Where to eat: Artist Point at Walt Disney World's Wilderness Lodge
Written by Russell Meyer
Most Walt Disney World visitors who choose to eat in the Wilderness Lodge probably make reservations at the Whispering Canyon Café. The table service restaurant has been featured on a number of Travel Channel and Discover Channel shows covering the Walt Disney World Resort. Whispering Canyon Café is quite an experience, and it's easy to understand why so many guests chose to eat at a restaurant that is as much entertainment as it is a hearty meal.
However, just past Whispering Canyon Café, there is another restaurant where the wait staff doesn't have to entertain the diners. Artist Point is at the far end of the Wilderness Lodge lobby, and features an exquisite dining room with light-colored wood columns and breathtaking murals along with a view of the resort's pool and the lake beyond. You realize this is a "signature" dining experience, requiring two Disney Dining Plan table-service credits, as soon as you walk past the whiskey cart and take in the ambiance of the main dining room. The restaurant aims to capture the taste and feel of the Pacific Northwest and the western National Parks, and just walking to my table along the window side of the dining room, I got that feeling.
The menu offers a rather limited selection (six appetizers and nine entrees), which for me indicates a frequent, seasonal rotation, and excellence from every dish. I'm a carnivore at heart, but was immediately drawn to two of the vegetarian dishes on the menu. I simply love mushrooms, and was lured to the description of the Smoked Portobello Soup. I was equally intrigued by the White and Black Truffle Ribbon Pasta. My server verified that I was aware that both dishes that I selected were fully vegetarian, and I went ahead.
Shortly after I placed my order, a bread basket and butter/olive oil plate was brought to my table. The delicious sourdough bread is some of the best I've tasted, and yes, I've been to San Francisco a few times. The herb butter was creamy and not too salty, which can be a common fault in house-made herb butters.
Following a longer than expected wait, my soup was brought to the table. The smoky Portobello soup with roasted artichokes, chive oil, and sourdough crouton was quite possibly the most amazing soup I've ever had in my life. As expected, the soup packed a very earthy flavor, but the smoked Portobello mushrooms tasted like chunks of bacon. Yes, the kitchen here was able to make slices of mushroom taste just like thick cut hickory smoked bacon. I talked for a few minutes with my server about the dish, and he said that he frequently gets comments about the bacon flavor in the soup and how impressed guests are that the dish is completely vegetarian. The toasted sourdough crouton added the perfect amount of crispiness, and the overall texture of the soup was smooth and thick. I would have been perfectly satisfied with my meal if I was just served continuous bowls of this soup, and even at $11, it was worth every penny.
After I had a few moments to contemplate the perfection of my soup, my entrée arrived. The black and white truffle ribbon pasta with English peas, served with black and white truffle and pea puree, wild mushrooms, black figs, pearl onions, fontina cheese and kalamata olives looked terrific. The obviously handmade pasta was al dente with soft earthy tones that worked well with the peas and onions. The puree was smooth and creamy with a bright aftertaste without being sticky or pasty. As good as the pasta and puree was, the highlight of the dish was the fontina cheese and kalamata olive fritters. One of my friends famously serves olive cheese balls at his annual holiday party, and while those are pretty amazing in their own right, Artist Point's spin on the simple olive cheese ball is divine. The gooey, salty cheese combined with the minimal crispy breading worked in perfect harmony with the tart olives. I didn't check the menu in the adjacent bar, but if these are not an appetizer in the bar, they need to be added.
After devouring my entrée I contemplated the dessert options, but honestly told my server that I would have had another bowl of the soup to finish the evening if I were still hungry. The desserts were all pretty standard fare with a cobbler, cheesecake, crème brulee, and cannoli on the menu, so without a unique option or my stomach growling at me for more sustenance, I passed on dessert.
While Artist Point will probably never reach the notoriety of other Walt Disney World Resort signature dining experiences such as Victoria & Albert's (Grand Floridian), California Grill (Contemporary), Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club), or Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) primarily because of the presence of the extremely popular Whispering Canyon Café just steps away, it is a noteworthy restaurant that perfectly fits the theme of the Wilderness Lodge Resort. The impressive, yet simple décor and lovely views harken to classic National Park lodge restaurants with overlooking views of natural wonders. I've dined at both the Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite National Park and Bright Angel Restaurant in Grand Canyon National Park, and Artist Point does an impressive job generating the feel of those spaces. Now, a pool and lake are nothing compared to the Grand Canyon or El Capitan, but the moment you walk into the dining room, you feel exactly what the designers are going for, and the food follows through with that simple, earthy elegance.
Have you eaten at Artist Point? Please share your experience, in the comments.
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