The 2009 run of Disney’s California Food and Wine Festival opened at Disney’s California Adventure on Friday, April 24.
Deb and I were quite busy with the Disneyland Press Event that day, so we didn’t get to spend much time enjoying the Festival. I was in the park for about 45 minutes in the morning just walking around and taking a look at the different venues – there are some pretty significant changes this year. But we spent almost all day Saturday there.
First, the main demo kitchen has been moved to Sunshine Plaza, and is called the Chef’s Showcase Stage. The entire stage and seating area is under a big tent, which anyone who has sat through a cooking demo in the hot sun over the last few years will appreciate! (The queue area is still largely in the sun, though.) That takes up just about ALL of Sunshine Plaza, though, and with the Festival Merchandise cart also located in that area it creates quite a bottleneck in the Plaza. And when people are lined up along the street for either High School Musical or the Pixar Play Parade it makes it very difficult to get to/from the Hollywood Backlot area.
I did not have the opportunity to attend any of the cooking demos over the weekend – every time I passed by there seemed to be a very long line. It looked like the sessions were filled at least 30-45 minutes in advance, and for this weekend’s Celebrity Chef (Robert Irvine) it was filled over an hour in advance, at least on Saturday.
The Taste of California Marketplace is gone this year, since the restaurant location they had been using in previous years (Lucky Fortune Cookery) is being renovated. Instead, most of the Festival food offerings are full size (and full price) menu items at the various counter service restaurants around the park. You can find the menus HERE. There are also some additional items available at The Lounge (upstairs at the Golden Vine Winery) and the Wine Shop and Bistro at the Lower Patio is also offering food items this year in addition to special Festival wines by the glass or the bottle. But nothing is really “tapas” sized or priced, so unless you’re with a large group who is sharing, I think it’s going to be difficult to try very many of the items in a day or even two.
The food lines at the counter service restaurants were insane on Saturday afternoon. Pacific Wharf Cafe was out the door and across the walkway so we didn’t even try that. I wanted to try the Chicken Tamales, which were the Festival offering at Cocina Cucamonga, so I got in line there, with about 8 people ahead of me. It took 25 minutes just to order. Fortunately the food came within just a few minutes after that, but still – 30 minutes to get a counter service meal??? Deb wanted to try the Festival’s Lobster Salad Roll at Award Wieners – and it took 30 minutes for her, too. Ridiculous. I guess the good news is that there were a lot of people ordering the special Festival menu items, especially the tamales. (And by the way, the tamales were quite good – I hope they will become a permanent menu addition like some of the other food items did last year. Deb said the lobster roll was good, but not as good as the lobster roll at the Epcot F&W Festival – but it was also a whole lot bigger for about the same price.)
But I digress — I was talking about new things this year!
The Wine and Beer Walks are new this year, and they seemed to be quite well-received from the crowds I saw around them. At the wine walks, for $10 you purchase a “passport” that allows you to taste four different wines. There are two wine walks – one with International wines, and one with California wines. I didn’t see the price for the beer walk, but I would imagine that it’s similar – there is only one beer walk, but I know they had beers from Asia and the “Old World” in addition to the United States.
There is a second “kitchen” demonstration area at Bountiful Farm again this year, but this year it is just for “Kitchen Conversations”: demos of various culinary techniques or talks on using spices, picking produce, etc. and no samples are served. We saw a demo on how to filet a fish. These you can just walk into – no need to arrive early. In fact, we arrived at the fish filet demo a few minutes after it started and there were still plenty of seats.
As I mentioned, the Festival Merchandise Cart has moved to Sunshine Plaza. There is also some merchandise for sale at a cart at the Lower Patio of the Winery.
The Festival Welcome Center is still near the entrance of the park, but it’s next to the Information Booth now instead of in Sunshine Plaza. It looks like a nicely decorated and staffed area, with Cast Members available to answer questions or make reservations for people who wish to attend some of the Signature Events.
Deb and I attended two wine tasting sessions on Saturday – Quintessa/Veramonte and Duckhorn. (Duckhorn is suddenly famous because two different Duckhorn wines were served at President Obama’s Inauguration lunch.) Quintessa was the first of the day and was not full, Duckhorn was at 3:00 and reached capacity about 30 minutes before it started. There were wine spills at both of them – I don’t know if the tables are closer together this year or what, but people were banging their chairs into the tables behind them hard enough to spill the wine and crash the glasses onto the floor. Such a waste of good wine…
We also watched one of the Junior Chef sessions – that was fun. The area looks like it would accommodate about 25 kids, but there were only about 12 in the one we saw. The kids all get paper chef hats and a place at one of the three tables. Ingredients for Magical Mango Fruit Bars were already laid out, and with some instruction by Chef Lily (with some help from guest Chef Goofy!), the kids mix up the ingredients which get poured into a large popsicle mold, which goes into the Magic Freezer and turns into a huge frozen fruit bar. On their way out the kids get a real frozen fruit bar to eat. Cute show. Some of the kids are really into it, and then there was the poor girl who was terrorized when Goofy came out, and another small boy who had a meltdown when his chef’s hat came undone and fell over his eyes.
On Friday night we attended the first Winemaker dinner, which was Arrowood Vineyards. It was really awesome – definitely my favorite of the three we have attended in the last two years. But I’ll have a whole review of that on the site later.
Lee and I will be back this weekend for the first Sweet Sundays event (those are new this year), and I hope to try one of the wine walks and some of the other Festival food offerings. And I’ll be sending Lee off to do the research on beer tasting and beer walks. 🙂