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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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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