At Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, a smorgasbord awaits visitors in the form of delicious dishes and beverages from all over the world. For many guests, those festival-only flavors at the specialty booths and kiosks are enough of a draw. Being able to eat and drink, traveling from country to country, is a fun and tasty way to spend the better part of a day or two.
There are also many special events available to visitors wishing for a more in-depth look at the Festival’s foods, wines, beers, recipes, chefs, and so on. There’s a lot to choose from! I was looking for a couple of extras Raymond and I could add that would fit in with our other vacation plans and would be special and unique without breaking the bank.Keeping in mind that our trip would be like a second honeymoon, I ruled out things like cooking demonstrations and seminars as not being romantic enough – but I would love to try them next time. I decided on the Italian Food and Wine Pairing (Italy Pavilion) in Via Napoli and the French Regional Lunch at Monsieur Paul (France Pavilion). We enjoyed them both very much, but not for the reasons we expected.
Both experiences were similar in several ways. They were at lunchtime, showcased their respective country’s foods and wines, and lasted a couple of hours. They also both included a wine specialist to act as event host and explain how/why particular wines were selected, and how best to enjoy them.
The Italian Food & Wine Pairing at Via Napoli ($83 per person, plus tax, gratuity included) October 16, 2014
We were greeted by several very friendly Cast Members and handed glasses of wine to enjoy while we waited. Once the room was ready, we were welcomed into a large, open, very noisy seating area full of tables that looked literally covered in wine glasses.The acoustics made it impossible to talk to our table mates without practically yelling and was the single and significant downside to this event. We sat with four other people who welcomed us warmly to the table and introduced themselves to us immediately. We all wished we could hear each other better! We visited over some delicious bread.
The first course was, for me, the best part of the meal. A soup of beans and mussels (Zuppa di Cozze e Faglioli) with a big crusty piece of bread on it, like a giant crouton. I found the soup to be flavorful and hearty like something I would love to make at home. There are substitute dishes available if a guest doesn’t care for the particular dish being served – Melda, at our table ordered a Caprese salad and her husband, Gary, had melon with prosciutto. The second course was a tiny individual pizza (Pizza Fritta). It was very bread-ish with very little topping. It was my least favorite course. I decided not to eat all of it to save room for the other courses. The main course was Braciola di Manzo which was beef roulade with roasted vegetables. Basically rolled up beef and veggies in a clear broth. It wasn’t bad, it tasted okay, but didn’t knock our socks off or anything. Finally, dessert – just a simple serving of three different sorbets and they were incredibly delicious!!! If I’d been served only the bean soup and the sorbets, I’d have been perfectly happy. Of course with every dish was a different wine to sample – like the food, some servings were better than others. Once dessert was finished, the wine expert mingled with the crowd to make sure everyone had enjoyed their lunch. One the way out, each guest was given a small bag of Via Napoli Cantucci (biscotti) and the recipe for making it.
High points: The hospitality, our super sweet and friendly table-mates, the pre-lunch glass of wine, the biscotti as a goodbye gift, the soup, the dessert.
Low points: The noisiness of the room, the pizza (I expected better from Via Napoli), the entrée.
The French Regional Lunch at Monsieur Paul ($135 per person plus tax, gratuity included) October 17, 2014
The welcome wasn’t as nice as over in the Italy Pavilion – we waited outside Monsieur Paul in a hot, crowded mass until we were allowed to climb the stairs into the restaurant – and that was a long, slow process.Once inside the dining room, though, we were enchanted with the décor, the place settings, and our view from our window-side table. Much quieter and considerably more elegant than our setting at Via Napoli, we once again sat with two couples. The couple closest to us, we discovered, will be sailing with us on our next Disney cruise in June, 2015! That was a fun surprise.
The speaker/wine expert for our lunch was Cedric Villars – the U.S. Portfolio Manager, Domaines Barons do Rothschild (Lafite), Pasternak Wine Import. Our Chefs de Cuisine was Francesco Santin. I know this because there was a nifty little booklet at each place setting that explained details about the lunch, and descriptions of every wine served. There were even some pages for taking notes.This was a very welcome and special touch. What the materials did not detail was the dishes served – I’ll do my best, but at times I wasn’t sure exactly what I was eating.
The first course, the amuse-bouche, was a delicately flavored slice of pastry-wrapped….I have no idea, but I’m guessing it was meat of some sort. This was served in a clear broth. It tasted fine, I found the textures a bit odd together, and overall it was nothing to write home about.
Next was a mushroom soup with chestnuts (Veloute de cepes, crème de celerie et marrons). It was very tasty! Even Raymond ate his soup and he’s not a mushroom fan. It was rich and creamy and delicious.
Duck Cassoulet was the main course and it was very simple (probably much more complicated that it looked) but scrumptious. I thought the serving sizes were just right for each course.
There was even a surprise mystery dish – which was good, but I couldn’t tell you what was in it. It wasn’t on the menu and we thought maybe the chef was just being creative and made us a little something extra. We were feeling pretty full at this point, but there was still one course left.
Dessert just blew us away! Obviously, we were surprised by our personalized servings of the Chestnut dome with vanilla rum cream, caramel sauce, meringue, raisin compote, and vanilla ice cream. This was absolutely amazing! It wasn’t overly sweet, the different flavors and textures created such a unique and special treat. I found myself eating every single bite!
When lunch was coming to an end, all the chefs and servers were presented to the guests and we applauded as they took a walk around the dining room. It was a fun touch and gave the impression of teamwork and pride in an well executed event.
High Points: The setting, the event materials and attention to detail, the dessert, and the overall elegance of the experience.
Low Points: The hot wait outside and the congested, slow walk up the stairway leading to the restaurant.
Raymond and I enjoyed both lunches, but the French Regional Lunch was our favorite of the two.
Have you tried any of the special events available during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival? Which would you recommend?