Artist Point Winemaker's Luncheon

By Jack Spence, ALL EARS® Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the November 20, 2007 Issue #426 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Recently, my friend Donald and I ate dinner at the Artist Point Restaurant in the Wilderness Lodge Resort. I have had hit-and-miss experiences here, but this dinner was definitely a hit. Scott was our waiter and he knew his stuff. Anita listed three criteria that she expects from a server and, as with her waiter Kyle, Scott measured up in every way. This restaurant must have a terrific training program!

During our meal, the manager approached and asked the obligatory question, "How is everything tonight?" After complimenting Scott and the food, we were asked the second obligatory question, "Where are you visiting from?" When we said Orlando, his eyes lit up and he asked if we were aware of their Winemaker's Luncheon. When we said no, we were told that on the following Saturday, the Artist Point restaurant would be presenting a six-course meal accompanied by the wines of the Three Rivers Winery. This would be an intimate event as the reservations were limited. It would run from noon until 3 p.m. and would cost $100 per person plus tip and tax. Since we had consumed a couple of cocktails and were already well into a bottle of wine, our light heads compelled us to say yes.

When Saturday came, Donald and I arrived at the Artist Point podium at about a quarter to 12 -- we were not the first to arrive. Shortly there after, Vickie Cawein, one of the restaurant's managers, greeted us and checked our names off on her clipboard. At noon, she announced that the event had begun and invited us in.

The Artist Point restaurant is decorated in the Arts & Crafts style of architecture. Overall, the tables are well-spaced, giving each party a sense of privacy. Large windows flank two walls and look out onto the hotel grounds. One table in particular, the corner table, is situated between the two walls of windows and looks out at a waterfall. This table is great! But don't be disappointed if you're not seated by a window. The entire restaurant has a lovely feel about it. Lightly stained wood, a tiled and carpeted floor, and massive, overhead murals give this room a warm and inviting atmosphere. There are two hidden Mickeys concealed in the murals but you may have to ask your server for help spotting them. I know I did.

For this special event, several smaller tables had been pushed together to create larger seating areas. There were four tables set for six and one for eight which had been reserved for a group of people. The larger party was seated first and the rest of us were asked to pick out a spot from the remaining tables. Knowing that the corner table affords the best view outside, Donald and I headed in that direction.

I'm always leery when asked to sit with strangers. I'm afraid I will be seated with the people from "heck." That was not the case today. At our table was a young couple from D.C. celebrating their six-year wedding anniversary and a mother and daughter visiting all the way from Orlando. Our dining companions couldn't have been more congenial.

I attended three Epcot Food & Wine Festival events this year. I felt that "Party for the Senses" was worth the money, but the other two ("The Cook, Book & Bottle" and "Cheese Tastings") were definitely overpriced and I left disappointed. At these two events, I was told that I would be able to get to know my fellow diners. Unfortunately, the speakers talked the entire time and I was never given an opportunity to converse with anyone at my table. I was a little worried that today's luncheon would be the same. Thank goodness it wasn't. The afternoon was the perfect balance between formal presentation and casual table conversation.

The event started with Vickie Cawein welcoming us to the event. She spoke only for a couple of minutes, then turned the microphone over to one of the owners of the Three Rivers Winery, Duane Wollmuth. Mr. Wollmuth gave us a brief history of his winery, took a few questions from the group, and then turned the microphone over to the Artist Point's head chef, Alphonso Walker. After we were given a brief explanation of the food that we would be sampling, the microphone was turned off and the first course was served. Perfect. I did not want or need a lengthy explanation of what was to come.

The menu:

First course:

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple and Hazelnuts baked in Phyllo.
Wine: Three Rivers Meritage White '04

Second course:

Wild Salmon with Bacon-Rosemary Beurre Blanc and Mushroom Ragout
Wine: Three Rivers Chardonnay '05

Third course:

Marinated Grilled Quail with Quince-Root Vegetables Mash and Parsley Nage
Wine: Three Rivers Syrah '04

Fourth course:

Artisan Cheeses
Wine: Three Rivers Malbec-Merlot Blend '05

Fifth Course:

Pan-seared Elk with Pumpkin Risotto and Juniper Berry Reduction
Wine: Three Rivers Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon '04

Sixth Course:

Warm Heirloom Apple with Buttermilk-Sour Cream Ice Cream, Spicy Glaze, and Sweet Pecans
Wine: Three Rivers Biscuit Ridge Vineyard Late Harvest Gewurztraminer '06

After Dinner:

Chocolate/Raspberry Truffles

Having just eaten at the Artist Point the previous week, I did recognize the cheese plate and dessert as something that is available on their standard menu. But everything else was prepared especially for this event -- and everything was excellent! I don't think there was one negative comment among us. In fact, one of the ladies said that she doesn't ordinarily like fish but she thoroughly enjoyed the salmon.

I had never eaten elk before and had no idea of what to expect. It was extremely good. I guess if someone were to ask me what it tastes like I'd have to say, very mild beef with absolutely no "gamey" taste.

The one disappointment of the Artist Point is their sourdough bread. It might arrive at your table hot and soft and with plenty of butter, but sourdough it isn't. I use to live in San Francisco and I know what sourdough bread is supposed to taste like. This isn't even close.

The wines were also quite good and complemented the food well. The Three Rivers Winery is located in the Walla Walla Valley in Washington State, an area acclaimed as one of the best new wine regions of the world. A local wine distributor, who handles their wines, also stopped by our table and dropped off his business card in case we wanted to order a bottle or two when we returned home. If you'd like to check out the winery for yourself, here is their web address: http://www.threeriverswinery.com/

When we arrived, each place setting was set with three white wine glasses. After each course, one of the glasses would be removed. A wine glass was presented separately for each of the remaining three courses. The appropriate flatware was brought with each course. Overall, the service was flawless. As I said earlier, the Artist Point seems to know how to train their wait staff.

I wasn't sure how this event was going to last for three hours, but it did - easily. The pacing was perfect. Halfway through the meal the sous chef Barry Montville spoke briefly about the upcoming courses. Additionally, Mr. Wollmuth stopped by each table to answer questions about his wines and ask how we liked everything. Between the kitchen's impeccable timing, the remarks from the staff, and our table conversation, the time flew by.

As the event was winding down, Ms. Cawein stopped by our table. We asked her how often the Artist Point puts on one of these events. She told us that this was their third and they hoped to continue with more, one about every three months. After my experience today, I will do my best to talk others into attending in the future.

I have eaten at almost every restaurant at Walt Disney World multiple times. I can assure you, it would be impossible to order six courses of this caliber of food for the price we paid today. Then, when you add six different wines, carefully paired for each dish, this event was a bargain.

For those of you who have never been to the Wilderness Lodge Resort, you should make the effort. It's worth the time and energy. The hotel is an attraction in and of itself. Styled after the National Park Service lodges, this resort transports you deep into the forest and to a tranquil atmosphere.

The entire hotel appears to have been built out of logs. In fact, the gift shop sells a set of Lincoln Logs that recreates this beautiful building. The magnificent lobby is eight stories tall and features two gigantic totem poles that tower over you at 55 feet. Specially designed chandeliers look like massive teepees encircled by buffalo and horses. In one corner of the lobby you'll find an enormous fireplace. As the rockwork reaches toward the ceiling, the colors change, representing the strata of the Grand Canyon. Look closely for a hidden Mickey.

In another corner, a bridge crosses over a bubbling spring that flows from the indoors to the outdoors. From here, the stream gathers force and eventually plunges over a large boulder, forming a beautiful waterfall. This is the same waterfall that you can see from the corner table in the Artist Point restaurant.

Out beyond the swimming pool you can find Old Faithful. This geyser realistically erupts every hour, on the hour. Once again, if you look closely, you can find another hidden Mickey nestled in the rocks.

The Wilderness Lodge can be reached by boat from the Magic Kingdom and by bus from the other theme parks and Downtown Disney. Roaring Forks Snacks and Whispering Canyon Cafe are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Artist Point restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m. for dinner only. Reservations are strongly suggested for the Whispering Canyon Cafe and Artist Point and can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

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Related Links:

Other reviews by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm


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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.