Sunday, May 16, 2010

Voyager Bien: Disney World Dining part 3

By now you might have noticed that this is basically a Skeptics Guide to Walt Disney World. That given, I have to say, one of the most memorable meals at WDW was definitely the Disney Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, part of the Norway Pavilion within Epcot's World Showcase.
The castle-like hall is actually rather dramatic and enchanting. Belle from Beauty and the Beast greeted guests near the door for pictures and a quick chat before being seated by the [yes, really] Norwegian staff.
The menu at Akershus has a good amount of seemingly authentic Norwegian dishes. Even the specialty cocktail list makes a concentrated effort (with only a few concoctions laughably out of place). I ordered the most Norwegian I could, starting with the Fjellbekk (Mountain Stream) cocktail of Aquavit, vodka, Sprite and lime. Bracing as a viking's kiss!
The first course was a salad bar (which immediately worried me), but the vast array of pickled and marinated vegetables, roasted beets, cured meats and white fish were surprisingly Nordic, and delicious.
I ordered the Traditional Kjottkake for my main - Ground beef and pork dumplings with mashed potatoes, asparagus and Lingonberry sauce. This kicked Ikea's Swedish behind in the meatball-n-berries category, with juicy seasoned meat and a comforting gravy. I ate every bite!
The dessert platter was an unmemorable combo of a bittersweet chocolate mousse, flaky puff pastry with mascarpone mousse and fresh berries, and a baffling "Traditional Rice Cream" with strawberry sauce. Irregardless, we were so full, one bite each was plenty. The real treat was the absolute AWE in my niece's eyes getting to meet her idols...
For reservations:
(407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463
or book online

Voyager Bien: Disney World Dining part 2

Since this was the week to do Disney World -and do it right- a handful of special events filled our agenda, especially around meal times. Our second day at the parks ended with one of the more anticipated - the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at WDW's waterfront Polynesian Resort.
A quick boat ride from the Magic Kingdom, and a stop along the WDW resort-wide monorail, the Polynesian is one of the most popular resorts, and I could see why. It's a slice of the Big Island with a breezy tropical lobby, two authentic Hawaiian restaurants, and even a sandy [faux] beach. In fact, one of the best meals of the trip was our breakfast at the Polynesian's casual Kona Cafe on our final day, with macadamia-pineapple pancakes, smoked pulled pork hash and eggs. Recommended! (Check out their menu).
This evening however we were not dining in one of their restaurants, we were attending an outdoor "all-you-care-to-eat", family-style luau featuring hula dancing and fire knife dancers.
Once we were lei'd and had our photo taken, we were lead to a table in a large bamboo dining hall. A server took our drink orders (I got a tiki cocktail served in a carved monkey coconut shell) and brought out heavy silver platters holding fresh cut pineapple, salad with mango poppy seed dressing and Mandarin oranges, and my favorite, lightly sweet coconut bread. A very refreshing start.
The main course consisted of barbequed pork ribs, roast chicken, Polynesian-style rice and seasonal vegetable. The ribs and chicken were smokey and tasty, but the sides left something to be desired. A picturesque chocolate mousse volcano (that ironically I did not capture a good image of) was a passable dessert, but second fiddle to the show which by now was well underway.
The talented performers represented the many nations of the South Pacific, with traditional dances and costumes from Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and Hawaii. Climaxing with the crowd favorite fire knife dances, the Spirit of Aloha was an entertaining dinner theater event, though my itchy aversion to pure "tourism" flared throughout. I would recommend this to families with children, but perhaps dinner at 'Ohana for a slightly more adult Polynesian experience.

For reservations:
(407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463
or book online

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Voyager Bien: Disney World Dining part 1

After a lifetime of waiting, this past May I experienced the quintessential family summer vacation (note: the year of my 30th birthday). Yes, I flew to Orlando and met up with my parents, sister, brother-in-law and two incredible nieces for a week at the Happiest Place on Earth.
But for me, nowadays travel = eating, and as us Southern Californians know Disneyland's culinary level is about as high as the water in It's a Small World. In planning our trip to WDW however I began hearing rumblings of actually the opposite. Could the four parks and countless hotels in Orlando possess some actual restaurants of note?? Would we be able to find them and escape the week unscathed by overpriced junk food? Doubtful, but the Hazard clan was willing to try.
Day one at the Magic Kingdom landed us in.. a crowded lunch hour burger bar. Everything about the park was just like Disneyland actually, but slightly smaller yet little less congested. Not at all what I was expecting. A late dinner at our hotel -the Port Orleans French Quarter- commissary garnered some surprisingly decent Southern fare, but I couldn't help begin to doubt the rumors.
Day two began at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and thankfully things began to turn around. We all agreed that the Asia sector of the park was our collective favorite, Disney Imagineers bypassing the expected Chinoiserie for Tibetan cliffsides, Bengal ruins and Malaysian jungles.
Beside a giant crumbling palace inhabited by acrobatic monkeys, the Anandapur Yak and Yeti Restaurant was our blessedly air-conditioned sit-down lunch destination.
I felt successfully transported to an old Bangkok inn as, in true Disney fashion, every visual detail of the multi-leveled restaurant was thematically considered and pristinely executed. The menu alone separated the recommended Yak & Yeti from previous Disney dining troughs - True menu-speak! A cohesive culinary concept! How very novel.
Per my sister's suggestion, we ordered the Wok-Fried Green Beans, a solid starter of crispy battered green beans served with a sweet Thai chili dipping sauce. Golden lovely and not overly-greasy.
My father and I decided to split 2 dishes, since the Dim Sum Basket caught my eye but seemed a little light. The bamboo steamer basket came filled with pork pot stickers, shrimp siu mai, cha su bao & pork siu
mai, steamed on a banana leaf, with a soy lime dipping sauce. Obviously not quite on par with the killer dim sum around LA, but quite a tasty lunch offering for an Orlando theme park.
We also shared the Maple Tamarind Chicken- a "seared" chicken breast with an Indonesian tamarind glaze, coconut-ginger rice, and a baby bok choy & shiitake mushroom stir-fry. Culturally kitchen-sink, sure, but this was actually a very palatable dish not unlike some I've had at Silver Lake's Gingergrass.
Bizzarely, the Yeti brought me not fear, but hope for the coming week. With a traditional Luau, Norwegian feast and all of Epcot's world showcase yet to come, I needed not be discouraged for my belly. I knew it would be just fine.
Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 30, 2010

Buvare: First & Hope

A weekend morning at Sunset Junction is never complete without a good haunt at Barkeeper - possibly my favorite retail shop in the city. A couple of weeks ago between flirts with the bitters and artisan cocktail syrup selections (by way of the patient and always enthusiastic sales clerks), a flier on the counter caught my eye. The following night Iron Bar Chef Tony Abou-Ganim was having a cocktail book launch at the new First & Hope Downtown Supper Club, featuring visiting bartenders from around the country - and I had already decided I was most definitely going to attend.
A burst of life tucked back in the corner of a sleepy business complex a block from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Fist & Hope is an unexpected high class joint. A flight of regally dressed ladies greeted us inside the glass doors, an oblong divan, draping chandelier and enomatic wine system pulled our attention toward the bar side. A gorgeous gleaming wood bar, curving walls, deco ceiling tiles, and cool-toned lighting effortlessly created a chic mystique.
The uniforms at First & Hope are simply impossible to ignore, perfectly tailored satin grey numbers on the ladies and fitted white cocktail coats on the men, evoking a vintage elegance a la Mad Men - appropos as we found out costume designer Janie Bryant of Mad Men designed the meticulously fitted get ups.
The evening's premiere event Red Rover, Red Rover got its name when cocktail consultant for First & Hope's beverage program Aidan Demarest decided to bring over an array of visiting mixologists for the debut: Erick Castro of The Rickhouse in San Francisco, Misty Kalkofen of Drink in Boston, John Lermayer of the Delano Hotel in Miami, and Juan Sevilla of LA’s Soho House.
This dream team delivered an INSANELY good cocktail menu! We decided to go down the list and try everybody's specialties, two by two. First and possibly a favorite was Erick Castro's sophisticated Statesman (above), an herbaceous dry cocktail differentiated from a standard Gin martini by a whisper of Rothman & Winter Pear, Chartreuse, and orange bitters. THE most refreshing and elegant drink, probably ever. Castro's flipside offering Little Monster's Exotic Punch packed a spicy Caribbean wallop, served from a punch bowl at the end of the bar. The wicked concoction blended Clement VSOP Rum, Dry Sack Oloroso 15 yr Sherry, Allspice Dram, fresh lime, cane sugar, grated nutmeg, and sparkling water.
At our corner of the bar, Boston's charming Misty Kalkofen busted some serious behind, shaking and stirring cocktails two at a time all night with a hearty laugh. We tried her menu offerings next, the St. Pierre (Clement Premiere Canne Rum, Green Chartreuse, fresh lemon and white grapefruit juices) was a pleasant beachfront sipper, while the smart and lusty La Revelacion was just that - a revelation. The ingenious potion of Spanish Brandy, Dry Sack, Sherry, Rhum Clement Creole Shrub, and absinthe. Sounds plain stiff, but it was remarkably smooth and palatable.
We moved next into the back room, a Guys and Dolls-esque jazz club aptly called the Fedora. A gleaming grand piano held court over the small club while a second bar was stirring cocktails fervently.
We ordered a pair of Juan Sevilla's spirited libations seated at our corner booth, enjoying the music and vibe. Summer in Martinique was sweet and hot, with Rhum Clement, Habanero-infused agave nectar, Aperol, and fresh lemon. Smokin' Redcoat was a sophisticated layering of Martin Miller's Gin, Carpano Antica Formula and Mescal. Wowza!
Out of nowhere, a white coat appeared with a tray and the best line of the night "14 karat gold dusted bacon fudge??" Why yes, of  course!
The other most amusing among the hors d'oeuvres were the cotton candy style air-puffed "Jolly Ranchers". Yes, they tasted exactly like those fruity sweet morsels from our childhood.
After some more noshing and sloshing, we moved on from the Fedora to the book signing area. Tony was deep in flirtatious conversation with a semi-circle of fans, while co-writer Mary Elizabeth Faulkner smiled sweetly, quietly signing alongside. While Tony didn't look up when signing my book and misspelled my name, Mary Elizabeth was engaging and even pointed me in the direction of some killer recipes that seemed up my alley. We thanked her for being such a sugar, and with one final lap to thank the bartenders, decided to call it a night.
Once outside again we were back in the unassuming quiet corner of downtown. The Walt Disney Concert Hall and Ahmanson Theatre glimmered beyond the fountain as we smiled at our fortune for such a lovely and unexpected night.
First & Hope Downtown Supper Club
710 W First St. Downtown LA; 213.617.8555
First & Hope on Urbanspoon