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An Old Friend Revisited
by Deb Wills
This article appeared in the June 11, 2002 Issue #142 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
If you have never visited Disney's Wilderness Lodge, a 728-room lakeside resort that opened in May 1994, you may not know that it's modeled on the historic Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, circa 1904. From the moment you walk through the front door the theming takes over.
The Lodge's theme is carried out in its three diverse dining venues, but most notably in Artist Point, open for dinner only, "where the hospitality and cuisine of the Pacific Northwest come alive."
If you are a regular reader of ALL EARS or Deb's Unofficial Walt Disney World Information Guide, you already know that Artist Point has long been one of my favorite restaurants at WDW. ALL EARS last reviewed the restaurant in October 2000, but so much has changed since then I felt it was time for an update.
New management, a new head chef, and new staff are just some of the instantly noticeable changes at this fine establishment. My favorite server, Johnny Rosa, has moved on, and I will miss his infectious laughter and attentive service. In fact, during my visit last month, I found that almost all the servers I've become acquainted with over the years have moved on. But the change in staff has not detracted one bit from the excellent quality of food and service I have come to expect from Artist Point.
My dinner companions (Tod and Sue, longtime friends from Michigan, and Linda) and I arrived at the Wilderness Lodge on a recent evening before the restaurant opened. To pass the time, we took up residence in the Territory Lounge and enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails. The Lounge, located adjacent to Artist Point, maintains the theming of the Lodge, with dark woods, paintings and wooden bear carvings that adorn both ends of the bar. The bartender concocted perfect martinis for us: Bombay Sapphire for Tod and Linda and a Grey Goose for me. (I should note here that none of us were going to be driving and would taxi back to the resort after dinner.)
Once seated at the restaurant, we met our server for the evening. Paul has been with the restaurant since the early days and was very familiar with both the food and wine offerings. All four of us found him friendly, efficient and accommodating.
As we reviewed the menu, we saw that it even though it has undergone some changes since our last visit, our "old favorites," such as the Maple Whiskey Glazed Cedar Plank Salmon ($36) and the Grilled Buffalo Top Sirloin ($30), still remain. Paul was very quick to point out to us that the restaurant's famous salmon was in the kitchen, available for dinner. This lit up the eyes of both Tod and Linda. Artist Point is one of the few Florida restaurants able to obtain the rare Copper River Salmon, which stands alone for its size (it can exceed 100 pounds), meat quality and overall rich flavor. The season begins in mid-May and lasts for only three to four weeks.
Accompanying our cocktails from the Territory Lounge was a basket of thick slices of sourdough and multigrain bread accompanied by some flavorful spreads.
There were several new appetizers on the menu and we wanted to try them all. We talked with Paul about a family-style appetizer platter for the table. He smiled, nodded and disappeared, soon to reappear with Chef Lenny, who had concocted a wonderful array for us to sample.
We were all surprised how much we enjoyed the Savory Rabbit Sausage, which was accompanied by Frisee, Roasted Red Pepper and Grain-Mustard Vinaigrette ($7). It was tasty, with just the right amount of spices for a robust flavor sensation with each bite. Grant's Scottish Ale Battered Halibut on Roasted Corn Tartar ($10) was VERY light with a crispy batter that melted in your mouth. It was upscale fish and chips without the oily taste, but with all the flavor. Everyone agreed this would make a wonderful entree.
The Field Greens with Goat Cheese Toast and Balsamic Chive Dressing ($6) was full of tender greens and the goat cheese was excellent. If there was one appetizer that disappointed all of us it was the Grilled Venison Medallion on Cannellini Bean and Asparagus Salad with Apple Vinaigrette ($10). Tod and Sue are true venison lovers but did not care for the strong taste of this appetizer. The medallion had a strong game flavor, and the spices did not seem to complement the dish at all.
The unanimous favorite appetizer of the evening was the Corn Chowder with Smoky Bacon and Tillamook Cheddar ($6). As each of us savored our first spoonful, our eyes looked up at each other in approval. The chowder is a perfect blend of Oregon cheese, crispy bacon and corn. We highly recommend it! If nothing else, share a bowl around the table!
To complement the foods of the Pacific Northwest, wines from Oregon and Washington are featured. I was thrilled to see one of my favorites still on the wine list, the 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.
In addition to an ample wine list, which offers "by the glass" or by the bottle, you may also order a cellar flight of wines. The flight selection (rarely found at Disney restaurants), offers an opportunity to experience two-and-a-half ounce portions of three different wines. This $16 flight should be discussed with your server.
For dinner, Linda and Tod chose the aforementioned Cedar Plank Salmon. They both proclaimed it "unbelievable!" Tod exclaimed, "This is incredible! I would gladly order this over a steak anyday!" which for him, is saying a lot. The Summer Fennel Salad was very tender and complemented the salmon perfectly with its dill seasoning.
Sue enjoyed the Spring Vegetables with Pasta, Zesty Tomato Broth, Asiago Cheese and Pesto ($19). The crisp and flavorful vegetables included snap peas, fennel, spinach, asparagus and broccolini. It was a very light meal with just the right blend of seasonings.
The Air-chilled Free Range Chicken Breast with Smokey Bacon and Two Potato Hash and Sugar Snap Peas ($24) was the entree I selected. It was a perfect blend of foods -- the rosemary and applewood delicately enhanced the flavors.
Since it was our last night at Disney, and Tod's birthday, to boot, we contemplated splurging when Paul brought us dessert menus. The Dessert menu included Chai Tea Cheesecake ($7), Chocolate Silk Bread Pudding ($8), Chocolate Cake Glazed with Ganache ($8), Raspberry Sorbet ($7), Cappuccino Creme Brulee ($8) and the restaurant's signature dessert, Artist Point Cobbler ($10). I think if we hadn't just finished a week of cruise dining full of desserts we might have been more adventurous.
As we talked about possibly sharing one dessert among the four of us, Paul came out with an Artist Point Cobbler to celebrate Tod's birthday. Very quickly four forks dove into the dessert! The Cobbler comes with seasonal berries, cream drizzle and vanilla bean ice cream. The berries were strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. The Vanilla Bean ice cream is a perfect complement to the hot cobbler and it was as good as always.
If we had had the least bit of room left, we might have tried some of the specialty coffees and after-dinner drinks that are available. There was a tempting selection of Grahams 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Tawny Port ($10-$25), as well as a Kiona and Columbia Crest Semillon Ice Wine ($13/glass).
All too soon, our meal was over and another magical Disney vacation was about to end. It had been a wonderful dinner full of good food, wine and conversation. Between Paul and the kitchen staff, our meal was wonderfully paced. It was an easy, relaxing evening and we never felt rushed nor wanting of anything.
Our special thanks to the Artist Point Cast Members Chefs Lawrence and Lenny, our server Paul, and seater Penny who made our evening such a wonderful one.
SIDE NOTES: Artist Point remains very friendly to vegetarians, vegans and those with special dietary considerations. As with all the Disney restaurants, it is best to call at least 24 hours in advance to speak with a chef so that the culinary staff can creatively prepare foods for your dietary needs.
Look for the menu to continue to evolve as the seasons change and fresh items become available. Also, we learned in a discussion with Sous Chef Lawrence that the menu may begin to exhibit an Asian influence to represent that portion of the Pacific Northwest.
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.