Epcot 2014 Flower & Garden Festival (Part 2)

Last time, we featured some food from the 2014 Flower & Garden Festival at Walt Disney World’s Epcot resort. I started with about half of the kiosks before taking a break to wander around Epcot and let my food settle. You can read Part 1 here.

After two hours of enjoying other parts of the festival, it was time to get back to the food and see what the rest of Epcot’s World Showcase has to offer.

This time I started on the connector between the two World Showcase entrances with a new kiosk for this year, Urban Farm EATS. It sits near the main walkway back to Future World, closer to the Mexico side of the World Showcase. This Outdoor Kitchen promotes sustainable foods.

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Ghost Pepper dusted Tilapia with crisp Winter Melon Slaw and Mint Oil

I was a little concerned with the first choice. The Ghost Pepper dusted Tilapia with crisp Winter Melon Slaw and Mint Oil sounded like it could be a little to spicy for my tastes. The menu also mentions that it featured The Original Sauce Man’s Kick It Up Rub. I hadn’t heard of this Florida based sauce company, but “Kick It Up Rub” didn’t sound like it would be making the fish any cooler.

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Ghost Pepper dusted Tilapia

Pleasant surprise for me, I didn’t find the tilapia to have much of a kick at all. It was very well seasoned, but just not hot.

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Closeup of Slaw and Tilapia

The slaw was the perfect contrast to the hot (temperature) fish. It was cold and crispy. Winter melon is a fruit that when immature, it has a sweet taste. Therefore, the slaw was very sweet, again adding a differing flavor to the tilapia, which was meant to have a spicy kick. In the end my fears were unfounded, and I actually enjoyed the dish.

Rating: 6/10

Just as with the tilapia, I had minor concerns as I was about to dig into the Land-Grown Eggplant “Scallop” with Romesco Sauce and Spaghetti Squash.

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Land-Grown Eggplant “Scallop” with Romesco Sauce and Spaghetti Squash

I don’t like eggplant, but was hoping I could tolerate it when made in a more creative way.

To start, let me explain the “Land-Grown” part of the title. Epcot has two main sections: World Showcase, which is the lake surrounded by the various international pavilions, and Future World, which has more of the ride attractions and its theme focuses more on our future. One section of Future World is The Land pavilion. A major aspect of this pavilion is that they have a large section segregated for the purpose of growing edible plants, promoting sustainable food sources. Much of this food is used in certain signature restaurants around the Disney parks. The eggplant used in this dish was grown right here in Epcot. If you’re interested in learning more while visiting Disney, be sure to ride Living with the Land. This slow boat ride takes you on a tour through the greenhouses. For a more detailed look, the Behind the Seeds tour offers a more personal experience. Now back to your regularly scheduled program…

The eggplant was cored out into a scallop shape.

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Eggplant Scallop

It was held together by its skin, but the inside was very mushy, as happens when eggplant is cooked. It was well seasoned and I thought the flavor was better than I expected. The eggplant was garnished with what I believe was radish sprouts.

Romesco sauce is a Spanish sauce made from nuts and red pepper.

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Romesco sauce

Now this I found spicy. It was a little too hot for me to have more than just a taste, so I left most of it for my wife to dip the eggplant into. She ate a good portion of this plate due to my dislike of eggplant in general, and the spicy sauce.

Our third lesson for this plate: Spaghetti squash is often used as a spaghetti substitute for people who are gluten-free, especially those remaining completely grain-free. The concept is not new to me, but something was done to this spaghetti squash that was different than I’ve ever experienced.

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Spaghetti Squash

It was extremely sweet. I even said out loud to my wife that it tasted like candy. There’s no mention in the item’s description that indicates anything other than just spaghetti squash, so I don’t know what they used to sweeten it to that extent. It was a great taste to this sweets lover, but it almost seemed out of place for the rest of the dish. It probably would have been a good contrast to the spicy Romesco had I been eating it.

There were a lot of mixed feelings on this one. I was surprised to like the eggplant, but unfortunately didn’t want the Romesco. The spaghetti squash was strange, but still great. Overall, the bowl was a decent sampling of different flavors with a couple surprises.

Rating: 5.5/10

The last plate from Urban Farm EATS was a Pickled Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Cream, Mizuna and Pistachios.

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Pickled Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Cream, Mizuna and Pistachios

Since this was a salad, the beets were raw. They were very sour from the pickling, and they had a nice crunch to them. I thought the semi-sweet dressing that covered the leaves was really good.

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Pickled Beets and Goat Cheese Cream

There was a goat cheese cream that can be seen in the bottom left corner of the photo above. This was probably my favorite part. It was just a nice additional cheesy flavor that worked well with the sour beets, while offering a smoother texture from the crunch of the beets and pistachios.

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Pistachio Crumbles

Speaking of the pistachios, I had trouble tasting them along with everything else in the bowl. My wife on the other hand, who’s a little more sensitive to individual tastes, said she noticed them and that their saltiness was a nice contrast with the sweet goat cheese cream. There were quite a few opposing flavors in this small space. I liked it.

Rating: 6.5/10

Entering the World Showcase on the other side from where we started in the morning, Mexico was our first country for the second half. Their kiosk is named Jardin de Fiestas.

I started with the Taco al Pastor.

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Taco al Pastor

This corn tortilla was filled with achiote marinated pork. Achiote is a slightly bitter tasting paste made from red annatto seeds, that is dissolved in a liquid to form a marinade.

The pork was then garnished with diced grilled pineapple, onions, and a cilantro sauce.

Because the cilantro was made into a sauce that covered much of the pork, the entire meal had a strong cilantro flavor.

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Cilantro Sauce and Pork

The pork was a bit spicy, but it wasn’t too much for me. I didn’t really taste the pineapple, which was probably good for me since it’s not a particular favorite of mine. Ironically in this case however, I think it would have added a nice touch to the spicier, bolder flavors already present from the other ingredients.

In the end I wasn’t too fond of this. The spiciness of the pork made it less enticing, and the rest of the flavor was cilantro. The onions added a little flavor, but not enough to boost this as a likable item for me.

Rating: 4/10

Dish number two; Quesadilla de Hongos con Queso.

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Quesadilla de Hongos con Queso

Simply put, it’s a flour tortilla filled with mushrooms and cheese. You have probably gathered that I love cheese. Give me a cheese quesadilla made any way, and I’ll probably be happy. Have you learned what I think about mushrooms? If you like mushrooms, you’ll probably really like this quesadilla. Since I don’t, I struggled with the two ingredients. The quesadilla had a lot of both.

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Cheese and Mushrooms

The cheese was excellent, but there were way too many mushroom for me to accept.

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Mushrooms

For what it’s worth to the mushroom lovers, they appeared to be fresh, and I thought they were cooked well for this quesadilla.  They were still somewhat firm, and were a strong contrasting texture to the melted cheese.

After a few bites I decided to take all the mushrooms out and enjoy my wonderful cheese quesadilla. As a plain cheese one, I really enjoyed it. I finished every last bite of my cheese-only version, leaving the mushrooms on the plate. Unfortunately, I have to rate it as a whole, the way it was intended to be eaten.

Rating: 3/10

Dessert in Mexico was a Flan de Chocolate Abuelita, a Mexican chocolate custard.

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Flan de Chocolate Abuelita

This was a really thick custard with a strange consistency. It wasn’t light and airy as I’d expected, but rather sticky, similar to something more like a cookie dough.

I didn’t show it here, but like many flans, this one had a very sweet syrup on the bottom of the cup. My wife (who tried a drop of the syrup) and I could not decide on what kind of syrup it was. It was more than likely to be just a sugar and water combination, but I was thrown by the brownish color, similar to maple syrup (it wasn’t maple).

On top, the Mexicans decided to impress me with a dab of real whipped cream! It was also well dusted with cocoa powder.

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Whipped Cream

For a chocolate lover like myself, it wasn’t real chocolaty, but it was still good. On a weird note, my last bite caught a piece of something that had been hardened through caramelization, like the sugary crust on top of a crème brûlée. Whatever it was, it wasn’t supposed to be there, but it was actually quite a tasty bit(e) to end on.

Rating: 7.5/10

With Mexico finished, we walked past Norway which had no booths, and over to China. Their Outdoor Kitchen was Lotus House, and had three snacks to offer. One of these were the Beijing-Style Candied Strawberries, which hadn’t changed since last year.

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Beijing-Style Candied Strawberries from the 2013 Festival

I reviewed them poorly last year for various reasons from unripe strawberries to the hard, bland, mouth-cuttingly sharp candy coating. I had already found out that this year these were exactly the same, and decided to skip them. I know, I lied when I said I tried everything. So I passed on a stick with three strawberries. I hope you can cut me a break and forgive me.

The other two items at Lotus House included one repeat, and one new offering. The repeat was the the Spring Pancake with Grilled Chicken and Green Apple. It started with a chewy fried tortilla on the outside.

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Spring Pancake with Grilled Chicken and Green Apple

Inside, the main protein was the typical chicken you find in most American Chinese restaurants, only seasoned uniquely for this particular dish. It was likely a mix of various chicken parts, including both white and dark meat, all deep fried to a crisp. Other ingredients included quite a lot of raw red onion, crispy noodles, lettuce, and green apple.

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Inside the Spring Pancake

There was a satisfying compositional mix of soft apple and lettuce, firm onion, and crispy noodles and chicken. It wasn’t super unique, but the mix of so many different structures made it satisfying.

Rating: 5.5/10

New this year was a Vegetable Spring Roll.

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Vegetable Spring Roll

The first thing I noticed was that it was very greasy. As with most vegetable spring rolls, this was simply a bunch of veggies that had been deep fried. They came with an orange dipping sauce that appeared to be some kind of aoili, and it had a very spicy kick to it. This spice was almost to the point where I couldn’t eat it.

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Orange Sauce

Personally, I thought this spring roll wasn’t even as good as the ones we normally get from Chinese restaurants at home.

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Spring Roll Interior

It was very bland, especially without the dipping sauce that I had to forgo. I honestly found nothing by which to remember this simple snack.

While this wasn’t the fault of Lotus House, I was also beginning to fill up, and personally I think typically greasy Chinese food isn’t the best option when you’re already getting to your stomach’s limit.

Rating: 3.5/10

The next kiosk is not attached to a specific country. It sits in the Germany pavilion, and was here in 2013, but on the outskirts of the World Showcase. It’s called Florida Fresh. It sounded like I may be in for some lighter fare after the heavier fried foods in China.

I started with a few small bites of the Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro.

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Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro

I don’t really like grits very much, so I was going to let my wife eat the majority of this plate. My opinion stood, as I thought the grits had a vegetable taste that just didn’t appeal to me.

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Additional Ingredients

There were a few ingredients here that aren’t named in the title. These included celery, green bell peppers, and cooked onions.

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Shrimp

The shrimp was nothing out of the ordinary. The sausage was spicy. Since it was the only spicy part out of the entire dish, the other foods would have neutralized any issues I had with the heat. As someone who likes shrimp and grits, I had to get my wife’s opinion. She said it tasted very fresh, and she liked it. It just wasn’t to my personal liking.

Rating: 4/10

Next, I tried the Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, BW Farm Baby Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction.

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Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, Baby Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction

Boy was this refreshing! I happened to be getting a little thirsty at this point after multiple salty and fried meals. The watermelon was extra satisfying when I was thirsty.

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Watermelon Salad Closeup

The salad was good by itself, but the watermelon was the real star. This was such a simple bowl, but yet it was delicious. With the usual winning salad combination of sour balsamic reduction and pickled onions mixed with the sweet taste of watermelon and feta cheese, it’s hard to go wrong.

Rating: 6/10

I finished with a Florida Kumquat Pie.

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Florida Kumquat Pie
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Meringue and Dragées

Topped with a well sweetened, browned meringue, a few orange colored dragées were dropped on top to match the pie’s main ingredient.

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Kumquat Filling

The main filling had a nice sweet, fruity flavor. It was soft like any pie filling and included finely shredded kumquat. My favorite part of any pie is the crust, and this pie contained plenty of it for its size. It was quite solid and not crumbly at all. I needed a knife to help cut through it. The back of the crust was covered in sugar crystals.

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Sugar Crystals

These helped make it extra sweet, which is always a bonus. It was still pretty tough however, and a little chewy. It seemed like it was pre-made at an earlier time and had maybe sat a while before being used for the pie. Overall though I thought it was still very good other than the crust appearing to be slightly aged.

Rating: 7/10

It was on to the last country, which was Italy. The Italians had their Primavera Kitchen kiosk. There were two meals, and one dessert that would end my day. The first meal was a Caprese, which we generally know as a plate of mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil drizzled in extra-virgin olive oil.

This caprese had a slight difference in that they replaced the tomatoes with roasted bell peppers. This was not looking good for my enjoyment.

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Caprese

The mozzarella cheese was made from fresh cow’s milk. For those that have not had fresh mozzarella, it’s not dried and processed like most of the packaged products that are found in grocery stores. One thing unique with fresh versus processed mozzarella is the lack of added salt. This usually brings out the flavors of the cheese since those flavors aren’t salted over. In this dish I actually found that despite my liking of fresh mozzarella, this one seemed to be slightly bland.

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Roasted Peppers

The roasted peppers were indeed sweet, but the taste, as expected, was not to my liking. I didn’t think they went very well with the cheese either. Even the basil seemed to have issues. It didn’t taste very fresh to me, although my wife thought otherwise. Even in the photo here it appears pretty well soaked in oil and looks soggy. I do appreciate that they tried to spice up this old classic, but I wasn’t too impressed and thought in general it was quite plain.

Rating: 5/10

The next item is an old favorite of mine, and includes pasta and cheese:

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Three Cheese Manicotti

It was a Three Cheese Manicotti.

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Manicotti Closeup

The egg pasta was stuffed with ricotta, mozarella, and Parmesan cheeses. It was then covered in a Béchamel sauce and sat in a pool of tomato sauce. Béchamel sauce is a white sauce made from flour and butter, which is then cooked in milk. You may remember from my review of The French Market that I showed an entrée that used a Mornay sauce, which is Béchamel sauce with added cheese.

This was as good as I’d hoped it would be The pasta was cooked well. It wasn’t too al dente, and not mushy. It was cut easily with the plastic fork. The inside was well stuffed with plenty of warm, soft cheese.

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Blended Cheeses

Many restaurants have a minimal amount of cheese inside their pasta. Not here. This wasn’t pasta with a little cheese placed inside, it was a block of cheese with a little pasta wrapped around it for support. This is a time-honored meal that we’ve all had before, and it hadn’t changed here, which was exactly why I had no complaints.

Rating: 7/10

It was time to have my last tasting at the festival. Primavera Kitchen’s dessert was Torta di Ricotta:

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Torta di Ricotta

It was a lemon cheesecake, with Limoncello marinated strawberries. The cheesecake had a nice moderate lemon flavor. It wasn’t bland, but also not too far on the sour side. It isn’t shown here, but I was thrilled about the crust on the bottom. It was crunchy, sugary, and not at all soggy as one would expect from the bottom of a cup of cheesecake. I really liked its crispy makeup, like it just came out of the oven.

The strawberries were coated in a syrup, making them look like they had been from a can, or frozen.

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Coated Strawberries

Tasting them, it was obvious they weren’t. The were very fresh and sweet, presumably from that coating. They had been marinated in Limoncello, which is an Italian liqueur produced using zest of lemons. This would normally seem like an odd choice on the strawberries by themselves, but on a lemon cheesecake, it was perfect. This was a really good dessert, and a satisfying end to my travels around the World Showcase.

Rating: 7/10

I was happy to make it to the 2014 Flower & Garden Festival at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Resort. Just as last year, I loved being able to walk a short distance and sample foods from around the world. Many of the dishes here are well thought out and display the creative process of someone trying to offer their nation’s cuisine in just three or four dishes. Others showcase sustainability (Urban Farm EATS), local tastes (Florida Fresh), or specific tastes (Pineapple Promenade). I commented last year, and will repeat again this year, trying the different booths from the Flower & Garden Festival is like a giant chef’s tasting menu. Trying everything took about five hours (not including the two hour break I took), and cost $150. Comparing that to a couple trying a tasting menu at a fine dining restaurant, the price is very equivalent, but it does take a bit more time and you’ll eat way more food! Look at the extra time it takes as a chance to walk off some of the calories you are consuming.

The food ranged in quality, and my tastes also affected some of my ratings. In general, it would be unlikely that someone wouldn’t find the majority of the dishes to be tasty, inventive, and unique. It’s a fun experience for any foodie, and if you do find yourself bored with it, you’re still at Disney! Go have fun and eat at the hundreds of other locations within the park.

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