The new experience added to the 2017 Food and Wine Festival is an exclusive Pairings of Note meal. The six-course meal with paired wine flight is served in Castle O’Sullivan, and requires an advanced reservation. Chef Watson explained that he was looking to do a more upscale experience that not only featured a unique menu, but showed guests how wines can complement or contrast the food they are served with. Because of a lack of kitchen space near Castle O’Sullivan, all of the food items are designed to be served cool.
The experience includes a detailed description and tasting notes for all of the dishes and wines provided by trained cast members. The meal is also accompanied by a live band playing a set list appropriate for what the park is billing as an elevated dining experience. The price also reflects an elevated dining experience at $50/person, and with the admission limited to 21+, the park is clearly targeting a mature, sophisticated audience. We did not have an opportunity to taste the dishes or wines served as part of this experience, but a sample plate was provided for us to see what guests can expect when making reservations for this meal. Personally, I think the park is going to have a hard time filling this at the $50 price point, but they’re clearly aiming high and attempting to provide a premium experience.
As in previous years, the heart of the Food and Wine Festival is in the variety of dishes that can be purchased individually throughout the park at country/cuisine themed kiosks. As in previous years, the locations of the kiosks are somewhat logical with the themed land where they can be found. New this year is an India kiosk located across from Curse of DarKastle, and an Iceland Freeze kiosk (serving frozen alcoholic drinks) across from Verbolten. Also, what was previously the Greece kiosk across from Escape from Pomeii has been rebranded as a Mediterranean cuisine kiosk. Additionally, there are some new and reworked dishes across a number of kiosks. Some of the new and reworked dishes include:
Ghost Pepper Guacamole at the American Southwest kiosk (moved to near the Loch Ness Monster to avoid the heavy crowds near InvadR). This dish certainly has more flavor than your typical guacamole, but when something is advertised with ghost peppers, I would expect it to have a bit more kick.
At the Crepes and Coffee kiosk in France, a BLT Crepe is new to the menu. The feathery crepe is a little bit of a spin on a traditional BLT with savory thick-cut slices of bacon, spinach replacing lettuce, and sun dried tomatoes with a delicious Old Bay aioli inside and drizzled on top. I was really impressed with this dish, and the sun dried tomatoes really elevated it.
The lamb burger slider at the aforementioned Mediterranean kiosk is a highlight with a well-seasoned lamb patty served on pita with a feta cheese spread, cucumbers, tomatoes, and an olive with a side of orzo. My only criticism of this item would be that the pita was a bit too crispy on the edges for my taste and a bit too small to contain the entire lamb patty.
The India kiosk features four food dishes, three of which we sampled. The tandoori chicken was pretty standard and what you could find at a traditional Indian restaurant. Chef Watson noted that the park does not actually have a traditional tandoori oven, but attempted to replicate the cooking technique with standard commercial kitchen equipment. I was a bit disappointed that the rice served along side is standard short grain rice, not the basmati rice that you would expect to be served.
The samosas are very tasty pockets filled with potatoes and peas, but the mango chutney accompanying the dish didn’t work for me. I was perfectly satisfied eating the samosas by themselves.
The Spicy Potato Curry is the real highlight of the new kiosk. While not as spicy as I would prefer, it appropriate captures the flavors of India while staying accessible to the average theme park guest.
In previous years, the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival featured a number of demonstration areas around the park featuring the Art of Food. However, this year, the park has chosen to instead present cooking demonstrations where local chefs prepare some of the items featured at the kiosks. At the end of the demonstrations, guests are able to taste free small samples of the freshly prepared item. Also a slight change from last year are two different sampler cards available for purchase. Guests can pay one price up front, and select any food or beverage items (including alcohol, but not frozen drinks) from the kiosks. The sampler cards can be purchased with 10 or 15 samples, and can be used over the course of the festival. Guests should know that beer or wine selections purchased with the sampler card are smaller pours than the size given for an ala carte purchase.
With an additional weekend of operation, new kiosks, new experiences, new and improved dishes, and the return of popular items from previous years, Busch Gardens Williamsburg continues to work to improve their extremely popular Food and Wine Festival. While not all of the changes are home runs, there are enough quality changes and returning favorites to get guests to come back again and again.
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