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Food & Wine Festival
"Celebrating the Harvest"
Oyster with Chayote Slaw and Chipotle Aioli
Crab Ceviche with Red Endive and Pineapple Vinaigrette
Muscovy Duck and Sweet Onion Tart with Pears
Conch Dumpling with Spicy Mango Coulis
MacMurray Ranch Russian River Valley, Pinot Gris, '03
**Chef Barry Montville
- First Course -
Pan-roasted Scallops with Grilled Fennel Puree and Crisp Braised Pork Belly
Rancho Zabaco, Russian River Valley, Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, '02
- Second Course -
Pink Peppercorn-crusted Squab Breast with Squab Agnolotti and Royal Trumpet Mushrooms
Frei Brothers, Russian River Valley, Reserve Pinot Noir, '02
**Chef John State
- Third Course -
Angus Beef Strip Steak with Black Currant Custard
and Big Red Wine Sauce
Gallo of Sonoma, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, '99
**Chef John State
- Fourth Course -
Three Configurations of St. George (Cheese)
Rancho Zabaco, Dry Creek Valley, reserve Zinfandel, '00
Chef Jonathan Hall
- Dessert -
Espresso and Chocolate Panna Cotta with a Cocoa Nib Tuile, Espresso Granite, and White Espresso Ice Cream
E&J Cask and Cream Temptations Chocolate
**Chef Mary Schaefer
My husband Dave and I attended the Signature Dinner at the California Grill on Halloween night. This event was priced at $125 per person and included passed appetizers, five courses and lots of wine. Having already attended the spectacular Party for the Senses gathering on October 2, our expectations were high. Thankfully, we were not disappointed.
We arrived at the California Grill at 5:30 p.m. to check in for the event and headed up to the new check-in area on the second floor. We were told to wait on the far side of the room and that we would be brought up as a group at 6 p.m. We weren't sure how large this event would be when we arrived, but when we saw the small group of people waiting we knew that it was going to be a special event. At 6 p.m. a Cast Member dressed up as Dracula escorted our group up to the restaurant.
We were taken to the east side of the restaurant into the Sonoma Room. Inside the room were a bunch of smaller tables and a breathtaking view of Bay Lake and the Contemporary Hotel's pool and marina. We were told that we'd spend about 45 minutes here and enjoy a selection of "Hand Passed Appetizers." But first things first, after all, we weren't just here for the food, so let's get to the wine. We started with a perfectly chilled glass of Pinot Gris from the MacMurray Ranch Winery. Bright and crisp with a hint of pear, the wine was quite good. When the endless trays of appetizers began to make their rounds it became apparent why Chef Barry Montville chose his dishes. The fried conch dumpling with spicy mango couli was the perfect match with this wine. Chef Montville explained how he was inspired by an old "clams casino" recipe but was looking to give it a new twist. The crab ceviche was wonderful and light and the lime flavors paired well with the Pinot Gris. The cornmeal crusted oyster was also very good and beautifully presented on an oyster shell. We found that the Muscovy duck tart was a bit bland and didn't pair well with the Pinot Gris. Perhaps a heartier Zinfandel would have worked a bit better.
After about 45 minutes in the Sonoma Room we were led to the Napa Room where five tables of 10 were set. We grabbed two seats and began chatting with two of our table mates. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that Melody and Keith were not only Disney fans but also ALL EARS® readers! After a few moments were served our second wine of the night, a Sauvignon Blanc from Rancho Zabaco. This was another crisp white, slightly oaky with hints of citrus and lemongrass. Very easy to drink. While we sipped our sauvignon blanc, a representative from the Gallo Wineries gave us a brief introduction into our wines for the evening. He explained that all of the wines we'd taste this evening were owned by Gallo, despite the different winery names. You could almost feel the recoil from the wine snobs in the room when we realized that we were drinking Gallo wines. Ernest and Julio Gallo wines always seem to conjure up visions of the '70s and bad wine bottled in huge jugs. However, I'm happy to report that the newest winemaking generation of the Gallo family have elevated their wines to a new level.
After taking the first bite of our first course I knew that we were in for a special meal. All that I can say is "wow!" The Pan-roasted Scallops with Grilled Fennel Puree and Crisp Braised Pork Belly was simply awesome. Visiting chef Ted Cizma told us that he took one sip of the Ranch Zabaco Sauvignon Blanc and immediately tasted grapefruit and oak and thought... "Scallops and bacon!" But instead of a scallop wrapped in bacon, we were treated to a much more sophisticated dish. Chef Cizma grilled the fennel on the oak grill in the California Grill kitchen and then pureed it and tossed in some braised pork belly chunks. On top he placed two large scallops that were perfectly roasted. A wonderful dish.
To our delight, the second course of the evening marked the first appearance of a red wine. We were served Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir. Now, I'm a big fan of most reds, but pinot noirs are not generally among them. Trying to keep an open mind I gave it a swirl in my glass and took a long sniff and was immediately skeptical. After my first sip I was still not thrilled with the wine. It just wasn't agreeing with my palate. But this event is all about food and wine pairings and the Gallo representative suggested that we try the wine before the food and then again with the food and note the difference. Once the peppercorn-crusted squab arrived I gave it a try and then returned to the Pinot Noir. What a difference! Chef John Scott paired this dish perfectly with the wine! The peppery Pinot was a great match for the peppery medium rare squab served over a squab-filled ravioli. I'll now look at Pinots in a whole new light and while I may not serve this one as a stand-alone cocktail, I'd certainly serve it with food.
Our third course was a C.A.B (Certified Angus Beef) Strip Steak with Black Currant Custard and Big Red Wine Sauce. For this bold dish Chef John State chose Gallo's flagship wine, the Gallo of Sonoma Estate Cabernet '99. Deep and dark red in color, this was a big bold cabernet with berry flavors and a heavy oak finish. This was the wine that I was most looking forward to tasting, but unfortunately it wasn't my favorite. It was so oaky that it almost felt gritty on the tongue. And at a retail price of $120 a bottle, this wine didn't live up to expectations. It did pair well with the expertly prepared strip steak, and once again, Chef State's dish helped elevate the wine. The steak was a perfect medium rare and melted in your mouth. The black currant mustard picked up the currant undertones in the wine. Again, a very good match.
The fourth course was the cheese course and Chef Jonathan Hall told us we were in for a whimsical treat. He explained that St. George cheese is a cheddar-like cheese that originated in Portugal and is made by only one cheese artisan in the United States. Chef Hall told us that when he tasted the Rancho Zabaco Reserve Zinfandel that he was to pair his course with he felt like he was sitting in the middle of a strawberry field. He knew that he just had to incorporate strawberries into his course. And so he served us a cheese consomme with a grilled cheese and strawberry compote sandwich! You could hear moans of joy coming from our fellow table mates as they tasted this interesting dish. When the chef described it we were all skeptical that it would work with the spicey and complex zinfandel. But it was really wonderful and a couple of our table mates named it their favorite dish of the night.
We were all anticipating dessert of course (who doesn't?), and with it we were served a small glass of chilled E&J Cask and Cream Temptations Chocolate. Basically, this was a chocolate Irish cream and boy, was it good! While many at our table enjoyed our "Triple Espresso" dessert, we found the coffee flavor a bit overpowering and accompanying chocolate panna cotta. Of course this didn't stop us from eating the entire dish. Our dinner concluded right around 9 p.m., which gave us time to move out onto the observation deck to watch the special 9:15 fireworks presented during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. It was a magical ending to an outstanding meal that was well worth the hefty price tag! It's just so interesting to see what these incredibly talented and creative chefs can do when asked to pair a dish with a specific wine. You can tell that the chefs really enjoy the opportunity to create something new and exciting instead of the staple dishes that they make night after night. There is no doubt that when Disney announces the date to book Food and Wine events next summer that I'll be on the line at 7 a.m. hoping to attend another Signature Dinner!