04 May 2009

The art of African Cooking with Indian Flavors

Sanaa is the Swahili word for art, fabrication, and creation. Sanaa also happens to be the latest dining offering from Walt Disney World, opening this past weekend in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village. A dining experience here is, in and of itself, an experience in the art of dining.

As you begin your culinary masterpiece you are led throughout the restaurant, though our table was right near the entrance, our gracious Hostess meandered with our group through the entire dining room introducing us to the story and culture behind Sanaa. From the spices, drinks, and flavors we moved forward to pause beneath a large, highly adorned, tree centerpiece, reminiscent in spirit, if not in design, of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s own centerpiece. Here our Hostess explained that merchants in Africa would display and sell their wares beneath the shade of trees as an escape from the blazing sun and temperatures. Our own merchant, or wait-staff, would be along shortly.

It should be noted that Jeff, my party’s merchant, went above and beyond what could be expected. His wit, easy nature, knowledge of Sanaa’s offerings, and diligence in creating an enjoyable atmosphere were critical to a memorable evening.The fare itself, consisting of the usual appetizer/entrée/dessert standard, is unlike anything on property. Whereas at most restaurants basic bread options are included, here a Bread Service seeks to enrich a bland course with a choice of three (of four) breads (naan, roti, paratha, and paneer paratha) and three (of eight) sauces. Among the other appetizers are traditional African recipes, two soups, and a salad sampler. The Salad Sampler includes three (of five) salads, none of which include lettuce. For my sampler, though I pinched some of the remaining two salads from a good friend I was dining with, I chose the roasted beets, the chickpeas with cucumber and tomato, and the okra, radish, and tomato salads. Other options include carrot, orange and mint, along with roasted potato, corn, and spinach. To say I would have a difficult time choosing a favorite or least favorite would be an understatement, however, I was notified that the chickpeas with cucumber and tomato was considered the house salad, and it is an option that is sure to put a smile a plenty of faces.

The entrées are categorized by three main sections, From the Tandoor Ovens, Slow Cooked in Gravy – Simple and Well Seasoned, and African Cooking with Indian Flavors. I, myself, chose the Slow Cooked path, which include two (of four) main items and a choice between Basmati Rice or Five-Grain Pilaf, and partook in Chicken with Red Curry Sauce, Sanaa’s spiciest offering, and the Beef Short Ribs. The short ribs were prepared perfectly, with the meat flaking apart with only a fork. I am not easily able to handle spicy foods, but the chicken was full of flavor, not heat. Across the board, to put it mildly, the flavors of the dishes were accented, not overwhelmed, by the spices and sauces that had been applied to them. The interplay between the beef and cinnamon, commonly not used together, created a wonderful melting sensation in my mouth. From the lack of conversation and the looks on my fellow diners' faces, which included a variety of Sanaa’s entrées, I would say they were enjoying their meals just as well.

For those who wish to indulge in a glass of wine, Sanaa’s wine list is a truly worldly affair, with a terrific tilt towards South African wines. For the daring, but untested palate, Sanaa has also created a variety of wine flights and pairings to, “share the discovery of food.”After dinner, a menu of loose leaf tea, wines and ports, and desserts is presented to tempt you one last time. Those who pass on these offerings will miss out on the exclamation point at the end of the evening. From mango pudding to cardamom-butter cake, there is not a dud in the repertoire, though I would suggest the chai cream, a chai based mousse with just a curl of chocolate.

Among table service dining in Walt Disney World, Sanaa is a rarity. It offers tremendous taste without the stinging price tag of some other options. Dinner for myself, including an appetizer, entrée, and dessert came it at just under 40 dollars, including gratuity. Though I spent approximately three hours on the experience, the time flew by. Like with all things in life, an experience is made by the company you keep, and I keep wonderful company that night, which includes the delightful Hostess, our magnanimous merchant Jeff, and the flavors of Africa and India.

Sanaa far-and-away exceeded my expectations in value, offerings, aesthetics, and service, especially considering I was there on only their second day of operation, and it is well on its way to becoming my favorite corner table for dinner property-wide. If you have an upcoming trip, I highly recommend you give Sanaa a chance, I don’t imagine this experience in the art of dining will be a secret for very long.


Greg said...

Nice article Ryan.

Craig Wheeler said...

Thanks for the review and pics. I can't wait to try this place. The curries look awesome!