Disney World!

Disney Popcorn

Alrighty, folks, we have to start with the obvious one: Popcorn.

How can you discuss Disney World salty snacks and not mention it? In fact, how can you go to a Disney park and not end up munching on this snack favorite?

We love popcorn in all its personalities — from the standard bucket you buy as soon as you walk into Magic Kingdom, to caramel corn at Big Top Treats or Karamell-Küche. And when popcorn started popping up on Disney menus a while back, we were all for it!

NEW Disney Parks Popcorn Boxes!

But the best version remains that classic Disney popcorn box full of buttery (flavored) yellow kernels of fluffy goodness. Do yourself a favor and don’t leave without trying a box.

Chicken Waffle Sandwich

Over at Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, you’ll find a lovely little assortment of waffles to satisfy your salt craving.

What? You ask. Waffles = salt? When they’re in the form of waffle sandwiches — they sure can be!

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Waffle Sandwich in Disney World

And my favorite when I’m satisfying a savory craving is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Sweet/spicy chicken with a touch of coleslaw offers a treat with complicated flavors, but a sure comfort food factor.

The perfect combo of sweet, salty, and slightly spicy, this sandwich will leave you full, happy, and ready to tackle the rest of those Disney miles! Just know that this thing can be uber messy, so bring lots of napkins!

Nachos

I dearly love a plate of nachos, don’t you? And when I’m in the mood for this Tex-Mex treat, I head to La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.

Nachos with Cheese, Beef, and Jalapenos at Cantina de San Angel

The salty trifecta of chips, plastic cheese, and seasoned ground beef is perfection! And if you’re looking to add to it — try washing them down with a margarita, of course!

Want some less-fussy nachos? Head over to Casey’s Corner for an awesome version with just nacho cheese — or with chili and cheese! We’re also fans of the versions at Big River Grill and ESPN Club on the Boadwalk. Where do you find your favorite nachos in Disney World?

Tomato Basil Soup

If you’re in the mood for a good bowl of soup (fitting during the relatively cold Orlando days this past weekend), then head to Pinocchio Village Haus for their [Read more…]

Review: Snacks at Epcot’s Kabuki Cafe

Ya know those times when you’re just strolling through Epcot and you really need some Miso soup…like, stat?

No?

Well, if you did, this would be the place for you, my friend.

Epcot's Kabuki Cafe

Epcot’s Kabuki Cafe is a quick service kiosk offering varied menu items, from sweet to savory. Located in the Japan pavilion, it replaced the wildly popular Kaki-Gori Stand when it opened. But Kaki-Gori fans can be assured that the sweet, chilly treat is still available here.

The menu varies based on the season — when it’s busy in Walt Disney World, you’ll find a larger variety of savory food offerings. Otherwise, there are just a few items to choose from…

Menu - Click to Enlarge

As you probably know, I love Kaki-Gori, the shave-ice-and-fruit-syrup treat that resembles a sno-cone…without the cone part.

All of the flavors are still here, and so are the [Read more…]

Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s Japan Pavilion

Special thanks to Christina Relacion, who writes Scenes From the T and recently contributed several photos for the food blog’s Best Restaurants for Thanksgiving post. She and her husband put together this great guest post about Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s World Showcase!

Tokyo Dining

Have you ever gone to a place numerous times and then found a hidden gem? Tokyo Dining inside the Japan pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase is one of those diamonds in the rough.

My husband and I are WDW veterans and hadn’t even ventured inside the walls of the pavilion until our most recent trip. But being huge sushi fans it amazed us that we had never had an experience at Tokyo Dining.

Judging by the low number of crowds in the pavilion, it seemed that others were also not as adventurous to wander past the iconic pagodas, koi ponds and faux Shinto shrine gate. But inside the pavilion’s massive structures are the most mouth-watering and delectable sushi, sashimi and other Japanese delights.

Gate Outside of Japan Pavilion

Gate Outside of Japan Pavilion

When we first entered the second-story restaurant in the Mitsukoshi-owned building, Cast Members dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos greeted us. They all graciously welcomed us into the restaurant making us feel like visitors to someone’s home instead of guests at a theme park eatery.

We were swiftly taken to a table overlooking the World Showcase lagoon. The view was spectacular! We mentally took note that this would be a fabulous spot to enjoy Illuminations in the future. A large patio wraps around the second-story giving you an enhanced view of the evening fireworks show.

Dining Room at Tokyo Dining

Dining Room at Tokyo Dining

Tokyo Dining’s menu is comparable to other sushi restaurants. It includes the typical California roll (avocado, cucumber and crab wrapped in seaweed paper and rice) and other favorites such as Spicy Tuna and Salmon rolls, and tempura (battered covered vegetables or meat). One of the first things we noticed were the prices were right in line with other sushi restaurants we have visited (prices begin around $4).

Tokyo Dining Sushi Chefs

Tokyo Dining Sushi Chefs

The menu has enough variety that we were each able to order something different, whether it was a selection of sushi and sashimi or pre-selected meals such as a Bento box.

My husband, Brett, enjoyed a Spicy Philadelphia Roll (a spicy tuna mixture with cream cheese, green onions, and sesame seed, $7.50 for a roll of 5-6 pieces) , yellowtail sashimi (fish with no rice, $9.95 for 5-6 pieces) and salmon roll (salmon wrapped in seaweed paper and rice, $6 for a roll of 5-6 pieces). The Spicy Philadelphia Roll was a pleasant surprise of hot and cool contrasting tastes. The cream cheese nicely followed the tang of the spicy tuna mixture. This roll is one we had never found at any other sushi restaurant.

Sushi Selections

Sushi Selections

On the other hand, I enjoyed a Bento box. A pre-selected concoction of beef teriyaki, seaweed salad, tuna sashimi and tempura vegetables served with Miso soup (a clear broth with tofu) and a Japanese-style side salad with ginger-infused dressing, all for $23.50. I was a bit apprehensive of the seaweed salad, but it was one of the best parts of the meal. It had a sweet flavor with a little crunch.

Bento Box

Bento Box

Miso Soup

Miso Soup

To end the meal, our server brought out a special First Anniversary dessert for us. The chocolate-ginger cake (normally $5.50) is comprised of layers of ginger-flavored cake with chocolate mousse and a dark chocolate glaze. It was the perfect ending to our meal.

Chocolate Ginger Cake

Chocolate Ginger Cake

Although some people are apprehensive about eating raw fish, there are many items on the menu for vegetarians and those who are picky eaters. A great rule of thumb: tempura-battered items are generally fried. You can also select sushi rolls that are made of items such as sweet potato, cucumber, asparagus and other tasty veggies. For sushi rookies, we recommend trying something such as tuna for your first raw experience due to its taste and texture.

The service and quality at Tokyo Dining is some of the best in WDW. Cast members go out of their way to make your experience pleasurable. If you decide to make this your first sushi experience, you won’t be disappointed.