Monday, November 26, 2012

Anniversary Trip: Party for the Sense

It's no secret that Food & Wine Festival is my favorite time of year at Disney.  Geoff and I decided to take advantage of the fact that it is held over our Anniversary and headed up for a long weekend from October 27-30.  Of course, the weird part about this vacation is that the day before we closed on our house and on the 27th we spent the morning at Ikea buying furniture.

Then it was vacation time!  We checked into the Swan and had a really nice room (especially since it was just a standard room) on a high floor.  If we craned our necks we could see Hollywood Studios.

We spent some time in the room, then headed out to explore and head over to Epcot.  Our plans for that night were to attend Party for the Senses!  We did Party for the Senses 2 years ago, I did a write up for the Disney Food Blog at that time.  So, would this experience live up to the last??
 Party for the Senses!
We checked in fairly early.  We were able to get our wrist bands and menu and explore a bit before heading back to get our wine glasses and plates a little later.  We had booked just the general admission and not the reserved seating or "Wine View Lounge."  We're also totally okay roaming and stopping at the bar height tables, so we didn't care to participate in the crazy running of the tables.  We still wound up towards the front of the pack though, which provided entertainment when the curtain dropped and people lounged at tables.  That's a little too intense for us.
Waiting before the curtain drop
The room was laid out with the food and beverage stations along the perimeter and clusters of 4 (2 food, 2 beverage) in the center.  The reserved seating area was right in front of the stage where Cirque performed.  The Wine View Lounge was a partitioned off area behind the reserved seating, but with a good view of the stage.  There were circular tables throughout the room with 4 chairs each.  There were also bar-height standing tables scattered throughout the room.  When we went 2 years ago, there were many more bar-height tables compared to the seated tables.  The problem is that there aren't enough seats to accommodate everyone.  Not a problem for us, as we like the bar-height tables.  It allows us to graze, stop, snack and then move on.  But this year we actually had to hunt them down.  We wound up coming back to the same table - it worked out fine because we met another couple celebrating their anniversary who were super nice, but I still wish there were more bar height tables out.  That was about my only complaint for the evening, so not too bad!

The way it works is that each of the food areas will give you a plate and they have the proper silverware laid out next to it.  There are waiters/bussers constantly monitoring the room and will take your finished plates.  I found it easier to hang onto the silverware for a while - mainly because I would forget to pick up new!  Everyone has a wine glass (yours to keep at the end of the evening) that the wineries will fill and rinse with water when you stop by.  You can chose to try all the wines or just one - or you can keep going back to the same winery the entire night if you really wanted to.  There was also a number of beer stations, some had their own glasses, and some mixed drinks.
Chefs at work
There were 23 food stations plus 2 cheese areas.  We tried everything (the food at least) and I took a picture of everything, but this post would get ridiculously long if I commented on everything, so I'll stick to the highlights.

One thing we learned from 2 years ago is to hit the celebrity chefs early as their lines will remain long all night.  We had Robert Irvine (from Restaurant & Kitchen Impossible) at our Party, so we found his area first.  Funny story - we almost accidentally cut the line because we were looking for him and he was right behind us.  Luckily before we actually did, we saw there was a line.  Oops!

Seared Loin of Rabbit, Poached Leeks, Coffee Jame - Robert Irvine
We didn't bother to get our picture taken with Robert like others.  He was very gracious, but let's be real - I'm here for the food!  It was quite tasty.  I don't believe I've ever eaten rabbit, but I enjoyed it. (Sorry Thumper.)  Also - because of the lack of tables, a lot of my pictures I took as soon as I got the food in my hand, so they're not the best.

One of the more interesting offerings of the night came from Joe Haverlin of Disney's Contemporary Resort Catering and Convention Services.

Braised Pastrami, Sauerkraut Bread with a Dorito Foam and Mustard Greens
Yes, you read that caption right: Dorito Foam!  It tasted exactly like Doritos too.  I'm not a fan of Doritos, but this was such an interesting concept.  The pastrami was delicious.

Another interesting option was from Shawn McClain of Sage Restaurant in Las Vegas.
Grilled Spanish Octopus with Honeycrisp Apple, Sweet Corn Purree and Roasted Almonds
I had never tried octopus before, so I was curious as to what this would taste like - and a little apprehensive.  If someone handed it to me and I didn't know it was Octopus, I would have thought it was a sausage of some kind.  If I saw it on a menu and the preparation sounded good, I'd probably give it a go.

Next we have Pano Karatassos from Kyma in Atlanta.
Oven Roasted Rack of Lamb, Quinoa Salad
I love lamb, and over the past year I've gotten more into quinoa, so this was on my must-try list.  The lamb was fine, it wasn't anything exciting, but the quinoa salad was delicious!  They served it cold and added lemon into a fairly basic quinoa salad.  It really made everything pop! So don't be surprised if you come to our house for dinner and I'm experimenting with lemon in a quinoa salad.

One that we had to try was from Dan Smith & Steve McDonagh of the Hearty Boys Catering in Chicago.
Poutine and Lemon Maple Cocktail Ribs
The poutine was in the dish to the left and the rib was in the shot glass on the right.  Obviously, we had to try this because Geoff loves poutine (it happens when you're from Vermont.)  He wasn't thrilled with the poutine because it wasn't jarred gravy over cheese curds.  It would be like me snubbing a cheesesteak that is supposed to be "fancy."  But I liked the poutine.  I thought it was a little something different.

Our favorite of the savory items was from Jarrod S Pearman of Disney's Boardwalk Resort Catering and Convention Services (as an aside: I was really impressed with the Disney chefs.  A lot of what they did was a little more out of the box and adventurous.  Hopefully that translates to the menus around the Resort!)
Pan Seared New Zealand Cervena Tenderloin with Piquant Fig Chutney,
Dark Chocolate-Chili Accented Port Wine Reduction and a Root Vegetable
Mash of Rutabega, Parsnip, Sweet Potato and Galangal
That's a mouthful, isn't it?  I always am a little wary when I see that many items listed out on a description, but I shouldn't have worried about this one!  It was excellent.  And helpful to have our phones with Google as we had no idea what Cervena was...turns out it's essentially venison.  We almost got a second one of these, but we were too full!

Onto desserts!  There were a total of 5 dessert stations plus one savory item that was more like a dessert.  That one came from Kevin Downing of the California Grill at the Contemporary.
Pumpkin Ale Waffle, Pumpkin and Heirloom Apple Hash, Fried Quail
Egg, Spiced Cider Syrup and Micro-Sage
I think this should be served every Thanksgiving for breakfast.  It was delightful.  I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the egg on it, but it was fantastic.  I mean really, the California Grill should be open for breakfast and serve this.

My other favorite dessert came from Le Cordon Bleu Students and Chefs from the College in Orlando.  
Maple Black Tea Frozen Souffle on Black Walnut Bread with
Cranberry Cotton Candy
It might just have been the fact they had little tiny puffs of cotton candy, I mean really, look at how cute that is.  The students were all thrilled to be there too, which certainly added to the fun environment.  The dessert was excellent when you could get a bite with all of the pieces. 

Lake Champlain Chocolates was also representing at the Party.  Geoff made friends since they're located in Vermont and got the hook-up with extra chocolates.  

I don't have too much to say on the beverages.  The wine was flowing, and I didn't try anything I didn't like.  Of course, where I mentioned before that we opted to just stand for the event, it might have been better if I was sitting so that every time I stood up, I could have judged how much wine I was drinking.  Let's just say I was feeling no pain leaving the event and spent most of the next day in the hotel room.  It was totally worth it though.  

If you have an opportunity to check out Party for the Senses, I would definitely recommend the event.  The only caution I would give is that you have to be adventurous.  If you're someone who likes chicken and spices it up a bit by adding steak, then you probably wouldn't enjoy the event because the dishes are different (octopus, anyone?) but if you're willing to try something new, then go!  You'll have a great time!

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