An Evening at Artist Point
Wilderness Lodge

by Deb Wills
AllEars® Editor-in-Chief

Feature Article

This article appeared in the October 31, 2000 Issue #57 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.


Although Artist Point, a full-service restaurant at Walt Disney World's Wilderness Lodge, has long been one of my favorites, I was very interested in returning there recently for a specific reason.

Anette Grecchi, the chef who took a menu full of favorites and turned it into a sophisticated blend of exceptional entrees, recently left Artist Point and Disney to work at the Hard Rock Café in Orlando. Anette was instrumental in sharing her knowledge of grains (some called her the Grain Diva) and also sensitizing the staff to the palates of vegetarians and vegans. A permanent replacement has not yet been found, and I was curious as to how the current chefs, Janess and Matt, were doing.

I'm happy to report that under their care Artist Point is continuing to live up to its reputation as "a celebration of the rich culinary heritage of the Pacific Northwest."

We (five adults) dined at Artist Point on Friday evening, October 13th and were served by Johnny Rosa, one of the best servers on Disney property. Amanda and Vivian were not only first-timers at Artist Point, but also to Walt Disney World. Robin, Linda and I have dined here many times.

The night was a special reunion for Robin and Amanda, who were college roommates at Auburn and had not seen each other in 29 years. We were eager to show our friends an evening of good food, wine and conversation and we were not disappointed. If you dined at Artist Point on Friday evening, we were the table of 5 women who laughed and laughed and laughed. We even had Johnny speechless a time or two.

Our visit to Artist Point began with a brief tour of the Wilderness Lodge's beautiful lobby and pool area. But we were anxious to begin our feast, and so we checked in early at the podium. The restaurant's décor -- dark woods, high ceilings, and full windows with two full-color murals -- set an intimate and relaxed mood.

We began our evening with cocktails -- Linda, a Bombay Sapphire martini with a whisper of vermouth and extra olives, I a Grey Goose martini with a twist. The martinis were served in chilled glasses (which gets extra points from us) and poured tableside from miniature metal drink mixers, a nice touch. Vivian enjoyed a glass of Hogue Cellars Merlot ($8.50) and Amanda ordered a crisp chardonnay and received a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle ($6.75).

Accompanying our cocktails were two baskets of Artist Point breads and spreads -- thick slices of sourdough and multigrain bread accompanied by roasted garlic, onion butter and a tangy preserve of peaches.

Johnny went over the menu and specials with us and we had a difficult time deciding what to eat. The menu evolves and changes with the seasons to ensure that the freshest ingredients are available; for instance, now that fall has arrived, butternut squash is making its way back on the menu and root vegetables are not far behind.

We decided on the Taste of the Northwest Chilled Taster Platter ($17) to start with and were not disappointed. The oval platter arrived with small portions of several cold delicacies, enough for each of us to have a generous sample. The platter contained sliced ostrich meat (farm-raised in the US) with a side of fresh figs (outstanding) and peaches; Ahi Tuna, sushi quality, on sesame noodles with tomatoes and Japanese seaweed salad; chunks of filet mignon encrusted with black peppercorns on a barley salad, blue cheese; and lightly breaded halibut cakes that were fried and had a smoky flavor.

To complement the foods of the Washington, Oregon and British Columbia coastlines and the woods and fields of Idaho, wines from Oregon and Washington are featured. We considered several wines and went with Johnny's recommendation of the 1997 Seven Hills Merlot ($55) from Oregon. The vineyard's soil is rich with volcanic ash and it provided a hearty flavor to the very full-bodied merlot (90 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon). The wine had a 13% alcohol content, on the high side for a merlot. Everyone at the table enjoyed the wine tremendously; so much so, we had three bottles with our meal.

In addition to an ample wine list, which offers "by the glass" or by the bottle, you may also order a flight of wines. The flight selections (rarely found at Disney restaurants), offer an opportunity to experience two and a half ounce portions of 3 different wines. Three flights are available, one each for Washington ($9.50) and Oregon ($9.50) wines and one Cellar Flight ($14) recommended by the staff.

Vivian is on a gluten-free diet and after a brief consult with our server, Chef Janess appeared to discuss a variety of options. Janess was very willing to modify any of the entrees to accommodate Vivian's needs, to her delight and surprise.

For our next course, four of us had the crisp heart of romaine salad with creamy ricotta-leek dressing and shredded four-cheese mélange ($6). Linda had the hot leek-potato soup with crispy leek straws ($6). The soup was an excellent blend of leek and potato with a rich creamy flavor. The romaine was crisp and the dressing was very understated -- a nice salad, but not exceptional.

Our entrees soon arrived in grand style. Robin's entree was the breaded and pan-fried Alaskan halibut with heirloom tomato stir fry and roasted garlic butter ($24). She described the halibut as perfectly crisp on the outside and very tender and flavorful on the inside.

I had ordered the grilled buffalo ribeye steak with Yukon potato-leek gratin and glazed carrots ($29). This was my first experience with a buffalo steak and I found it exceptional. It had the tenderness of a filet with the texture of a strip steak. The ribeye was encrusted lightly with black peppercorns. The glazed carrots were crunchy and flavorful. The buffalo is farm-raised from Colorado and is marinated for 24 hours in rosemary, thyme, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Buffalo, I'm told, is one of the leanest meats available with an extremely low fat content.

Linda and Vivian selected the grilled and basted bone-in pork loin with porcini butter and mushroom ragout, which came with herbed polenta ($20). The mushroom ragout included Portobello, oyster, shiitake, and black trumpet mushrooms. Johnny brought out a plate of uncooked mushrooms to show us how different each one was in color and texture. Both Linda and Vivian felt the pork entrée exceeded their expectations and was tasty, tender and juicy. The herbed polenta was a perfect combination of flavors, rich and creamy, although a bit on the salty side for Linda.

Amanda's entrée, cedar plank Alaskan king salmon with buttered green beans, spelt pilaf and maple whiskey glaze ($26) is the signature entrée of Artist Point. The salmon arrived on a flaming cedar plank, roasted to perfection with a faint sprinkling of cracked black peppercorns. The whiskey glaze aromatically infused the salmon. The green beans, freshly snapped and tossed in a hot skillet, were tender and full of flavor. Artist Point serves fresh salmon, which arrives at the kitchen within 18 hours of being caught, year-round. In fact, the restaurant receives 300-350 pounds of salmon every other day. One item not on the menu that can be ordered is Artist Point's version of "Surf and Turf" - cedar plank salmon and buffalo ribeye.

With all this food, you wouldn't think we'd have room for dessert, but we did -- our meal had been served at a very leisurely pace over the course of fours hours. We could not decide on what desserts to share. As we talked, Chef Janess appeared with a special gluten-free dessert for Vivian, a bowl of freshly made black currant sorbet, decorated with fresh blueberries and raspberries -- heavenly.

The rest of us enjoyed sampling each of the other desserts on the menu, including: Artist Point cappuccino -- coffee-soaked biscuit with mascarpone cheese and Bailey's Irish Cream ($7); Mary's triple chocolate cheesecake with half whipped cream ($8); Artist Point cobbler with tons of berries, sour cream drizzle and vanilla bean ice cream ($10); and finally a warm Washington apple tart with frangipan and cinnamon ice cream ($6). We also enjoyed a glass of 1997 Woodward Canyon Cabernet "Artist Series No. 6" from Washington ($80/bottle) with dessert.

Each of us had our favorite among the selections. Vivian deemed the sorbet "for a sophisticated adult palate." Linda's fork "waded into the depths of the triple chocolate cheesecake and was dissolved by the richness of the cabernet." Amanda, Robin and I, while thoroughly enjoying each dessert, voted the berry cobbler -- a warm cobbler full of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries with fresh sour cream drizzled on top -- our favorite. The "scone-like" quality of the cobbler base was unique, tasty and a great complement to the fruit and ice cream. There is also a special dessert for children and children at heart -- a white chocolate Mickey puzzle ($4.75).

Our meal was over and the restaurant was soon to close, so we called it a night. It had been a wonderful dinner full of good food, wine and conversation. Everyone felt the food and the service was top notch and we walked out slowly with lots of memories of the evening.

The next day, I had occasion to spend time with Chef Matt. He explained that Artist Point now regularly stocks tofu as well as soy milk. The menu is easily adaptable for vegetarians and vegans. He said that anyone with special diet considerations should contact the restaurant at least 24 hours in advance so that the culinary staff can creatively prepare foods for your dietary needs.

This is especially true for vegans. However, should a vegan not call ahead, there is always at least one vegan entrée on the menu. For instance, the spinach penne pasta with roasted autumn vegetables and two pesti, spinach and roasted red pepper ($16), which is the current vegetarian entrée, can be served without pesto and cheeses.

In addition to dinner, Artist Point has a daily Character Breakfast featuring Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore. The breakfast is all you can eat, brought to your table. Vegetarians can be easily accommodated at the last minute with foods like soy pancakes or scrambled tofu (again, calling ahead will allow the chef to be more creative). Vegans also can be accommodated, but it's best to call ahead to make arrangements.

It is good to see Artist Point striving for perfection again. After an inconsistent period a couple years ago, it has greatly improved and, in my opinion, based on three dining experiences over the last year, is one of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World.

Our special thanks to the Artist Point Cast Members Steve, Janess, and Johnny who made our evening such a memorable one.

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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.