It’s a new year, which means it’s already time for a new festival full of fun flavors at Walt Disney World. Following the rousing success of last year’s inaugural Epcot Festival of the Arts, 2018’s fest returns with thirteen food booths featuring incredible culinary creations from around the globe. During the festival’s opening weekend, I had a chance to try so many great new and returning dishes, and today, I’ll be sharing a few of my favorites from every booth with you, including a few of the more interesting drinks on offer at the festival. As always, click on each image to see a larger version!
The Painter’s Palate (Odyssey Festival Showplace)
- Trio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts
- Whipped Boursin Garlic and Herb Cheese
- Chicken Salad with Shaved Fennel and Fresh Herbs
- Spicy Tuna with Wasabi and Seaweed Salad
The return of the savory cronuts brings another killer trio to snack on in the festival center. Who doesn’t like garlicky cheese on a buttery croissant? Bonus: the chicken salad here is really awesome – not too saucy, full of savory and sweet counterpoints from the well-seasoned chicken and the fennel. The spicy tuna cronut seemed like an odd mash-up of cultures before I tried it, but I was sold after one bite.
- Gallery Bites: A Trio of Hors d’Oeuvres
- Chilled Shrimp with Cucumber Cream Cheese on a Crostini
- Traditional Deviled Egg with Candied Bacon
- Crispy Truffled Risotto Ball with Stone-Ground Mustard
If cronuts aren’t your thing, this snacky trio is a slam-dunk. A good old fashioned deviled egg with a sweet (albeit a bit chewy) piece of bacon, an addictively crispy-chewy truffle arancini with spicy mustard, and a perfectly poached shrimp on toast make for a solid serving of elevated goodness, if you’re in search for a substantial snack.
I did not expect a beer flight to feature as one of my favorite drink picks of the festival, but with individual popcorn pairings, it was too novel to pass up. Alongside a pilsner comes a few bites of sweet and smoky bacon barbecue popcorn; with the IPA, a zippy jalapeno ranch flavor popcorn; and with the brown ale, my favorite, a tangy buffalo blue cheese popcorn.
The Deconstructed Dish (Showcase Plaza)
Though I wouldn’t necessarily say this’ll satisfy a craving for a good ol’ fashioned BLT, this dish is certainly tasty. A sizeable portion of pork belly and a perfectly runny soft poached egg combine with tangy and sweet tomato jam to create an umami bomb of a snack. The herbaceous pesto smeared on the plate is somewhat reminiscent of the “green” flavors of the lettuce in a BLT, and while I do miss the crunch of toasted bread, the richness of the egg and pork belly more than make up for it.
- Deconstructed Strawberry Cheesecake – Whipped New York-Style Cheesecake with Fresh Florida Strawberries, Sugar Cookies, and Micro-basil
Think of this as cheesecake pudding with toppings – the whipped cheesecake definitely has the tang you’d expect from a typical New York-style cheesecake, but the sugar cookies and strawberry topping donate a bit of sweetness to the party. The addition of the micro basil is a fun and artsy touch, making the plate pop visually and flavor-wise.
Decadent Delights (Showcase Plaza)
“Purple Sweet Potato Mousse” may not sound ridiculously appetizing, but this returning dish is definitely worth a taste (and is a fun way to show kids that veggies can turn into desserts, too). The white chocolate base to the mousse offers sweet hints and a richness that make this feel like a less-than-healthy dessert, while the salted caramel and maple meringue play off each other well to balance out the dish. While the sweet-on-sweet flavors may not be for everyone, I enjoyed the lightness of this dessert compared to many of the other festival dishes.
- S’mores Tart with House-Smoked Buttermilk Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Mousse, Toasted Marshmallow Meringue, Graham Cracker Dust, and Malted Milk Chocolate Sauce
This is a true festival winner for me (and any other chocaholic out there)! The chocolate on chocolate flavors here don’t feel too rich, oddly – the buttermilk twang in the cake combined with the sweet and smooth mousse and the malted fudgy sauce on the plate combine to highlight the various notes chocolate can take on in the flavor spectrum. The marshmallow meringue bites on top accent the dish to help create a more visually appealing plate (and really, who doesn’t love marshmallow?).
Pop Eats! (Showcase Plaza)
- Sous Vide Poulet Rouge Chicken Roulade with Apples and Sage, served with Warm Brie Fondue, Blueberry and Beet Gel, garnished with Apple and Beet Chips
One of my absolute top favorites of any Epcot food festival, this dish blew me away when I considered the fact that it came from a food booth in the middle of a theme park. Dark and white meat chicken are wonderfully married in an herbaceous roulade, but the real stars are the accompanying sauces. The cheese fondue brought out the savory side of the chicken and apple roulade, while the blueberry and beet sauce brought out the earthy sweetness of the apples. The crunchy apple and beet chips were perfect for picking up the rest of the sauce after I finished the chicken.
Another returning favorite from last year’s festival, this Mondrian-inspired cake is as tasty as it is visually striking. The near-cloyingly sweet almond frangipane cake gets close to being too sweet for my tastes, but the slightly tart raspberry jam between layers helps to cut that a bit, and the dark Belgian chocolate frosting on the outside of the slice bring a little bitterness to the party, a perfect contrast that helped deepen the flavors of the cake, as a whole.
El Artista Hambriento (Mexico)
How could I not get this strikingly gorgeous margarita? I mean, really? How cool is that?! The best part? Frida’s portrait is edible, and the guava margarita it sits atop was balanced and sweet, refreshingly light. I wouldn’t call it one of the stronger drinks at the festival, but it certainly wins the prize for most in-theme and prettiest. Also available at El Artista Hambriento – a Diego Rivera-themed Passion Margarita (served on the rocks, in contrast with Frida’s frozen form), with similar artistic flair and flavor.
Served in a little paper bundle, this dish was another that absolutely wowed me, considering it came out of a food booth. The lamb was perfectly tender (without being fall-apart overdone), and the deep, dark chile sauce that the lamb was marinated and braised in is reminiscent of a mole in its complexity and rich flavor – sweet, savory, smoky, slightly spicy notes all present. I will definitely visit the festival again just to sample this plate.
- Tacos de Puerco – Corn Tortillas topped with Slow-Roasted Ancho-Marinated Pork Shoulder, Sweet Plantain Puree, and Pea Tendrils
Talk about a fun plate of tacos – tender ancho-marinated pulled pork brings savory and a bit of spice to the party, while the sweet plantains smeared on every tortilla tone it all down. The heat and acidity from the salsa roja on top (presumably the marinade from the pork shoulder’s cook) really makes everything pop, and, alongside the pea tendrils, helps make the dish incredibly visually appealing. My dining companions and I fought over the last of these tacos, even with stiff competition from the lamb mixiote.
Though this wasn’t my favorite dessert of the day, it wins points for originality and being a new offering from Mexico at any food booth throughout the year. Atole is a drink made from corn meal (which may be off-putting to some, but the texture is more like drinking pudding or a thick milkshake), and this one is flavored with strawberry. If I closed my eyes, I felt like I was drinking a warm strawberry Quik, which was not a bad thing on a cool winter afternoon. The accompanying concha bread was fluffy and sweet, perfect for dipping in the concha.
The Painted Panda (China)
The most instagrammable food Epcot has ever served (and that’s saying a lot!), the coconut panda rice cake is more style over substance, but a fun way to show how food can be art, too. The best part of ordering this dish was watching the Cast Member at the booth taking painstaking effort to tweezer-on each piece of the panda’s face – I dare you not to stand mesmerized at the patience this dessert requires to make. Overall, the flavor is entirely just coconut sticky rice, which is an acquired taste and somewhat one-note, but it’s worth the order if you want fun photos for a memory of the day.
Easily one of the prettiest desserts I’ve ever seen, this mooncake was beautiful, and delicious, as well. Mango and strawberry flavors were prominent in the fruit filling, while the mooncake itself was mostly just “sweet fruit” flavored. For those who are particular about textures, this is a fun one to try – the mooncake is almost a tapioca texture, chewy through and through.
Cuisine Classique (Germany)
Another returning favorite, this short rib is so tender, so unctuous, and just addictively rich on a cool day. The smooth and silky parsnip puree and the tender-crisp broccolini offer a bit of earthiness to the dish, while a bit of sourness comes from the acidity of the tomatoes and the balsamic glaze drizzled atop the dish. While the portion isn’t huge, this dish feels like it came straight from the kitchen of one of Disney’s best restaurants, and is a great way to introduce elevated versions of familiar flavors and plating presentations to kids and picky eaters.
A new festival offering for this year, this take on a traditional Saint-Honore tart is mindblowing in execution and flavor. My dining party were all fighting over the last bite of this caramel tart, which has almost a caramel shortbread on the bottom, an ooey gooey caramel cream and glaze on top, and then two traditional, wonderfully executed cream puffs just to cap off the dessert.
L’Arte di Mangiare (Italy)
Italy is usually not the most adventurous booth during food festivals, but they definitely raised the stakes during the 2017 Food and Wine Festival, and this dessert shows they really can pull of some great things when they put their minds to it. I absolutely LOVED these cream fritters – deep fried and crunchy on the outside, breaded almost like fried mozzarella, and inside you’ll find an incredibly rich vanilla pudding-like cream. When accented with the earthy and sweet peach arugula pesto on the plate (which I could’ve had two more spoonfuls of and still wouldn’t have had enough), the richness of the fritters mellows a bit. Definitely a plate to share, but I will certainly be back for another order of these before festival end.
The Artist’s Table (American Adventure)
- Roasted Pork Roulade with Butternut Squash Puree, Marble Potatoes, and Baby Carrots with a Red Wine Sauce
Another shot at roulade, and although this version didn’t wow me as much as the chicken roulade at Pop Eats!, it showcased some wonderful fall and winter flavors in a few small bites, which I can never fault. The carrots and marble potatoes make this a visually striking and well-rounded dish – an easy way to show kids that vegetables can complete a plate in more ways than one.
Takumi Table (Japan)
A first, in my memory, this dish is a duo of sweet and savory portions. The chirashi sushi, with several pieces of fresh salmon and tuna atop a sizeable portion of sticky rice and seaweed salad paired perfectly with the tangy and sweet yuzu miso sauce. On the sweet side, the coconut tapioca pudding was exactly as you’d expect, and although tapioca is not my personal favorite, it did offer a nice contrast in flavors after the few bites of sushi on the other side of the plate.
You may scoff at the price tag for this – and it is a lot for one serving of sake – but the personalized wooden box that this Masu Sake is served in is a keepsake well worth the price. Cast Members will write your name on your box as you order it (in Japanese katakana, no less), and then another Cast Member will ladle out your sake into it once you reach the window. A fun way to experience a longstanding cultural tradition, and a view into the mixture of tangible art and food in Japanese culture: a double win!
Mosaic Canteen (Morocco)
- Hummus Trifle – Layered Hummus with Spiced Beef, Pine Nuts, and Dry Cherries served with Pita Chips
I know, I know – “hummus trifle” doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing on earth (nor does it necessarily photograph as such). But! This dish was really a step up from most offerings from Morocco during food festivals, and I was really happy to see the leap towards including more traditional flavors featured at Morocco’s restaurants around Epcot here at the food booth. The spiced beef and dried cherries combined with the crunchy pine nuts fancied up this traditional portion of hummus and pita chips enough to make this dish a win for those in search of a slightly outside the norm snack.
- Embrace the Arak – El Massaya Arak, Orange Juice, and Grenadine
One of the more visually striking drinks available at the Festival of the Arts, the Embrace the Arak requires a bit of adventurousness on the part of the drinker. If you’ve never had arak before, you’ll want to know that it is derived from anise, and thus, tastes a lot like black licorice, which I know can be quite a divisive flavor for people. The orange juice and grenadine are really just present here to make the arak more visually appealing, and it works, to be sure.
L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise (France)
Frose is the new rose gold, right? This frose is well done, and mighty strong, with the wine being strengthened by a dash of Grey Goose, as well. Another dangerous drink from the France pavilion, as we’ve come to expect from every festival, this is an easy sipper to keep in hand whilst exploring the festival offerings in World Showcase.
- Salmon in Puff Pastry, Paul Bocuse-style with Spinach and Beurre Blanc Sauce
Seafood lovers, rejoice, as this is the booth you have been waiting for. This salmon en croute is absolutely astonishing in both flavor and presentation – it pained me to cut into the amazing fish-shaped puff pastry, but after one bite of this salmon and spinach dipped into the beurre blanc sauce swimming around the plate, I was sold. If you’ve ever wanted to dine at Monsieur Paul for the sheer fanciness of it all, but felt it was too much to splurge on, this dish is a fun way to get a taste of the flavors and presentations Paul Bocuse is known for.
Easily the most beautiful dish I have had at any Epcot festival, this mango and raspberry cake offers stunning views before AND after you cut into it. The tangy mango and sweet raspberry mousses sit atop a chocolate cake base, marrying together in perfect dessert harmony. I wouldn’t necessarily say this dessert was better tasting than anything else you can get in the France pavilion (with so many amazing treats around every corner), but it definitely wins the day for being a show-stopper in presentation.
The Masterpiece Kitchen (Canada)
It almost pains me to recommend a pre-mixed drink, but this sidecar really hit the spot on alongside the charcuterie palette and risotto. Though a bit heavy on the orange liqueur, I found this to be relatively drinkable if you are new to sidecars (a traditional cognac cocktail), and I give Disney major points for going out on a limb and offering up a real drinker’s drink at the festival. The white chocolate twist is merely for show, but it’s certainly pretty and a nice “dessert” to snack on after all the savory options at this booth.
Who needs Le Cellier when you can feast on this rather large portion of creamy and rich wild mushroom risotto outside the booth for much less? I was impressed at the size of this offering, as well as the sheer amount of mushrooms in my single portion – unlike Food & Wine, I could actually taste mushrooms here because more than one of them was present in my plate! Even better? The risotto was cooked perfectly, not gummy or, alternatively, firm to the tooth.
Charcuterie boards are all the rage around Walt Disney World restaurants these days, and this one will run you about as much as any of them at a true signature, but for a festival offering, I was pretty impressed! Chicken liver pate, chorizo, brasciole, and prosciutto all came alongside a reasonable portion of brie and blue cheeses, crostini, and a few accompaniments in the form of mustard, jam, honey, pickled onions, and pecans. None of these are unique offerings, to be sure, but this’ll definitely hit the spot if you’re looking for a sizeable savory snack to enjoy alongside some wine.
Overall, I found all of the Festival of the Arts food to be of great quality this year. Each dish requires so much more effort to plate and create than those available at Flower & Garden or Food & Wine, so pack your patience when ordering, as lines tend to move a bit slower than at other festivals. Additionally, dishes tend to be a bit pricier given the amount of effort involved in making each one. The portion sizes, presentations, and flavors, though, in my opinion, tend to exceed what I’d expect from most Food & Wine dishes, so the prices, at least comparatively, don’t seem unreasonable in most circumstances.
Which dishes above caught your eye? Do you have any festival favorites I’ve missed? Leave a comment below and let me know what I should try on my next visit to Epcot’s Festival of the Arts!