13 September 2018

First-Class Fine Dining


It’s Magical Dining Month in Orlando, and Walt Disney World is getting in on the charity dining adventure again this year. The event is put on by Visit Orlando and offers diners a chance to have a three course meal for $35 at select restaurants, with a dollar from each meal going to support local charities. This year’s charities are Best Buddies Central Florida and the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. I highly recommend checking the Magical Dining Month website to learn more about the charities and to get a full listing of restaurants.

Last year, several resorts at Walt Disney World took part in the event, but for this iteration the Disney participants are all from Disney Springs. These include such locations as Morimoto Asia, Paddlefish, STK, and many others. We hadn’t had the chance to try out Maria & Enzo’s yet, and as they were taking part, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to sample something new. While the portions are never huge, you definitely get your money’s worth and will definitely not be hungry at the end of your meal.

The first course is appetizers and, as with all of the categories from Maria & Enzo’s Magical Dining menu, there were three selections to choose from. We opted for the Fontina en Carozza and Salumi Misti. The Fontina en Carozza is three pieces of marinated fortina cheese that has been lightly breaded then fried and it comes with a side of spicy Pomodoro sauce. The Salumi Misti is charcuterie that features two meats, salame finnocchiona and prosciutto di Parma, along with two cheeses, grana Padano, giardiniere vegetables, and grissini.

The fontina cheese may sound like it’s just a variation on fried mozzarella sticks, but trust me when I say that would be woefully undervaluing this appetizer. The creaminess of the cheese, crunch of the fresh fried breading, and tasty Pomodoro sauce make this arguable some of the best fried cheese you’ve ever put in your mouth. The Salumi Misti could have used larger portions of the vegetables and preserves that come as accompaniments, as well as both of the cheeses, but everything was top notch and delicious. I regularly see meat and cheese boards as never seeming large enough, and as this was just a small plate, which may have contributed to my desire for more here.

The second course features entrees, and we selected the Hanger Steak and Sea Bass. The Sea Bass is listed on the website as coming with cherry tomatoes, green beans, taggiasca olives, and watermelon radish, but that appears to be an outdated listing as the menu we received at our table showed it actually comes with cauliflower, green beans, lemon, and roasted grape agro dolce. For the Grilled Hanger Steak, the sides include roasted garlic smashed potatoes, broccolini, and pizzaiola sauce.

The steak was well seasoned and cooked to perfection, with the pizzaiola sauce adding a unique Italian flavor I don’t commonly associated with steak, but that was delicious all the same. The broccolini and smashed potatoes were both tender, yet not overly soft and smushy the way potatoes and green vegetables can sometimes be overcooked. They were also incredibly buttery, probably due to ridiculous amounts of delicious butter they were cooked in. The Sea Bass’ dolce, green beans, and rainbow cauliflower were equally delightful and highlighted the flavors of the sea bass well. The cut of sea bass was small, giving it a firm and flakey, but not tough, texture. Overall, both entrees highlighted a kitchen that knows how to prepare proteins and how to bring out their flavors in the best possible way.

For dessert, our final course, we picked the traditional Tiramisu and the Pistachio Olive Oil Cake. The Tiramisu comes with a salted caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream and on the side. Meanwhile, the olive oil cake is served in halves and covered in a roasted strawberry jam. The Tiramisu was a wonderful example of how to handle a classic dessert, meeting and exceeding every expectation we had of it. The Pistachio Olive Oil Cake is a twist on the traditional, but was no less enjoyable. The cake was dense and moist, with a mild flavor of pistachio shining through. While the strawberries could be overpowering at times, it reminded me of pound cake and strawberries I had as a child just down the street from Orlando in Plant City, so it was a welcome taste of childhood for me.

There are only two and a half weeks left of Magical Dining Month, with it concluding on September 30th, but this is always an event that I recommend. Particularly as an entryway to trying new restaurants that you either hadn’t gotten around to yet or that may have a menu you may find a little discomforting. The small portions and small number of selections make it easy to approach and to gather whether or not a restaurant could make it into your regular rotation. For Maria & Enzo’s part, they have definitely given me a go-to Italian restaurant to add to my list. Plus, there is the charity aspect of the event, and we could all do a bit more to lift each other up, especially when you get such a wonderful meal out of the bargain.

12 September 2018

Laying out the Tea Leaves


The story of Expedition Everest is not easy to describe and is as long and winding as its queue. It is layered in daily life of the Himalayan region, tourism, culture, agriculture, history, and mythology. The interplay between these elements is at times bold and in your face, while at other times the story takes a little scratching beneath the surface to get to the heart of the matter. As with all great stories, repeated interaction is crucial to uncovering nuances and finding something new you never noticed before.

The offices and tea trains of the Himalayan Escapes Tour Company once belonged to the Royal Anandapur Tea Co. The historical value of the company has not been lost on Himalayan Escapes, as remnants from the tea purveyors and nods toward their work are scattered throughout the Expedition Everest queue. Some of this is for ease of business, if it doesn’t need to be changed, why change it? Still, other instances give Himalayan Escapes a chance to play up the history or to pay respect to what has come before. One such instance of this nod to history is the inclusion of photographs showing glimpses into the past of the Royal Anandapur Tea Co., framed and mounted on the walls in Himalayan Escapes office.

Modern transportation comes to the Himalayas. c 1922 (File photo, The Anandapur Reporter)
In the first photo, we see a hint of what is to come for guests. Listed as modern transportation and coming from The Anandapur Reporter, this is the guests’ first glimpse of the tea trains, depending on where guests have approached the queue from. While not listed directly, it is safe to assume that these tea trains belonged to the Royal Anandapur Tea Co. as a way to carry their tea more easily. Also, this isn’t the only time that The Anandapur Reporter is present in the office, as there are article clippings from some of the newspapers more noteworthy stories as they relate to the Forbidden Mountain.

Industrious pickers pause in their labors for a photograph. (Royal Anandapur Tea Co.)
Laying out the tea leaves to dry before fermentation. (Royal Anandapur Tea Co.)

The next two photographs feature the actual work of tea production and come directly from the archives of the Royal Anandapur Tea Co. The first is a group of workers picking the tea leaves. They’ve stopped momentarily to have their picture taken. It is a great study in contrast between the white garments that they are clothed in and the dark, meticulously lined tea bushes that they are working through. The second photo shows a drying room where the tea leaves are being laid out to dry before they are to become tea.

In this handful of photographs we can learn a great deal about how tea is made and transported, and are given a time-capsule into industry of Anandapur. Nothing in these photos references the mythical yeti, they serve only as setting the foundation for what has come before and how that collective history has made the expeditions of Himalayan Escapes possible today. They aren’t crucial to the storytelling of Expedition Everest, but they provide a small reward for those looking to delve into the story of the attraction just a bit more.

10 September 2018

Join Cherished Toys


The world of Toy Story has never had a larger presence in the parks and resorts of Walt Disney World than they have today. An attraction in Tomorrowland, a section of All-Star Movies, and an entire land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios are all part of the guests ability to live like, and play with, some of their favorite toys. In the beginning, however, Andy’s toys first appeared on the theme park scene in a parade at Disney-MGM Studios.

Toy Story – The Parade debuted on November 22, 1995, coincidentally the same date that the original Toy Story was released theatrically. It is clear from the preparation that it would take to create such a production ahead of a general release that Disney knew the movie would have universal appeal and garner the attention of audiences. Their foresight was proved correct as moviegoers and guests alike definitely wanted more from their new favorite toys and flocked to the parade.

The procession started off with Sarge and the green army menu at the front of the parade, but everyone would get in on the act. The parade featured Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, Bo Peep, barrels full of monkeys, RC, Lenny, board games, hot wheels, Slinky, and many others, all while set to You’ve Got A Friend in Me, Strange Things, and other musical cues from the movie. The final float of Toy Story – The Parade featured Rex, Mr. Mike, and Woody, ending on a high note.

On June 8, 1997, just shy of two years in operation, the parade made one last pass down Hollywood Boulevard. Parts of the parade would make their way into a mobile meet and greet for Buzz and Woody, while other floats would go on to be utilized for new productions, including the Festival of the Lion King in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Toy Story – The Parade would be gone, but the longevity of Andy’s toys ensured that they found new corners of Walt Disney World to live and play in.