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Let's Eat Our Way Around California Adventure's Food & Wine Festival

April 1, 2016, 4:01 PM · The Food & Wine Festival returned to Disney California Adventure today, after a five-year absence. Inspired by Disney's wildly successful Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World, the Disneyland Resort's event focuses more narrowly, on the cuisine and wines of its home state of California. But as the nation's largest state, California still offers much to reward theme park fans' palates.

And much to challenge fans' wallets, as well. Although the DCA event offers only six "Festival Marketplaces" serving food, compared with the nearly 30 at last year's Epcot event, prices seemed to range between 15-45% higher here than for similar items from last year's Epcot festival.

We tried one item from each of the six marketplaces, which line the pathway from Carthay Circle back to Pacific Wharf. We chose the items that most captured our interest, while sampling a variety of the dishes available at this year's festival.

Our favorite was the Anaheim Chile & Roasted Cauliflower Burrito, with Jack cheese and an avocado-lime crema. ($5.50 - prices do not include added sales tax)

Anaheim Chile & Roasted Cauliflower Burrito

Think of it as a veggie chile relleno, packed "to go." I love roasted cauliflower and enjoyed it as a substitute for the traditional mass of cheese typically found in a stuffed chile. A sliver of Jack provided just enough richness to balance the flavor of the cauliflower and the spice of the chile. I don't think this would scale to "normal" burrito size, but it's the perfect twist for a street food festival. It's at the Viva Fresca stand, which also serves a Fried Shrimp Soft Taco for $6.50.

The Pork Belly Bao Taco ($6.50) offered another great twist on culinary traditions. Instead of stuffing the steamed bun with rich pork, Disney's placed the pork belly atop a tortilla-styled bun, creating a handy taco.

Pork Belly Bao Taco

Garnished with pickled vegetables, it mashed up a Vietnamese Bahn Mi with a Chinese steamed bun, by way of an LA taco truck. Well played. You'll find this at LA Style, which also offers Chilled Ahi Poke for $7 and a Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart for $4.25.

For pure comfort food, the Triple Cheese Mac with Smoked Chicken ($6), delivered, eliciting the longest line I waited in today — 30 minutes.

Triple Cheese Mac with Smoked Chicken

Featuring Cheddar, Gouda, and Fontina cheese, the dish included a couple of slivers of chicken in a four-ounce serving. It's at the Gold Rush stand, which also serves Artichoke Chips with Spicy Aioli for $5 and an Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie for $3.75.

If that's not enough cheese for you, walk up to the By the Bay stand and order the White Cheddar Ale & Bacon Soup ($5.50).

White Cheddar Ale & Bacon Soup

Served in a sourdough mini-boule, this reminded me of Epcot's famed Cheddar Cheese soup. It's really only a taste, but I would love to see this join the menu at the neighboring Pacific Wharf Cafe someday, served in a proper-sized bread bowl. Of course, I'd need to share it, because a full bowl of this would be far too rich to finish alone. I just wanted a bit more than fit in this tiny boule. By the Bay also offers a Chilled Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail for $7.50 and Coconut Tapioca layered with Fresh Mango, Lychee Boba, and Mango Coulis, for $4.25.

The most expensive food item at the marketplaces is the Zinfadel-Braised Wagyu Beef ($8), which is served with creamy polenta and a spring pea puree.

Zinfadel-Braised Wagyu Beef

While this was one of the tastier items in the festival, let's face it... this was pretty much pot roast. The polenta offered a pleasantly creamy addition to the rich beef, but with enough time in the slow cooker and a glug of wine, any most chuck roast could taste this good. (And the "Wagyu" designation is pretty much hype anyway.) It's a nice dish, and I would order a plate of it at the Carthay Circle some day — but eight bucks for three bites was just too much. Other options at the Wine Country booth are a cup of Roasted Yellow Beets & Purple Haze Goat Cheese for $5.50 and a Blackberry Tart for $4.

The only dish I didn't like was the Golden Thai Vegetable Curry ($5.75), which offered a glop of sharp curry sauce atop dryish Jasmine rice, surrounded by some sauteed vegetables.

Golden Thai Vegetable Curry

Mixing this with my plastic fork just didn't bring the ingredients together they way they should have been, had the veggie actually been simmered in the sauce for a while. I used to love the Thai Curry at the Lucky Fortune Cookery next door, but even that dish has gone downhill in recent years. This selection did nothing to make me feel better about Disney's take on curry. You'll find it at The Farm, which also offers a $7.75 Tenderloin Slider and a $3.50 Meyer Lemon Macaron.

The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival runs weekends through May 1, although selected festival marketplace stands might be open on weekdays, as well.

Update: I should note that there are no Annual Passholder discounts honored for the Food & Wine Festival booths, but Disney is offering a Festival Marketplace Tasting Passport to annual passholders for $45. The passport includes a choice of six food items from the marketplace booths. If you do the math, that works out to $7.50 per item... and if you look at the menu prices above, you can see why the passport might not be the best deal for many festival diners.

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Replies (11)

April 1, 2016 at 8:27 PM · I am going in 3 weeks. SO excited! Thank you for posting pics!!
April 1, 2016 at 10:41 PM · Since when is California the largest state?
April 1, 2016 at 10:54 PM · Oh, just since 1962 Randy. Obviously the author was referring to population.
April 1, 2016 at 11:44 PM · California is not the largest state by area, but it is by far the largest state by population. Alaska may be 4 times the size but it only has a fraction of the population.
April 2, 2016 at 5:29 AM · Don't forget the state where the stars at night are big and bright...
April 2, 2016 at 6:35 AM · And our egos are the largest too!
April 2, 2016 at 7:29 AM · California has the largest population. That is not even debatable.

Anyway, it looks like they are trying to make EPCOT happen. I think it is a good idea for DCA, but I would want even MORE dishes.

The Passport thing is interesting. Might be a good idea for EPCOT's version.

April 2, 2016 at 11:42 AM · Hmmm, $45 for a tasting card vs $25 at Knott's. I understand that these food and wine festivals are meant to appeal to foodies by offering new and exciting gourmet combinations. But IMO what fits best in a theme park is comfort food, and Knott’s and Universal seem to understand that.

Knott's Boysenberry Festival has short ribs, bbq wings and meatballs, Universal's Wizarding World has roast chicken, ribs and prime rib.

I also understand that Disneyland has a lot of locals, and maybe they want something different, but Carthay Circle has winter pozole with tempura-fried shrimp - I don't even know what that is!

The longest line at DCA's booths is for mac and cheese. When will Disney get the message that people want the basics?

Disney has awful burgers and pizza, although the burger at White Water Snacks in the Grand Californian is great. Disney needs to improve the basics, instead of constantly concentrating on new gourmet offerings.

IMO the Famous Famiglia pizza at Six Flags Magic Mountain is much better than Disney’s. The fast food at Universal’s Springfield is great, Disney can do much better than what they’ve got now.

April 2, 2016 at 2:53 PM · More thoughts:

1. I don't want to be too harsh on operations after just its first day, but crowd control really needs to improve. Disney needs to set up queues for the marketplaces, and masking tape on the ground doesn't count.

2. Six food booths aren't enough to make this a compelling destination. The number needs to double, at least, if the festival comes back last year. Talking with cast members, it seems that this was a real rush job, with recipes developed in the past six weeks, so more advanced planning might help the event expand to where it needs to be to work well.

3. The passport for AP holders is a good idea, but not when it results in APers paying MORE for food than regular guests. The passport's price should reflect the potential for the normal 15% discount on F&B.

4. If this event underperforms Disney's sales expectations, I hope that Disney does not misinterpret that as a lack of interest in the concept. I suspect that many fans just won't see the value in the prices charged here, relative to the food served. With pricing more in line with Epcot, this event could succeed.

April 3, 2016 at 10:07 AM · The food and prices are unappealing. I will go to Knott's, last day tomorrow for the boysenberry festival.
April 2, 2016 at 9:14 PM · I wasn't planning to visit this event since I've got the So Cal Select Pass, but after seeing the prices and offerings I'd still likely opt out even if I could go. Unlike the Knott's Boysenberry Festival (which I'm visiting tomorrow) or the Epcot event, nothing looks particularly unique as it seems like everything is just a variation on some form of common California cuisine. If the event was a rush job, hopefully Disney will learn from their mistakes and do it correctly next time.

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