Monday, October 31, 2011

(Happy Halloween!)

It's my favorite holiday of the year, and no one does Halloween better than Disney! Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party is a sweet treat for lovers of this autumn holiday, like myself. It's great for the kids, and you get to dress up in costume if you want - lots of people do, and many go all out!

On the other side of the Florida tourist pond, Universal Studios has the most amazing Halloween event (sorry Disney loyalists, I had to go there)! Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is adults-only fun; it's terrifying, and there are no costumes allowed! They offer many creative (albeit expensive) alcoholic drinks throughout the park - it really is a grown-up Halloween party. I really urge you to give this one a try - the costumes are professionally done by Universal's incredible makeup artists, and the results are realistically horrifying. Every year the theme changes - this year's theme was admittedly lame (Lady Luck, really?!) We will be attending both events next year, and I am really looking forward to what both parks have to offer.

So, it's Halloween...what kind of costume are you getting into today? J and I went to a comic-book themed party; I was Poison Ivy, he was Kick-Ass. We had a blast!

Send me your costume photos! I'd also love to hear your opinions on the best Halloween event in Orlando (or where you live!)

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

(Disney Princesses in Real Life)

Idolizing the Disney Princesses as kids, we all had the opinion that they were other-worldly beautiful. Now, Arts University College at Bournemouth Jirka Väätäinen has made them real. Take a look at the graphic renderings that Jirka did of our favorite Disney females.

A youthful Ariel really does look like she's 16!

Aurora is supermodel gorgeous!

Belle looks to have a bit more attitude than typical of the heroine.

One of my favorite Disney females, Esmerelda is gorgeous.

Jasmine looks a bit like Kim Kardashian, no?

Meg looks...a bit intoxicated. Still beautiful, though!

Mulan's youthful face is spot-on!

Pocohontas' strong features are breathtaking.

Ursula was based on actor/drag queen, Divine. See a resemblance?

Which one is your favorite? It's a tough choice!

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

(Believe the Hype: Le Cellier Steakhouse)

Ya know how you hear a lot of hype about something, and then it turns out to be kind of overrated? That is not the case with Le Cellier in the Epcot's Canada pavilion. Inspired by the wine cellars of Le Château Frontenac and Fairmont Château Laurier, two of Canada's greatest chateau-style hotels, it's "Where Upscale Dining Happens Down in a Cellar."

As you are dining in a cellar, there are no windows and the majority of the light comes from candles (or what cleverly resembles candles) that are spread all over the restaurant; hanging from the ceiling, in sconces on the wall, and even lined up along a fireplace mantle. The ambiance is romantic to say the least, but children can enjoy the experience, too. The restaurant is very small, one of the largest reasons that it's so hard to get a reservation. Different sections of the restaurant represent different areas of Canada - at the time, it was not obvious to me in what area of Canada we were seated!

Something that you may have heard about Le Cellier is the pretzel bread. Yes, it really is as good as everyone says and no, they definitely don't give you enough! Unfortunately, other breads are served too, (the sourdough is quite good), so savor what you get!

One of Le Cellier's most popular appetizers is their Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. It's made with Moosehead beer, and served with bacon. It's perfect for a fall or winter visit to "Canada," and the warm, soothing soup really fits in with the cellar atmosphere.

On a family trip to Le Cellier for lunch, my grandpa ordered the New York Strip. Le Cellier prides itself on serving high-quality, corn-fed beef. The steak was served with beautiful Yukon gold potatoes, wilted spinach and a vin rouge reduction. My grandpa is not a man of many words, but his squeaky clean plate said it all. This dish did not disappoint.

My family tends to be fairly predictable in what we order, if our preferred dish is on the menu. For me, it's always nachos. For MOM, it's a Cobb salad. And for Grandma, it's salmon. Salmon is exactly what she ordered. On the current menu, they offer a pan-cooked salmon served with summer beans, roasted tomatoes, pickled onions and apple-wood smoked bacon vinaigrette. I believe her dish to be a variation of this at our time of dining. She absolutely loved the salmon - but had some issues with eating the frisee in the salad. I would have preferred the salad made with a different kind of lettuce.

In my opinion, J and I each got the best dish in the house. Le Cellier's filet mignon is spectacular. It's the perfect portion size for lunch (or any other time, for me), and it's cooked to perfection. Currently, they serve the filet with a mushroom risotto and white truffle and herb butter sauce. At the time of dining, it was served with some of the most delicious mashed potatoes I have ever eaten, and I believe a red wine reduction. Not that it matters; they could probably serve the filet with anything and it would taste amazing! It's definitely the best filet I have had, and probably one of the best dishes throughout all of Walt Disney World.

Now you know that I'm not big on ordering a lot of desserts, but at Le Cellier, it's a must. If you choose anything, choose the Chocolate "Moose!" Chocolate mousse rolled in chocolate cookie crumbs - the antlers are made of maple-leaf shaped sugar cookies and the tongue is another sugar cookie. The nose and eyes are M&M's! I had no clue what we were ordering at the time, and once it came out, what a pleasant surprise it was!

The other dessert at our table was the Chocolate on Chocolate Whiskey Cake. It was very, very good. However, it was not the Chocolate Moose. How do you expect anyone to pay attention to a piece of chocolate cake when there is a moose at the table?

So, to summarize - go to Le Cellier, and remember these things: Pretzel bread, Cheddar Cheese Soup, Filet Mignon, Chocolate Moose. Maybe some Canadian Ice Wine, too. This is the formula for an absolutely perfect meal. Menus may change and you may end up getting a variation on the aforementioned, but I just can't see it going the wrong way. Don't delay - reservations fill quickly! Once you experience Le Cellier, you'll understand why. Let me know when you do, I want to hear all about your experience!

Happy dining!

Monday, October 24, 2011

(Dining in Morocco: Restaurant Marrakesh)

In 1984, Morocco was added to Epcot's World Showcase. The pavilion is unique among all others due to the participation of the country's government. Morocco is the only country in the World Showcase to be sponsored by a government and not a corporation. So authentic is the design of the pavilion that the King of Morocco sent his royal craftsmen to lay all of the tile work, carvings and paintings.

Upon entering Restaurant Marrakesh, you step into what I imagine would feel like a Sultan's palace. The tile work is extraordinary in the dimly-lit space, and the music of North Africa fills the air. If you visit at the right time, you will be treated to the sultry movements of a belly dancer while you dine. She is beautiful and entertaining!

The restaurant does have a full bar, but we did not try any of the offerings. Apparently, the Marrakesh Express and the Casablanca Sunset are exceptional drinks, and for a small charge you can get them in a souvenir glass!
We opted to eat fairly lightly this time around, and chose to split the Sultan's Sampler Platter as a meal. Grilled brochette of chicken, a beef brewat roll, chicken bastilla and vegetable couscous round out this dish. The couscous was delicious, the chicken was tender and seasoned nicely, and the rest was equally tasty, but very, very different. The beef brewat roll is ground beef with a sweet twist; cinnamon, ginger and coriander pair with onion, parsley and saffron in this interesting eat. The chicken bastilla is another interesting one - this is Morocco's form of chicken pie. What looks like some sort of pastry is actually saffron chicken, stuffing and almonds in a pastry shell. I think that this platter as a whole is a really great choice for someone who wants to be adventurous and try new things, but also for someone who is a bit picky; the chicken and couscous are very safe choices while the remainder of the dish could certainly go either way in terms of taste.

I can't remember exactly why, but we were each gifted with a complementary baklava for dessert. It was delicious - I love baklava because it's that little dose of sweet that you want after a meal, but rich enough that you just need a teeny tiny serving. It was easily the best part of our meal and I was grateful for the gesture.

It sounds like we had a good experience, and we did. But do I like Restaurant Marrakesh? Not really. I can't quite put my finger on it. Disney does such an amazing job of making you feel that you are in North Africa that I feel a bit too far away. I feel terrible because I sort of sound like my mind isn't open enough for this place. I really did enjoy the food, honestly. I just never quite felt comfortable in this restaurant. The belly dancer was amazing and the music was beautiful. The service was attentive and it was evident of the hard work that went into creating the atmosphere. Overall, I am very glad that I tried it, but probably will not be returning. Who knows, maybe it's because I have no desire to travel to Africa. I'm a European kind of girl, which perhaps is why I favor pavilions like France and the UK. Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't for Disney's lack of effort. As always, the details were spot-on and there was nothing at all lacking at this place. Take what you will from my slightly-confused impression of Restaurant Marrakesh. I would love to hear about your experience at this fine dining establishment - tell me, what is it that I am missing?

Happy Dining!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

(For J, Happy Anniversary)

Two years ago, on a beautifully crisp autumn evening, I married the most wonderful person I know. Over the years, and even before the wedding, we have grown and changed as people. No one has influenced who I am as a person more than J. From dealing with the move to DC to planning our entire Mediterranean cruise excursions and most importantly, always cutting the vegetables for dinner, he is a dependable and solid force. I have in J the perfect travel companion; someone who puts up with my constant need to return to Walt Disney World, and acts like an excited child every time we get there, even if he doesn't really mean it (but I know he does). So, here is to two more years (or more, if you've got it in ya!) I Love You!

Happy Anniversary,

Friday, October 21, 2011

(Eating Around the World: Epcot's World Showcase)

If you're looking for a great place to find something to eat, Epcot is your place. Not only does Future World offer a wide array of counter service restaurants, food carts and a few table service eateries, but the World Showcase is a wonderland of food choices. For some, it can get a bit intimidating, and they are certainly not alone. I met a dear friend of mine on a recent Disney Cruise who expressed the same sentiments. We haven't known each other terribly long, but she has been one of the most supportive people in my quest to make this blog something special. JK, thank you for that :)
So per request, I'll spend the next couple of days reviewing some of Epcot's best table service restaurants. For today however, we'll snack our way around the World with some of the best cart and counter-service eats and drinks. Who says you have to have a sit-down meal? This is one of the most fun ways to enjoy your time in the World Showcase. Here we go!

Tapas @ La Cava del Tequila
Located inside Mexico's pavilion, La Cava del Tequila opened in 2009, and is a welcome addition. The bar has over 70 different types of authentic tequila, and serves a tapas-style menu. I recommend the guacamole and the margarita flight, which features fives samples of margaritas ranging from jalapeno to passion fruit. It may take a little longer than a grab-and-go cart in other places around the World Showcase, but a visit here is a must. Grab a drink and share a small appetizer, and you won't be too full to continue your journey! I insist that you try this place (I'm talking to you, JK&M!), you will love it.

Norway's School Bread, photo courtesy of the Disney Food Blog
When visiting Norway, be sure to stop into the Kringla Bakeri og Kafe. Don't be tempted by all of the other delectable looking treats; you're one and only mission here is to grab some School Bread. Sweet bread loaded with custard on the inside and a sweet icing covered with coconut on the outside, the multiple flavors create one delicious pastry. Unfortunately, the treats have shrunk over the years. Once the size of your head, they're now more like doughnuts. That's OK though, you'll save room for your food journey by sharing one!

Lotus Blossom's Orange Chicken, courtesy of Orlando Informer
The China pavilion has some excellent options for a hot meal. Visit the Lotus Blossom Cafe for the Orange Chicken. The orange sauce coating is sweet and thick, and the chicken is beautifully crispy on the outside. The accompanying rice is nice and sticky and pairs well with each bite of chicken. In my opinion, this is your best option. The Lotus Blossom Cafe does have many other affordable options as well, but be careful not to fill up too much!

Germany's pretzel, photo courtesy of Flickr
Germany actually offers a few good options. The first is to go to the Bier Stand and grab a Radeberger Pilsner or a shot of Jagermeister (super yummy for me, not so much for others). You can also grab a hand-twisted German pretzel here. Be forewarned though, these are not your typical soft pretzels. They are a bit harder and darker, both in color and taste. J is a pretzel officianado, and unfortunately was not terribly crazy about the Germany pavilion's pretzels. Still, I believe that it's all for the experience. If you find that your sweet tooth is acting up, be sure to visit the new Karamell-Kuche, sponsored by Werther's. I actually recently found out that Werther's filmed their new commercial in the Germany pavilion of Epcot. I just knew that the building in that commercial looked familiar! How cool. Moving on - with the opening of the Werther's shop came the unfortunate closing of Germany's other candy store, which is where I tried my very first Toblerone bar. Still, I can't imagine being disappointed with a serving of fresh caramel from the new shop. My top choice for Germany remains the shot of Jagermeister.

While the Italy pavilion does have a gelato stand, I much prefer a visit to La Bottega Italiana. Treat yourself to a box of Italian chocolates, and sample some Italian wine! They used to have a chocolate and wine sampling for $6.50, but with the many changes in Italy's pavilion, I'm not sure if it still exists. Be sure to ask though, because it's an inexpensive and rewarding way to spend your time there.

American Adventure's Funnel Cake & Beer, photo courtesy of the Mouse Record
The American Adventure
Yea, American food is pretty much old news for us. Still, if you want to make the complete journey, stop at the Funnel Cake Kiosk in the American Adventure Pavilion. You have the option to add ice cream, fruit (the apples are great), or a chocolate drizzle, but personally I prefer my funnel cake au naturel (with a generous dusting of powdered sugar, of course). And why not grab a serving of Sam Adams while you're at it?

Japan's Kaki Gori, too good for words!
This is an easy one. While in Japan, you get the Kaki Gori. Period. No questions asked. It's up to you to decide what flavor, but why not go for all three? Rainbow stripes of strawberry, melon and tangerine, I'm not sharing this one with anybody, regardless of how full I am! It's a nice light snack and does more for quenching your thirst than it does for filling your belly. Nom Nom.

The Morocco pavilion is actually a tough one for me as I have only eaten at their table-service restaurant, Restaurant Marrakesh. My blind suggestion would be to try one of the Shawarma Platters at the Tangierine Cafe, Morocco's counter-service eatery. I have heard amazing things about these, and plan to try one very soon. The platters come with your choice of chicken, lamb or both, accompanied by hummus, tabouleh, couscous salad and Moroccan bread. Sounds delish!

France's heavenly Napoleon pastry
Another no brainer, the only thing better than Japan's Kaki Gori is the French Napoleon from Boulangerie Patisserie. If you've read about my favorite snacks throughout Walt Disney World, you know that this is my top choice and big daddy dessert winner. Layers of crispy phyllo dough loaded with a creamy custard and dusted with powdered sugar, this dessert is heavenly. For information about one of France's table service restaurants, read my review of Bistro de Paris.

UK's Fish n' Chips, photo courtesy Flickr
United Kingdom
No visit to the UK is complete without a taste of Fish n' Chips. Make a stop at the Yorkshire County Fish Shop and grab a delectable serving of the good stuff. I may be biased because I love fried fish, but this is so good. It tends to be a bit more on the greasy side than others I have tried, but the batter is fresh and crispy, and the french fries are tasty too. Be sure to do it the UK way - malt vinegar! This is super filling, so use restraint! There is only one stop left - you can do it!

The jewel of the Canadian pavilion is without a doubt Le Cellier Steakhouse. Unfortunately, Canada does not offer many options in the world of snacks and quick meals. There used to be a wine cart that served the infamous Canadian Ice Wine, but for some reason I cannot find any information on it. If it's still there, certainly grab a glass. If not, the snack cart in Canada offers a Torontopolitan - Iceberg Vodka and Chambord mixed with cranberry and orange juices. My kind of drink! Enjoy your beverage while you wander through the peaceful replica of Victoria Gardens. are you feeling? Gut-busting-ly full? Drunk, perhaps? Probably. Let's maybe avoid Test Track for the time being, yes? And don't even think about going near Mission:Space. You can't convince me to ride that when I'm hungry and sober. If you planned your time just right, the perfect ending to this day would be to digest while taking in the spectacular view that is Illuminations. What a great finale to an adventurous day of food and drink. Enjoy!

Do you have another way to eat your way through the World Showcase? I'd love to hear about your adventures!

Happy Snacking!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

(It's a Tradition: The Crystal Palace)

Like the title says, the Crystal Palace has been a tradition for my family since 2003. Nestled at the end of Main Street USA, and with one of the best views of Cinderella Castle in the house, this is a must for everyone. I know what you're thinking. You don't have kids, so why do a character meal? At least for me, this place isn't about the characters; though the great photos we always seem to come away with don't hurt!

Dinner with friends, March 2006.

The ambiance of the Crystal Palace is light and airy with a major Victorian influence. The exterior of the building is pure white, and the windows seem to go on for miles. It sort of resembles somewhat of a greenhouse, but with much better surprises inside than just plants. 

The photo above was taken during a dinner that we had in 2006. Notice the amount of windows and the gorgeous Victorian structure. During daylight hours, the atmosphere is warm and open. It's really a beautiful, calming place to be. Check out this shot from our breakfast table in 2010...

It was a beautiful sunny morning, and the sunlight filtered into the dimly-lit restaurant providing just the right amount of natural light. You're sitting at your table, enjoying your coffee and orange juice (that's right, order both), and then....the music starts.

A family dinner in 2007.

It's parade time! Excited children throughout the restaurant jump out of their seats to join the parade with their favorite characters from the Hundred Acre Wood. It's a short parade, but gives parents some great photo opportunities. It can be a tear-jerker, too. We saw a child from the Make a Wish Foundation parade hand-in-hand with Piglet throughout the restaurant, and needless to say, we were dabbing at our eyes a bit. It's really a beautiful thing to see so many excited kids have their moment with characters that they so admire, and to do so in the spotlight with all diners' eyes on them!

Breakfast, 2009.

We have been to the Crystal Palace for dinner twice, but our true tradition is to go for breakfast. Based on my experiences (we've gone 5 times so far), I would recommend the breakfast over dinner. The food is better, and there's something about being in the open and airy setting with the morning sunshine peeking in. Favorites from the breakfast buffet include the fresh fruit (pineapple, grapes and strawberries for me), mickey waffles, puffed french toast (located in the children's buffet), and the tastiest dish of all, breakfast lasagna. Delicious layers of waffle, pancake, poundcake and custard, this is definitely not for someone watching their waistline. If you are, grab a little slice anyways. I promise it's worth it! If you can't make it to the Crystal Palace anytime soon, make the breakfast lasagna at home with this recipe.

A playful breakfast in 2010.

While the dinner does have some choice menu items such as shrimp, rotisserie chicken and salmon, I just don't find it quite as enchanting as breakfast. I much prefer to start my day with Crystal Palace than end it there. Be careful though! - Since everything is so yummy, it's easy to get carried away. There's nothing quite like walking around the park with a ton of breakfast lasagna sitting in your stomach. I learned it the hard way, and now I know to dine with restraint! Just do me a favor and wait a few hours before you ride Space Mountain, OK?

The view from the balcony of the Crystal Palace. Not too shabby, right?

It's quite clear how I feel about this restaurant, since we obviously keep going back. The Crystal Palace is a beautiful and nostalgic place to make some memories with the people that you love. Don't worry too much about the characters if you're not interested in them. When they come by your table, simply wave and say hello, and don't make any movement to take photos or anything. They'll get the hint and move on to the next table. The atmosphere and food is really worth dining here, even if you really don't like character meals. It's because of those characters though, that the dining prices are a bit higher than other restaurants. Currently, it'll cost an adult $28.75 for breakfast, and (gasp!) $43.66 for dinner. See? Another reason to visit for breakfast!

Do you have a favorite memory from the Crystal Palace, or perhaps a different family dining tradition! I'd love to hear all about it - leave it in the comments!

Happy Dining!