Friday, July 29, 2011

Could Free Dining for Fall/Winter Be Right Around the Corner?

Ok let me start by saying this is JUST a rumor. But if my friend Chris over at Everything Walt Disney World posted it-it's pretty credible. We have been discussing this for days now at Pixie and she & I are the few, the proud, the pixie dust inhaling who still believe Disney won't let us down this year. I know there are those out there you say early Aug. is too early to announce, but since many Disney travel planners will in in Orlando for AEP (Agent Education Program) from Aug. 15th-Aug. 19th, Chris & myself included, we can't see them making a major announcement during this time frame.

So here it is the POSSIBLE date IF Free Dining is released:

For bookings between August 3, 2011 - December 17, 2011.

Travel Dates:

  • October 2, 2011 - October 8, 2011
  • October 23, 2011 - November 5, 2011
  • November 13, 2011 - November 19, 2011
  • November 27, 2011 - December 3, 2011
  • December 11, 2011 - December 17,

Free Quick Service Dining for Values
Base (Plus) Dining for Moderates & Deluxe

**BIG Disney A La Carte tip: You can pay the difference in price to upgrade your plan-oh the food nerd joy!!

Minimum Stay: 3 Nights – Maximum stay: 14 nights.

And remember on top of these discounts, your trip can also qualify for free Disney gift cards from me as well if you book through me. For any questions & quotes please contact me at And as always-my vacation planning services are always 100%  Free to you.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mini Food Review: Coral Reef's Creamy Lobster Soup

Creamy Lobster Soup with Tarragon and Brandy 

I love this soup so much, I make it at home. Let me start by saying, I really am not a bisque fan. Any kind of bisque. But this soup is so stinking good it totally converted me. The creamy lobster bisque lives up to it's name with a silky, smooth base that has just the right amount of cream, setting it apart from a chowder with it's traditional milkiness. The flavor is full & rich and takes up residence in your entire mouth. While the flavor of lobster is present, it work in symphony with the other flavors and is not overbearing or fishy. It also has a fresh lobster taste verses some lobster dishes that have an obviously enhanced fake lobster flavor. The pieces of lobster in the soup are sweet, tender and have the slight brine flavor of the ocean. The use of brandy is really a brilliant choice as brandy lends a slightly sweet flavor to the dish. The brandy acts as a supporting role instead of yelling "HEY look at me" the way other liquors tend to do. And finally the tarragon lends a distinct flavor to the soup, without turning you off. You will find yourself trying to identify what it is, because it's not an herb people are overly familiar with, but it blend seamlessly. Overall, if you love lobster, this soup is not to be missed. My opinion is that it is the incarnation of Lobster Bisque, of all the WDW properties that make it. 
*If you'd like to try making this dish at home, check under recipes for the full recipe and instructions on how to make it.

Mini Food Review: Land and Sea Appetizer

Sea and Land - Grilled shrimp with cucumber salad and BBQ beef skewer with creamy polenta $11.99 

Couldn't find a good pic of this app yet, but hey-he is a land & sea sorta guy.   

This appetizer seems to be a staple at the Coral Reef restaurant. It's pretty straightforward and simple fare. Your dish comes with a skewer of 2 grilled shrimp on a bed of cucumber ribbon salad, and a skewer of BBQ sauced beef tenderloin on a bed of polenta. The shrimp are average, and relatively small, probably 26-30 count sized*. They are your standard grilled shrimp with no stand out flavor beyond the grilled flavor. But they were cooked properly and not dry or rubbery. The cucumber salad the shrimp are served on was it tasty and refreshing and really was the only one who brought their flavor with them to the shrimp and salad party. The beef tenderloin was tender and flavorful and not over-cooked, which always scores with me. The pieces, again small, were sauced with a lovely BBQ sauce, that I do believe might have mango in it. It also had a nice tang to it and almost reminded me of a chutney with its vinegar undertones. It was sweet, savory, & tangy and each individual taste hit you at different times, yet blended seamlessly. It was complimented by a creamy, smooth polenta that had a hint of cheese in it. I am thinking Italian hard cheese like Romano or Parmigiano. Either way it was another winner for me. I found it funny that the accompaniments had so much flavor, almost giving the main elements of the dish a run for their money. This is a good appetizer and one you don't have to think too hard about it. Of course that can be a double edged sword because it's good-but not so good your are savoring every last bite, but good enough you'll be a bit peeved wondering where it all went. I seem to remember this dish being $9.95, but I'm not sure. I think $9.95 was a far better price point for this appetizer, far better then $12, but alas-such is life. All in all this appetizer is quite good, in parts and adequate in others, but I would definitely recommend it.

**Shrimp are rated by how many can fit in an average pound. So a 26-30 count is an average size. 10-12 counts are the monster prawns, and 40-50 count are very small just above salad sized.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival-Proof Disney is not just for kids

It never fails, we announce our plans for our Disney World vacation, and it's always the same response-"Again? Don't you get tired of rides and characters?". Well first of all-no, we don't, next I launch into my "There's more to Disney then just kids activities." speech. Disney, being the geniuses in marketing that they are, have created experiences and events that cater to a broad spectrum of travelers. The Epcot Food & Wine Festival is one of my favorite examples of this.

The Epcot International Food & Wine festival runs from September 30th to November 13th, 2011. While it is open to all guests (with a park ticket of course), it can really be an opportunity for adults to have some grown-up fun at Disney. It can also be a great adults only trip option. I will admit I am a bit obsessed with this event. No really-if you offered me a free trip to Disney for one week, during anytime of the year-I would always choose to go during Food& Wine. It's so bad that when we are at Epcot and the festival isn't going on-we grumble that Epcot looks bare lol.

So what is the Food & Wine festival? In addition to the 11 countries already represented in the World Showcase, additional booths are added offering sample-sized portions of foods & wines from around the world. This years festival will include 29 extra booths offering everything from savory & sweet foods, wines, beers and other beverages from each of the represented countries. Prices usually range from $2-$4 with some items like a lobster roll costing upwards to $7. There are special dining events like The Party for the Senses, cooking demonstrations, book signings and meals with famous chefs and other food personalities, tastings, free concerts and more. Some of these events are free & included in your park admission, others are an additional cost. There are shops and markets set up throughout the park where you can buy specialty foods, cook books, wines, housewares and other food & wine related items. It's like Eat-a-palooza people! If you are a home chef, if you are a foodie, IF YOU LIKE TO EAT & DRINK-this is the event for you.

Here are some of the events you can look forward to experiencing during the Food & Wine Festival:

Eat to the Beat Concert Series: Scheduled throughout the festival, a variety of special musical guests entertain festival goers with free concerts. This is this years line up includes: Taylor Dane, 38 Special, Jon Secada, Roger Hodson, Billy Ocean, Starship, Sugar Ray, The Orchestra, Howard Jones, Boyz II Men, Gin Blossoms, Sister Hazel, Hanson, Pointer Sisters, Night Ranger, Air Supply, Richard Marx, & Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

Special Festival Experiences:
*Cranberry Bog Display hosted by Ocean Spray Craisins
*Home Entertaining seminars hosted by HGTV
*Taste Seminars
*Book Signings and Meet & Greets
*Bottle Signings by winemakers
*Seasons of the Wine: a intro to wine growing
*Culinary Demonstrations
*Mixology Seminars
*Scent Demos
Wine/Beverage Seminars

Premium Festival Event & Experiences:
*Party for the Senses: Think a food rave with Cirque de Soliel preforming above your head
*The Magic of Healthy Living Dinner with celebrity chef dads
*Kitchen Memories with celebrity chefs like Cat Cora & John Stewart of Zazu to name a few
*First Bites Opening Reception
*Vertical Wine Tasting
*Epcot Wine School
*Food & Wine Pairings
*Cheese Seminar
*Culinary Adventures in Signature Dining

Sweet Events & Experiences:
*The Discovery of Chocolate:  (*Swoon*)
*3-D Dessert Discovery
*Sweet Sundays

Premium Mexican Events:
* Mexico Tequila Lunch (Hmmm..)
*Tequila Tasting

Premium Italian Events:
*Italy Food & Beer Pairing

*Italy Dessert & Wine Pairing
*Italian White Truffle Lunch-this sounds amazing!
*Italy Food & Wine Pairing

Premium French Events:
*French Regional Lunches
*Best of Bocuse Dinner
*Taste, Shake & Indulge Like the French tasting event hosted by Grand Marnier

View the full festival PDF map here and the full list of visitors and sponsors here

As you can see-this event is definitely geared more toward adults. Kids of course can enjoy many of the festivals food offerings, and if you have a food nerd like we do-it could also be one of their favorite times to visit too, but in my opinion the Food &Wine festival is to adults what Easter is to kids. For all those folks who think Disney is JUST for kids-I say take a good look into the Epcot Food & Wine festival and see another side of Disney.

**Currently Pixie is have some really great deals on Food & Wine packages, including stays at the Boardwalk Inn resort which is in walking Distance to Epcot. Contact me for a quote!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top 10 Disney Dining Tips

As someone who has tried every dining plan and gone with no dining plan, here's my top 10 tips and secrets. In no particular order...

1) Not all snacks are created equal.
When using the dining plan it is a waste to burn a snack credit on a $2 soda or a $1 piece of fruit. Save those credits for a almost $4 pretzel or giant cinnamon bun.

2) If you're not a fan of Orlando's finest tap water-then stick to bottled beverages. Any fountain drinks AND the ice in them will have the lovely smell of sulfur. Remember that when you ask for a cup of ice to pour your bottle of diet Coke over :)

3) Not a fan of desserts (or more specifically the dessert options served at the quick service restaurants)? Then ask if you can take apples or grapes instead. Some places will even let you take a small bottle water in place of the dessert. Also a lot of sit-down restaurants will have a cheese plate option instead of sweets.

4) Want to try the Deluxe dining plan but not sure you have the time or stomach space for (3) 3 course meals a day, plus snacks? Then try this-book a late breakfast (preferably a buffet) and a late dinner at a Signature dining restaurant. You can also, of course, book both early-we're just not early risers on vacation. You are still using 3 credits a day, but only eating 2 sit down meals a day. Then use your snack credits to fill the gaps.

5) During free dining promotions, you can pay to upgrade your dining plan. So for instance if you're staying at a Value or Moderate resort and are getting the Quick Service plan for free, but shudder at the thought of counter service meals. you can pay the difference in price to upgrade to the Base (Plus) or Deluxe plan.

6) Coordinate your dining with park events & going ons. Don't schedule your dinner during the middle of Illuminations, unless you want the wee ones to spring from their chair, mouths full of food and head for the nearest exit so they can see it. Do allow yourself time to finish your meal and find a good viewing area OR book in a restaurant like California Grill and watch Wishes as you dine.

7) Booking character meals beats standing on a line any day of the week in my opinion. Especially with kids. Disney has done you the favor of putting all your favorite characters in one place-take advantage of it.

8) If you have the Base (Plus) or Deluxe dining plans, Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) are your friend. Imagine spending money on a dining plan only to be told every place you want to eat at is full. Yes it can happen and no I'm not kidding. Book 'em early and don't take any chances.

9) Don't be afraid to make a meal out of appetizers & dessert. In fact-I encourage it.

10) This one is for John. For the beer drinkers in your family, save money on adult beverages by buying them at the Hess Station at Downtown Disney. When you plan to visit Downtown Disney, bring your rolling carry-on piece of luggage and right across from the bus stops at the Westside, is a Hess gas station. You can purchase beer & soda (as well as other snack -and if you smoke cigarettes) a lot cheaper than on property, put them in your rolling carry-on and hop a bus back to your resort. You can do this at the beginning or end of your DTD visit.

Disney Dining Plan or Ala Carte: Deciding Which is Best for You.

One of the reasons I decided to do a blog about food (besides the fact I love it so much) is when it comes to Disney-what, where & when you're gonna eat seems to drive people crazy. One of the biggest issues seems to be whether or not to purchase one of the Disney Dining plans, to just get a Tables in Wonderland card (if you're eligible) or to just pack a jar of peanut butter and some bread and wing it. Questions are posted on message boards daily asking "Is it worth it to buy the Dining Plan?". The simplest answer to this is-that depends on you & your traveling party. This is where either you-or your travel agent has to sit down and run the numbers. But before you do that, you have to take an honest look at a few things. Some questions to ask yourself when deciding what you want to do about food while on vacation at Disney:

1) What are your eating habits at home? 
The first question can be expanded to include: Are you adventurous eaters normally? Do you go out to and try new restaurants often? Are you a family who prefers quick service food? Are you very light eaters? All these questions can help you decide if a dining plan is best or perhaps just paying out of pocket would work better for you. For example, if you are normally a light eater, a Deluxe dining plan might not be the best value for your dollar. How you eat at home should give you insight as to what will be best for you on vacation.

2) Do your eating habits differ when you're on vacation?
The exception to #1 would be if you're the type of folks who like to live it up on vacation. For some, dining is a major part of their vacation experience. We are like this. What we're going to eat on vacation is as important to us as where we're going on vacation lol. So if you don't do dishes on vacation and get excited over trying new restaurants-then either the Base or Deluxe dining plans would be ideal for you.

3) How much time are you willing to devote to dining while on vacation?
 This is big. For some, the thought of leaving the parks to eat is not an appealing one. For others, it provides a nice break in touring. Another thing to consider, is how much time different dining experiences will take and are your children up to it? How long are they able to sit in restaurants? If you have a natural wiggle worm, who is only still when they are asleep, then booking 3 course sit down meals at Disney's Signature restaurants might only serve to make for a frustrating experience. On the other hand, some kids need the break in the day to cool off and recharge those batteries and a nice Character meal might be the perfect way to relax and shake off the crabbiness. Actually this could be true for any member of the family-John gets cranky if we push him too hard without feeding him regularly lol. So how long you can reasonably expect your kids (big or little) to sit for a meal, how long they can be pushed before they need to eat, and how much time you are ok with spending away from the parks? All can point you in the direction of what would work best for you.

4) What is your food budget?
This might be the most important thing to consider and it's a double edged sword. On one hand paying for a dining plan can get pricey, especially if your children are 10 and up and being charged as an adult. I have long said that Disney really needs a Tween pricing option for kids 10-17. They of course also need a lot better menu options for them as well. But I am getting off off the subject and about to go to RantLand-one of the Lands that got shot down in development. Where was I? Oh yes paying for the dining plan. While paying for the dining plan can get expensive, it also can be a great way to control your food costs-and your snacking costs as well. There is something really nice about not having to reach into your pocket every time you want a soda or an Mickey Ice cream. It's nice to walk into a restaurant and not look at prices and just order what you really want. The dining plans give you that flexibility AND they let you prepay/pre-budget for that as well. And with 3 different plans-there are a of options to suit many different types of diners.

*I do want to take the time to mention the Tables in Wonderland card here. The Tables in Wonderland card or TiW-is a discount card for annual passholders & Florida residents. It gets you 20% off your entire dining check (there are some rules and such-but I will get into that in a later post). For some people this is perfect-but again, you have to run the numbers but it can also provide great flexibility when dining.

5) Do you prefer/need to prepare your own meals?
The are a lot of different reasons some people would rather make their own food and if you are staying at a resort that has cooking facilities, then this version of ala carte might be the best option for you. A stop to a local grocery store or using a service like Garden Grocer or WeGoShop to have groceries delivered can accommodate you. But I have to realistic here and say, that it's one thing to make sandwiches and have cereal & fresh fruit in your resort fridge, it's another thing to reasonably expect to prepare a meal at Disney. Unless you're a DVC owner with a purple Owners Locker-you're going to find that  it's a bit of a pain in the tush. You have to plan for not just the food item themselves, but spices, cooking oils, condiments, etc. and to me-it's just not worth it lol. You might feel different.

6) Are you staying at a resort level that allows you to prepare your own meals? (ie: Villas)
If you want to cook your own food, and I mean cook-not throw together a few cold cut sandwiches for the parks, you need to able to stay in a resort with the proper facilities to cook in. Disney villas are the only resorts that give you this option. They are equipped with Full sized stove top & oven, refrigerator, sink, cooking utensils, appliances like coffee makers & toasters-and FIRE EXTINGUISHERS. It is against the law AND Disney rules to use cooking appliances in your resort room-unless it's one of the villas. With the exception of a fridge-toaster, crock pots, hot plates, griddles and so on can get you fined & thrown off of Disney property, not to mention pose a health hazard to you & your fellow resort guests. And trying to cook a grilled cheese with you resort iron is also frowned upon by Disney and your fellow guests so it is important to only try cooking at Disney is resorts equipped for cooking at Disney.

Take a few minutes to kick around these questions and see if they start to point you toward some solid answers about which way to attack the food questions you have about Disney. It doesn't make sense to run every scenario if they won't work for you in the first place. Light eaters should not bother with the Deluxe plan, folks that don't eat fast food at home should avoid the quick service plan, and park commandos should not purchase any plan that has a sit-down table service dining option and so on. You have to ask yourself these questions about what kind of diners you are and once you have a better idea-THEN run the numbers lol.

Hope this helped. Feel free to contact me with any questions at!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Restaurant Review: Coral Reef

My first two reviews were on Signature dining restaurants, so I thought I would review some other dining options. A reader from my Facebook page asked about Coral Reef, so I decided to review it next :)

Brief Description: Fresh seafood like mahi-mahi & pan roasted jumbo sea scallops are some of the fresh seafood options available, as well as a NY strip steak and a vegetarian option as well. A nice selection of appetizers, including salads & soups are present and they are known for their famous Jack Daniels & Baileys' Chocolate Mousse dessert.

Decor: The restaurant is home to a 5.6 million gallon salt water aquarium that holds 85 different varieties of tropical fish. When you are seated, along with your menu, you are given a sheet to help identify some of the fish you will see swimming in the aquarium. While the food is quite good-obviously the view is the big draw. The restaurant is decorated to give the feel of being underwater with it's blue ceiling that that gives the feeling you're looking up from the the ocean floor. Sand colored wood chairs and table accents blend well with the overall atmosphere. Everywhere mosaic tile & sea glass inspired accents can be found, that always give me an Ariels' grotto feel. There is both chair & booth style seating, of which I prefer the booths. The chairs remind me of school-basic and hard. The chair seating is arranged right next to the tank, and the booths further back. While you can see the aquarium very well from any seat in the restaurant, because the restaurant is tiered, sitting right next to the glass is a lot of fun. It's such a thrill to have a sea turtle swim over or see a shark go by, or even a diver during feeding time. Although as I write this-I just struck me that there's a macabre humor to having fish watch you dine on fish...heh. In any case, it really is a treat and if you are lucky enough to get seated next to the tank you will really enjoy it. You can ask to be seated next to the tank, but often they will not accommodate special requests like this because...well...EVERYONE wants that. Sometimes you can offer to wait longer for a "window seat" but there are no promises. Fair warning for folks like me who get cold easily, bring a sweater or something to throw on, it can get very cool in there and you don't want to spend your meal shivering. Other than that, is it a lovely dining atmosphere, both for it's decor as well as the spectacular aquarium view.

Service: Being a different style of dining, the Coral Reef is a bit below par with the other in-park sit down restaurants. Meaning that with limited space & high demand, service is more of a "Turn & Burn" style. This is a term restaurant staff uses which means-get 'em and get 'em out. I am not saying that your service will be bad, Disney is still Disney and prides themselves on customer service, but the pace will be much faster. In this particular restaurant we have gotten the full spectrum of servers. Some were extremely pleasant and accommodating, while others were either too busy to give effective, good service or didn't care to. Also, unlike other Epcot restaurants, where the waitstaff fit into the theme & entertainment value of the restaurant, the Coral Reef depends on their fish to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to entertaining you. So the servers sort of leave you to your own devices. Kind of like putting your kid in front of the TV for 20 minutes so you can get the laundry done. Again-I'm not saying you won't get good, dependable, average service at the Coral Reef (not saying you will either), I'm just saying after dining there a few times, not one of my servers or their service stood out as being particularly wonderful.

Menu Selection/Approachability: The Coral Reef does a good job of blending the familiar with some more adventurous ingredients but it I have to say I am a bit disappointed in the somewhat limited selection of seafood & fresh fish. In trying to work safe selections into a fairly small menu, slots that should be taken up with fish choices like Halibut, Red Snapper, Cod or even some sort of shellfish are instead filled by chicken, pork  and strip steak. I get that they have to have at least one vegetarian option and at least one beef option, but if I am going to eat at a ocean-themed restaurant-I expect more fish. But for groups with non-seafood eaters, the menu does allow for everyone in the party to find something. The appetizer selections are approachable, as are the desserts.

Execution/Food Quality: One of the positives for the Coral Reef is consistency. If you like a dish and if they have it when you return for your next vacation, chances are it will be just the way you remembered it. This is something I personally really like about a restaurant. Also the food always tastes fresh and I don't ever notice a fishy smell which signals less than fresh seafood. We have never had any issue with improperly cooked fish, but have had issues with steaks there. Plate presentation is rather simplistic, and for some dishes like the Sea & Land appetizer and the NY strip steak, a bit too simple for me. Again, perhaps they are hoping you're too busy looking at the shark swimming by to notice. The appetizer selection is a very nice mix of items and probably my favorite part of the menu. Dessert is limited, but what they do make-they do it well and there's something to be said for that. Overall the flavors are light and items are prepared well, but can be a bit boring. I think they would do well to bring back items such as the blackened catfish to the menu to liven it up a bit, but I think most people can find something to their liking on the current menu.

Value: With an average appetizer price of $10, average entree price of $24, and average dessert price of $8, the Coral Reef is a much more affordable option than other WDW restaurants that offer fish & seafood. Portions are a bit on the small side, but not so small you don't feel you are getting your moneys' worth. Also a lot of the similar dishes at other WDW restaurants are priced much higher so the Coral Reef can be a price conscious alternative. I think that it would be worth it to give this dining option a try at least once. The dining experience is quite unique and the food is consistently good.

And lastly I am giving the Coral Reef a transportation rating of 2. A quick ride on your resort bus or monorail will put you at Epcots front gates. Once inside the park walk to the center of the park then hang a right through Innovations and the Character Spot. Go right again toward the Living Seas with Nemo. If you are facing the The Living Seas, the restaurant will be tucked away to the right. Ask a CM if you are having trouble, but it's fairly easy to find.

My final word on the Coral Reef is it provides a reasonably priced, well executed meal. The menu is a bit tame for me, but perfect for slightly less adventurous eaters who want to have a one of a kind experience and reasonably priced meal. I would definitely consider giving it a try at least once.

Fruity Drink Fridays

Pele's Fire Punch

As I sit here in my office having a non-alcohol inspired chat with Pele, my hand-carved coconut monkey from the Spirit of Aloha show, it hit me (no-the monkey didn't suggest it) that this weeks fruity drink be Pele's Fire Punch. You see when I got Pele (understand where I got the name from?) she was filled with a lovely concoction of rum, fruity liquors and juice. And pretty much-if you serve it in a monkey carved out of a coconut-I gotta order it. Of course I seem to remember that after the third one, the habit of talking to Pele developed....hmmm. In any case the bartender in me quickly identified the tasty cocktail inside as a rum runner. But let's not call it that, because a true rum runner has orange juice and Pele's Punch does not. So here it is-Pele's Fire Punch.

1 part Bacardi Light Rum
1 part Myers Dark Rum
1 part Banana Liqueur ( I like 99 Bananas) 
1 part Blackberry Brandy ( I prefer Leroux)
3 parts Pineapple Juice
Splash of grenadine

Combine and shake. Serve over ice in your hand carved coconut monkey of course. Okay, okay-serve it on what ever you have and garnish with a cherry and an orange slice at least :)


****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

Today is a bit of a two-fer. But since they are similar in theory & you can get both in the same place, I figured I post them together. It's also fitting because I am using the pictures of two friends, who just happen to be great friends and each of these drinks are a personal favorite of theirs.

Disney Epcot France'
Grand Marnier & Grey Goose Orange Slushie 
Grey Goose Citron Lemonade Slushie

Grand Marnier & Grey Goose Orange Slushie Recipe
1 Part Grey Goose Vodka
1 Part Grand Marnier Orange Liquor
2 Parts Sweet & Sour Mix ( you can buy a premade mix in grocery stores & liquor stores) 
1 Part Simple Syrup*

Mix all ingredients in a blender, blend, serve & enjoy! 
One thing to note: None of these ingredients are orange colored and so the most color you will get out of this is a sorta bright yellow. So my guess is orange food coloring is added. If you want it orange-add some food coloring lol.

Grey Goose Citron Lemonade Slushie
2 Parts Grey Goose Citron Vodka (or your personal favorite Citrus vodka)
2 Parts Sweet & Sour Mix
1 Part Simple Syrup*

Mix all ingredients in a blender, blend, serve & enjoy!

*Simple syrup can be made by mixing equal parts of boiling water & sugar. Combine & cool, and keep in the refrigerated for up to 1 week.


****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

For this weeks installment, I am doing something a bit different. Normally I pass on a recipe for a drink but today I am recommending a great product I recently discovered. The great thing about this product is that it is probably the easiest recipe I have-or will-post. It's easy, delicious and fun. So without further ado I give you...


So here's the story: We were recently delighted to try Wine-a-Rita at a wine festival at a local winery. I am going to be honest and say-I was skeptical. I had heard of beer-ritas, and was not a fan, but I decided to give Wine-a-Rita a chance. And I am so glad I did. Wine-a-Ritas are a tart, not overly sweet, a bit grapey, frosty, tasty concoction. They are easy to make and even easier to drink. We ended up buying a Wine-a-Rita Wine Glace drink mix and a lovely bottle of wine to make Wine-a-Ritas at home. 

The bag we bought from our local winery.

So after enjoying ourselves again with our home batch, I hit me that others would enjoy this great product as much as we did. So I contacted the awesome ladies at Wine-a-Rita, to see if they minded me using their product for my next installment of Fruity Drink Friday. I had the pleasure of hearing back from Judy, the co-owner & creator of Wine-a-Rita. She is a doll and not only gave me her blessing to use their product & link to it, but also sent me a sample pack with the original Wine Glace, as well as their new products: Peach Bellini, Cosmo-Rita, Berry Pom-a-Rita &the Skinny Senorita. Now don't get me wrong-I was over-the-moon when my sample box arrived, and I am so looking forward to trying each product,but I would still have happily recommended this product, even if all Judy sent me was her blessing. The product it that good & I firmly believe in telling everyone I know about stuff I like :)

Wine-a-Ritas are a premix that you add to your favorite bottle of wine & ice and mix in your blender. That's it-it's just that easy. Now I know you're thinking-"Yeah but I bet you need one of those fancy slushy machine things right?". Nope-a plain old boring blender will do the job. Why? Because the geniuses at Wine-a-Rita, Donna & Judy, created a mix that somehow magically slushifies (is that a word? I don't care) itself. All you do is put a bottle of your favorite wine & the Wine Glace in a blender and blend until the mix dissolves, then add ice and mix until smooth, and-POOF! You have a Wine-a-Rita. 

My boring blender-proof this requires no special equipment lol.

So after all that, you want to know where to get it right? Click here to visit the Wine-a-Rita site and learn more about these two fabulous ladies and their company. To find the them on Facebook click here-they are doing a give away-their 2,000th 'Like' wins a Mix it Up pack :) To order, if you can't find Wine-a-Rita at your local winery, or wine shop, I recommend Amazon. Another company I really like-even if that 'One-Click" shopping is dangerous. Just type in Wine-a-Rita and order away! Trust me-you'll be glad you did :)


Monday, July 4, 2011

Mini Food Review: Jikos

Tibs Watt in Pannekoeke - Braised Beef rolled in "Crepes" with Peppadew-Olive Tapenade $9.00

Sadly, someone dropped the ball on this dish. What had the potential to be a a flavor-packed dish, turned out to be a very long-winded way of saying "eh". Let's start with the crepe. It was a basic savory crepe-which is basically a sweet crepe minus the sugar. It was texturally fine, but in my opinion would have benefited greatly from the addition of some savory herbs such as lemon thyme or even a touch of cinnamon. The beef was braised in a mild tasting braising liquid that did have a very mild hint of cinnamon, but that's as exciting as it got. Perhaps a touch of wine or masala could have given the beef a bit more personality. The last component of the dish was an olive-pepperadew tapenade. This actually was the most flavorful part of the appetizer. The sour from the olives & the  piquant tang & slight heat from the pepperadew worked well together. But you cannot depend on the garnish to carry the dish. If the main taste I was after was the tapenade-I would have order the Naan & dip appetizer. I was looking for some more from this appetizer and never got it.

Happy Independence Day from Disney Ala Carte!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mini Food Review: Jikos Barbeque Chicken Flatbread

Barbecue Chicken - with Apple-Jicama slaw, African barbecue sauce, and four cheeses $10

This is one of my favorite dishes in Disney World. This dish is complex and well thought out, it's flavors complement each other brilliantly-but forget all that. This flatbread is just outright good. It starts with a base that is soft & chewy yet with a crispy bottom from being cooked in one of the two wood-fired brick ovens. Then comes a layer of pulled chicken smothered in a sweet & tangy African barbecue sauce. Next the coating of 4 cheeses, which bring a nice sharp, saltiness to the dish. It is baked in the oven warming the barbecue sauce and melting the cheeses to a bubbly goodness. Then when the flatbread comes out of the oven, a cold, crisp slaw of tart green apples and jimaca that has been tossed with fresh cilantro, tops this appetizer. The slaw is cool & crunchy and and adds some interesting texture to the dish. My first bite always starts me calculating how many of those heavenly squares are mine and how many I have to relinquish to John. Sadly-he loves this dish too. I really, really love dishes that can pull a bunch of different textures and flavors together and make them dance in your mouth. And this flatbread does it masterfully. You go from the sweet tang of the barbecue sauce, then the salt from the cheese hits you and the tart apples and fresh herbs bring it home. It is a fun, well thought out, and incredibly flavorful dish and I highly recommend giving it a try.

Restaurant Review: Jiko

Jiko is another one of Walt Disney Worlds' signature dining experiences. It is located in the Jambo House building of the Animal Kingdom Lodge resort. The word Jiko (pronounced jee-ko) means the "cooking place" in Swahili. Actually it literally translates into "stove" or "kitchen", but Disney gave it a bit more flair.

Brief Description: Jiko is a blend of traditional African, Indian & Mediterranean cuisine. Flavorful vegetarian dishes, wood fired flatbreads, an interesting variety of meat & fish entrees, and fresh salads make up the unique menu at Jiko. Jiko also boasts an award-winning wine list featuring an impressive selection of South African wines. Jiko is for the adventurous eaters out there, but if you approach it with an open mind (and palette) you will find Jiko to be a surprising and pleasant break from the ordinary.

Decor: To be honest, I am sort of on the fence with Jiko. The idea was to invoke the feeling of the African plains at sunset. While the use of lighting fixtures made to look like migratory birds, two wood-fired stoves and back-lit screens try very hard to direct your mind to a scene in Out of Africa, the somewhat stark & simplistic decorations and elemental colors used, come across bit harsh and severe. I feel like there's a war going on in the decor. And it's no surprise either-Disney is trying to achieve a fine dining atmosphere AND pay homage to the uncomplicated beauty and wild animal power that Africa holds in our minds. Well, my mind at least. But these are my own person aesthetic observations. In the end, I still give the decor good marks, because Jikos' environment is subdued and pleasant. Noise levels are low and overall it is a very relaxing place to enjoy a meal. I won't give it low marks because I don't find it as visually pleasing as other Disney restaurants.

Service: Although some of our service experiences have been better than others, we have always gotten good service at Jiko. A noticeable trend in some of the finer restaurants in WDW is a mature waitstaff. There is always a difference between a staff of career waiters, and a staff of college kids working for this weekends beer money. You immediately notice this difference the moment you sit down. You are greeted by you server and they start right in on what I like to call the "assessment". They introduce themselves and start to get a feel for you & your party. They point out some different dishes in each menu category and familiarize you with the menu offerings, taking the initiative to explain some of the more unfamiliar dishes/ingredients. This is really important in a restaurant like Jiko. Many of your first time guest are going to be a bit lost and confused over the menu items, taking the time to help them, in a very respectful way, is the epitome of good service. This level of service seems to be the standard at Jiko. The only difference in our experiences have simply boiled down to one server have a bit more of an outgoing, even theatrical, personality over another. I like to add one more plus to Jikos' service column-wine knowledge. This is big. While many of us know what wine goes with a filet or a lovely piece of seabass, a lot of people might find themselves a bit unsure when trying to choose a wine to compliment a maize crusted corvina or a seared barbarie duck breast. You can feel confident that you can sit back and ask your server for a suggestion on an nice wine to accompany your meal and be quite pleased with their suggestions. Overall, I give the service at Jiko high marks.

Menu Selections/Approachability: My opinion is that no other menu scares folks like Jikos' does. Cat Coras' new place Kouzzina might come close, but I would still bet more people know what pastichio is than mealie pap or bobotie is. The chefs at Jiko have done a great job at blending traditional African foods with ingredients most folks recognize, but I will be honest here-this menu is not for the picky eaters out there. When dining at Jiko, one has to have a certain sense of culinary adventurism. You also need to have a palette for spices, and lots of strong ones a that. Now while I had suggested in my Citricos review to ask for ingredients be substituted or left on the side, this might prove a bit impractical at Jiko. The reason being that if a dish, let's say a meat, is rubbed with a certain spice, it is to enhance the flavor of the meat. Some dishes would actually suffer from the absence of these spices, making them very disappointing. My advice, as always, is to talk to your server and/or chef. The beauty of any fine dining restaurant is the presence of an actual chef. Someone who knows how the food is prepared and knows that will and will not destroy the dish if it is left out or changed. All in all, Jiko does present a more adventurous menu, but if you give it a chance, you will find it's uniqueness is what makes it such a jewel in the Disney dining crown. Be open to it and be pleasantly surprised.

Execution/ Food Quality: As far as freshness and food quality goes, Jiko has always delivered for us. Meats are always cooked perfectly, seafood is always very fresh, and overall presentation is beautiful. The dishes always look & taste great. I will say that Jikos' strength lies in it's appetizers & entrees. In my opinion the desserts at Jiko were a bit unremarkable. I think the issue here is many traditional African desserts wouldn't make the cut at a restaurant catering to Westerners. So they went to the test kitchens and tried to fake it. What they came up with was a selection of  impostors. Not sweet enough, not sophisticated enough and just overall disappointing, in my opinion.
My only handicap in critiquing Jiko on execution is being unfamiliar with some of the traditional ways these foods are supposed prepared. I will be honest in saying that there are times when I will not like the texture or consistency of a dish, yet I am not 100% sure if it's because that particular dish is not my thing, or it wasn't prepared as it should have been. And sadly until I get to check visiting Africa off my bucket list, I will have to remain in the dark about this.

Value: Jikos' prices fall in line with other Walt Disney World signature dining restaurants. With an average appetizer price of $11, entree price of $35, and dessert price of $9, it's obviously an expensive meal. But when you take into account some of the more exotic items on the menu, you can easily see what drives up the price. Wild boar, ostrich & duck are often present on Jikos' menu. Exotic spices and intricate food preparations require a high level of skill to execute as well as contribute to the cost & time needed create these dishes. There is also the dining experience they create at Jiko. I think that taking all this into account, Jiko falls right in line with other fine dining restaurants in the value department and is well worth the money.

Transportation Rating: I am giving Jiko a transportation/ease rating of 4. The lack of resort-to-resort transportation makes this a multi-leg trip. First you have to get a bus, or other means of resort-to-park transportation to a park or Downtown Disney (depending on which is closer), then catch a bus going to the Animal Kingdom Lodge resort. You could also take a bus from your resort to Animal Kingdom park then catch a resort bus for Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are two stops at the resort, one for Jambo House & the other for Kidani Village-so you need to pay attention and get off at Jambo House. Once there, it is fairly simple to find the restaurant from the lobby. The return can be tricky if you're dining after Animal Kingdom park closes. Then you must take a bus to any park still open or Downtown and then a return bus to you resort from there. It can be tricky and you do have to allow yourself plenty of time to wait for buses.

My final word on Jiko is that is an wonderful experience. New interesting dishes, excellent waitstaff, a killer wine list and a relaxing dining atmosphere await you-if you're brave enough and keep an open mind, Jiko could easily become one of your new favorite WDW restaurants.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

The Mai Tai

This drink just screams tropical vacation. Partly because of it's tropical flavors and because you better not be heading back to work after one (or two) of these. I am going to post Disneys' version as well as a more traditional version. This is one of those drinks that every bartender makes a little bit different. Hope you enjoy both of these versions.

Disneys' Version:

3/4 oz Captain Morgan's Original Spiced Rum
1/2 oz Blackberry Brandy (I recommend Leroux Polish Blackberry Brandy)
1/2 oz Crème de Banana (I recommend 99 Bananas)
2 oz Orange Juice
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz Grenadine
1/4 oz Myers' Original Dark Rum - for float 

Mix all the ingredients except for the Myers' Dark rum and shake with ice. Then use the back of a spoon to pour the dark rum into the top of your drink. This is called floating. Just let it roll right off the spoon into the drink. Garnish with a maraschino cherry & wedge of fresh pineapple. A little paper umbrella wouldn't hurt either ;)

Now for a more traditional version:

1 oz Light rum
1 oz Dark rum
1/2 oz Orange Curacao (can substitute in Grand Marnier, or even triple sec if in a pinch)
1/4 oz Orgeat syrup  (**see note below)
1/4 oz Simple syrup

To fill:
1/2 Orange Juice
1/2 Pineapple Juice

1/4 oz grenadine
1/4 Myers dark rum to float on top (optional)

Just like before mix the first round of ingredients. Then fill with orange & pineapple juice, and grenadine and shake it all with ice. Pour into glass and float dark rum on top. Garnish as before and enjoy!

**Orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, rose water/orange-flower water & sugar. It has a distinct almond flavor. Torani Italian syrup makes an orgeat flavored syrup. If you cannot find it, almond syrup will work as well as amaretto-if you're not adverse to adding more alcohol to your drink...hmmm.


****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney Ala Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)