Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Supper - Victoria & Albert's

Recently, I sent my good friend AJ, over at, a menu from our Honeymoon kick-off dinner at Victoria & Albert's. Since AJ wrote me to let me know it would be posted (and credited to my blog—thanks, AJ!) I thought I would share here!

First of all, this meal took place more than a year-and-a-half ago, so my memories on individual courses are a little muddy. (Plus there was a lot of wine served... so...)

We caught the red-eye from Portland to Orlando the day after our wedding. The next day, we checked into our honeymoon suite at the Grand Floridian where, as soon as we got the room key, we napped our butts off. While I was finishing my nap, the hotel sent us this:

There is a strict dress code at Victoria & Albert's so the wife got all dolled up while I ironed a shirt. Our dinner reservation was at 6:00pm, but located in our hotel—which turned out great because we didn't have to walk around property or catch Disney transportation wearing our Sunday's finest. (Although, I thought it might be kind of cool to walk around the parks looking as spiffy as possible. But oh, how our dogs would have barked.)

V&A is located on the second floor of the lobby, near Citrico's and the Mizner's Lounge. We arrived a little early, but were promptly seated. (Behind the main entrance flower display, near the harp—fantastic.)

Two servers—a man and a woman—graciously greeted us and assured us every wish would be granted. ("Be Our Guest," indeed.) Unfortunately I do not remember their names—but they were fantastic. Knowledgeable. Enthusiastic. Accommodating. When we wanted privacy, they were in the shadows. When we needed something, they were right there. (For instance, when I returned from the bathroom, I was met with a brand new linen napkin gracing my seat.) And at the end of the evening, the gentleman server took our picture, guiding us through the restaurant to the best locations.

We were presented with custom menus (and my wife was also presented with a red rose—where's my rose, V&A!?). The meal was explained to us: we were to pick one item from each course. We also chose to add the wine pairings for an additional cost, as we are both big winos—er, wine enthusiasts.

The menu:
Amuse Bouche
Domaine Meriwether Brut Rose, Oregon 1999
Tamarind-Ancho Marinated Gulf Shrimp with Heirloom Tomato Vinaigrette
Cantina del Taburno Falanghina, Benevento 2006

Jumbo Lump and Dungeness Crab with California Asparagus Salad
Langtry Sauvignon Blanc, Lake Country 2006

Iranian Golden Osetra Caviar with Traditional Garnish ($150 .5oz/$300 1oz)
Roth Vodka
Long Island Duck with Roasted Beets and Sherry Bacon Vinaigrette
Carol Shelton Rocky Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley 2004

Poached South Carolina Quail with Black Mission Figs and Fuji Apples
Dr. Zenzen Volwiger Herrenberg Riesling Auslese, Mosel 2001

Pan Roasted Foie Gras with Georgia Peach Tart and Mostarda di Cremona ($20)
Royal Tokaji Azsu 5 Puttonyos, Mad Tokaj-Hegyalja 2003
Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes 2003 ($95 3oz)
Florida Black Grouper Amandine with Bean Ragout and Marcona Almonds
Domaine Vincent Girardin Savigny-Les-Beaune "Les Vermonts Dessus" 2006

Alaskan King Salmon with Pickled Onions and Demi-Tasse Cup of Smoked Salmon
Rosenthal "The Malibu Estate" Chardonnay, San Luis Obispo 2006

Seared Wild Turbot with Toasted Capers and Meyer Lemon ($30)
Twisted Oak Roussane/Marsanne, Sierra Foothills 2005
Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin and Belly with Artichokes and Florida Corn
Cesari "Mara" Vino Di Ripasso Valpolicella 2004

Marcho Farms Lamb with Yellow Chanterelles and English Peas
Abbazzia Barolo D.O.C.G., Piedmont 2002

Australian "Kobe" Beef Tenderloin with Smoked Garlic Puree ($35)
Japanese Wagyu Strip Loin with Oxtail Jus ($80)
Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages, Sonoma 2004
Colston Bassett Stilton, Nettle Meadow Kunik and Comte Forte Rousses
Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2001

White Chocolate Gelato with Tableside Shavings and Micro Mint
Paolo Saracco Moscato D'Asti, Piedmont 2006
Tanzanian Chocolate Pyramid, Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle
and Peruvian Chocolate Ice Cream and Puff Pastry

Berry Gateau with Mango Yogurt Panna Cotta

Caramelized Banana Gateau

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Grand Marnier Souffle

Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle
"Celebes" Coffee, Tea and Friandise

Course 1:
We each got the same Amuse Bouche (4 different small warm-up bites for our tongues)

Course 2:
We each picked the crab salad.

Course 3:
I had the duck, while my wife went with the quail.

Course 4:
I had the salmon; my wife had the grouper.

Course 5:
My wife had the pork, while I sprang the extra dough for the "Kobe."

Course 6:
We think we shared a cheese plate and each received a gelato (we were getting a little tanked by then... ha.)

Course 7:
I had the Grand Marnier Souffle; my wife had the chocolate trio.

To say this meal was perfect would be an understatement. It truly was a magical night and exactly what we needed after 18 months of planning a wedding, getting married, hosting a day-after reception, and flying across the country.

I can see how this wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. It's fancy. The food is familiar, yet extremely different; elevated, I like to say. There's a harp player. You dine on fine china. I mean, you have to put on a jacket, for Walt-sakes. Plus it eats up a lot of time. We were probably there three-and-a-half hours. But what an experience.

We stumbled back to the room, and arrived to the sound of fireworks. (Boy, these guys really go all out!) HalloWishes was performing across the bay. We went out on the balcony, popped open the champagne we received from the hotel, and just breathed in the magic all around us. Corny, I know—but there aren't any other words to describe it. It simply was magical.

Friday, May 21, 2010

#3 - Dinosaur

Annnnnnnd we're back.

Last post, we looked at one of my favorite attractions: Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Believe it or not, this same exact ride track (and ride vehicle) is in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in the form of "Dinosaur." And while Indiana Jones succeeds on nearly every level, Dinosaur completely fails.

The queue for Dinosaur is set in the Dino Institute. Emphasis on institute. The coldness and institutionalism found in the queue is miles away from the imaginative adventurism of the Indiana Jones queue. And while it is not fair to compare the two attractions, I feel that I must. Disney has proven that they can get it so right. (Whatever "it" is.) It's important to ask how they can get it so wrong. And when two attractions share so much in common, and differ so completely in entertainment value... well, I just don't know WHAT to say.

The premise: one scientist wants you to go back in time, capture a dinosaur, and bring it back to now-ish. To study it? To dress it up and make it do tricks? No harm can come of this, I'm sure. Have we not SEEN Jurassic Park, people???

Anyway, this is a dark ride in every sense of the word. Pitch black. My poor eyes could barely make out the 65-million-year-old threats around me. There's lots of pitching and swerving—all while the scientist is trying to throw one-liners over the loudspeakers. Like this is some sort of "Jungle Cruise in Hell" or something. "Not our dino..." Yeah, thanks. I can't even see anything, so I'm glad SOMEONE can!

There's a photo to buy—which I'm usually a total sucker for. But why would I want to remember this forgettable eye-aching, neck-breaking waste of technology

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We'll be back on schedule soon...


Well, folks, sorry for not updating this thing in a while. I was sick for a while. Then college classes started up again. Then I had emergency home repairs to attend to. Then I got sick again!!! Unbelievable!

I'll post again soon - probably that Dinosaur post I promised - so please, please, please stay tuned! And thanks for sticking with me!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

#2 - Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye

The United States contains two major Disney properties: Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Their differences are vast, and will probably come up frequently. They are two completely different experiences and should not be equated as the same.

Today marks the anniversary of my favorite Disney attraction. I was saving this juicy morsel for a later date, but it might be a good place to note what makes a good attraction great and a bad attraction lousy. (Be sure to read the next post.)

Yes, folks, Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure turns 15 today. Subtitled "Temple of the Forbidden Eye", this ride is swimming in details and is the perfect attraction to demonstrate how great a Disney experience can be. Not only is the ride amazing, but the queue is as absorbing as any of the Indiana Jones films. Located past the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland, guests wander through temple halls and carved out caves, picking up small bits of backstory. This is good design, folks. A backstory has clearly been created. Thought has been given to why we, the guests, are here at this spot at this point in time. There is a fake generator set outside identifying what powers the lights inside. Small glyphs are carved on the temple walls leaving coded messages for you to decipher. (Cipher cards were once handed out to guests, but those days are long gone.) Even hidden booby traps and gags have been engineered, subtly integrated for only the most curious of guests.

Inside the attraction, the set pieces are beautiful. What Harrison Ford must have witnessed when filming the original movies. The groundbreaking ride vehicles are moveable motion simulators which raise the level of immersion to the nth degree. You feel every little bump in the road, every step you drive down, even though the track is as smooth as silk. I'm embarrassed to say it, but this ride is so immersive it took me a while to realize the Indiana Joneses were not real actors—just a brilliant animatronic. Granted, the attraction's ability to engage its audience gets a boost from being tied to a popular movie franchise, but Universal Studios has the same thing going for it and often gets those rides terribly wrong. E.T.? Twister, anyone?

Whenever I'm in Disneyland, Indiana Jones Adventure is the first attraction I ride in the morning and the last attraction I ride at night. I will never stop writing love letters to it, and it will forever be on a pedestal. Put it in the Hall-of-Fame. Happy Birthday, good buddy.

So this is what happens when good attractions go great. But believe it or not, Walt Disney World features a far inferior attraction with the same ride vehicle and the exact same track. Tomorrow we will look at what happens when good attractions go bad.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Supper - Casey's Corner

I think I'll highlight a location to eat each Sunday. There's something about a Sunday that reminds me of a good, filling meal. Why is that?

After completing a tour of the park on the Walt Disney World Railroad, you can stroll down Main Street and stop by Casey's Corner. Located right by the hub on Main Street, Casey's has a turn-of-the-century baseball theme to it. This is a counter service restaurant, meaning there is no waiter or waitress—just go up to the counter to order your food. Frequently, there is a piano player outside, which really adds to the atmosphere.

There's nothing I love more than strolling around, eating a great hotdog on the street. While Casey's hardly has great hotdogs, you're on one of the most enchanting streets in the world. I love staking out a spot for the fireworks and hoping over to Casey's to grab a pop and a dog. While there are other places to eat, none feature the whimsy and romance of the turn-of-the-century hot dog stand.

Again, the hot dogs here are not the best. Do not confuse this with a place to find good food. What Casey's offers is an experience. And it's the experience we're looking for, right? But with just a little more care in the quality of food, this place could really be special: a must-stop for every family. Alas, the food quality is met with the sensitivity of a sledgehammer, and it is what it is.

Casey's also has something called "Corn Dog Bites" which I have not tried, but your imagination and common sense can tell you what these are. Fries, Cracker Jacks, chili and brownies round out the menu.

Friday, February 26, 2010

#1 - Your attention please...

So, where do we begin our Grand Circle Tour of my love for Disney? With my favorite attraction? Nah, then everything that comes later would be a let down, wouldn't it? A fantastic restaurant I absolutely love? Let's not get too full too quick! How about with one of Walt Disney's pride & joys: the Disneyland Railroad/Walt Disney World Railroad.

I won't go into the ins and outs of the differences between the two attractions, the different stations, the different atmospheres, etc. What I will say is this: the railroad is not a thrill ride. It is not a "convenient" mode of transportation. (Sure, it may get you where you are going, but not any faster than walking.) What the DL/WDW Railroad does provide, however, is a sense of American authenticity. (Most of Main Street, USA provokes this same engrained nostalgia.) The Railroad does in twenty minutes what all of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom aim to do throughout a guest's visit. Remind us of our roots, take us to magical lands, and gently place us back into the cradle of forgotten America.

In fact, the Railroad should not be experienced by simply riding it around the park. Hardly. To truly experience the magic of this attraction, sit outside the Main Street station for five to ten minutes. Listen to the booming announcements sent over the PA system. Watch as people board and exit the train. Stroll around the actual station, looking over the displays.

In my opinion, much of the magic of Disney is found in taking your time and soaking up the small details. Many of my postings will focus on these experiences. And we are just pulling away from the station... 'BOARD!!!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How do ya do? Mighty pleasant greetin'!

If you read that title and immediately thought of sitting in a Splash Mountain log flume, you are in the right spot! (And if you didn't, that's okay!)

Howdy! My name is Nathan—and this blog is an attempt to connect with Disney Parks fans across the world. The plan is to make my way through all of the attractions in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, offering some commentary and some criticism. All will be met, however, with gentle humor and a fanatical viewpoint.

For I am, at heart, a true Disney fan who doesn't live close enough to the magic. I live with my wife in Portland, Oregon—and due to the recent economic crisis, we've been living on a very fixed income. So trips to the parks are simply out of the question. Any way you slice it, I am "a long way from Disney."

...that's the title of the blog.