WONDER-FUL CUISINE

The Czarina's Royal Table

Explanation of sorts: The Czarina is a Real Person who eats -- often -- at Walt Disney World. She takes sole responsibility for all opinions stated below, de gustibus non disputandum and chacun a son gout.

Do let us know what you think about this column at eureka@eurekajim.org

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Well dear Beloved Public, your Czarina took a three day cruise on the Disney Wonder in November 2000. Sad to say, I was not accompanied by the Czar, whose burdensome duties cleaning out the rum punch vats kept him in Trimobia. Thus, I was one of the very few "solo" travelers on the ship. Nevertheless, the weather was splendid and I found some congenial company.

There are many dining options on the Wonder and the Magic, and here is a round-up review of some of them.

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TRITON'S

Triton's was where I dined the first evening of my cruise and I was introduced to my table companions and servers. The servers -- always a very international crew -- were Travis and Mario, who could not have been nicer or more accommodating. Mario was from Croatia, where he hopes to return and make his fortune in the restaurant industry - apparently tourism is once again on the upswing there. Travis is from Australia, and was very funny and most helpful in keeping the Czarina away from the bread basket and other carbohydrates.

Sitting at my table was a very gracious and sweet extended family from Baltimore (mom, dad, 10-year-old daughter Tiffany and grandparents) who let me join their merriment for the cruise. I am sorry to say I forgot their last name, but I hope they are reading this and will accept my thanks for their kindness.

Table companions make a huge difference on these cruises. Triton's, known as Lumiere's on the Disney Magic, is the more formal of the family restaurants. But don't worry, you don't have to pack an evening gown! A pantsuit or a sundress will do very well, and sport shirts for men are fine. Triton's is tastefully decorated in subdued Little Mermaid theme - it's a subtly elegant and very comfortable place to dine.

Triton's specialty drinks include a Kir Royale ($5.25), a favorite of the Czarina's - sparkling wine with a touch of Créme de Cassis. There is also a fairly impressive wine list, emphasizing French vintages and many selections by the glass.

Starters here include deep-fried Camembert, escargots and a shrimp medley. Your Czarina went for the shrimp, which turned out to be several small and a couple of large shrimp, on a small salad with cocktail sauce. The small shrimp were a bit limp, but the dish was nicely seasoned. The escargots were favored by my table companions.

The clear winner in the entrees was the herb-crusted sea bass, a large and spanking-fresh chunk of the tender white fish seared with a delicious coating. Garlic-roasted beef tenderloin was dubbed "very garlicky but great" and a man-sized braised lamb shank also got rave reviews.

From our table, we could see the waiters making flaming Cherries Jubilee on a cart; this is a very popular dessert at Triton's. There are several other French selections, such as a Grand Marnier souffle with chocolate sauce and a highly superior Créme Brulee.

TRITON'S TIPS: This is a great place for a sit-down breakfast, if you don't want to fight the crowds at the buffet. It's almost never crowded at breakfast, and you don't need a reservation. Just walk right in. And at dinner, this is a fine place to splurge on that glass of Champagne without having to spring for a whole bottle.

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ANIMATORS PALATE

Animators Palate, the second restaurant, is a beautiful restaurant and the décor is very entertaining; others have described it before. I believe the menu has improved lately, most dishes taste fresher and less mass-produced than has been my experience before.

We all began with drinks - most of the adults had wine, but there are some fancy specialty drinks such as "The Paintbrush Stroke" (gold tequila with Chambord). I had a glass of Caymus Conundrum from California ($9.50), a blend of six varietals that was very delicious. Children may opt for one of several ice cream smoothies (rum or vodka can be added for the big kids, if they wish).

Starters include lobster/shrimp wrapped in a crepe with avocado puree (dubbed "interesting"), smoked salmon on potato cake with capers and sour cream sauce ("very very good") and the acknowledged winner, a duck and goat cheese flatbread small pizza) garnished with spring onions. Your Czarina opted for a crisp Caesar salad with shaved Parmesan.

The main courses sampled by our table included pan-fried veal chop (large and well-flavored, with lovely small pencil asparagus). This chop was a little dry, but quite good. Roast chicken breast with Cabernet sauce, a house specialty, was called "Super!" and grilled sirloin with glazed carrots "excellent". There are also several vegetarian selections.

Desserts at Animators Palate are always presented on palette plates with beautiful pools of sauce looking like paints. The special is strawberry shortcake ("fabulous"). You can also have Boston Cream pie ("fair"), New York style cheesecake (not dense enough, but good flavor) or double-fudge chocolate cake (good, but somewhat dry). Your Czarina went for the sugar-free cheesecake, a very acceptable alternative dessert.

ANIMATORS PALATE TIP: You will notice several selections on the menu have a large star next to them. These are the Restaurant Specialties and the Czarina feels it is a very good idea to stick with them.

AND ONE MORE THING: Don't forget, you may ask for more than one appetizer or dessert if you want. Several of us had appetizers and Caesar salad. This is true of all the restaurants on the ship. Go ahead, you're on vacation!

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PALO

Palo is the adults-only, very romantic, very Italian hideaway on the tippy-top of the ship, where I dined the third and final night of my cruise. What a gorgeous place! It requires a reservation which should be made early, particularly if you wish to dine on Saturday night. Check on the location where reservations are made as you board the ship.

The Czarina was dubious about dining alone in this very couples-oriented restaurant, but the staff was extremely friendly and made me feel at home. The manager even came over and offered to drink a glass of wine with me! My server, a cheerful Italian lady named Giorgia, steered me to the best items on the menu and was most knowledgeable (as all the Palo waiters seem to be) about the wine list.

The food at Palo is just superb! As good as many of the selections throughout the ship are, not one of them can compare with anything at Palo - it's simply in another category altogether. Sauces and reductions are created on-site, and they even make their own sun-dried tomatoes! (Where, I wonder - out on the deck?)

The Czarina began with another Kir Royale, though a Bellini cocktail (sparkling wine and peach nectar) also looked tempting. A large antipasto plate of top-quality shaved Parmesan, those sun-dried tomatoes, thin prosciutto and cured olives (among other items) was brought automatically. Also available for nibbling are several small thin-crust pizzas, prepared in the "on-stage" oven - the roasted peppers, arugula and goat cheese version was fabulous.

Starters include a signature beef tenderloin carpaccio(yes, it's raw - but oh Mamma Mia, is it good!) with mustard and lemon dressings, a traditional Minestrone soup, fried Calamari, or a grilled Portobello mushroom and Polenta plate which was Giorgia's recommendation, and I'm glad I listened to her. This had a wonderful balsamic vinegar glaze drizzled on it - sublime.

The only trouble with the main courses is that by the time you get to them, you've had so much fun with the appetizers that your taste buds may be beginning to flag. My advice is to dawdle over a glass of wine or ice water and take your time. Then you'll be ready for the Loin of Veal with wild mushrooms, the Orecchiette with vegetables and parmesan, the homemade artichoke Ravioli or the grand specialty, a Rack of Lamb with Chianti sauce. The Czarina had a Catch of the Day, fresh fish on a lovely risotto with an olive tapenade. Actually, I think the lamb is the winner.

At dessert time, the Chocolate-Hazelnut Souffle was Giorgia's favorite, but Tiramisu, Panna Cotta (a traditional creamy custard) and gelati in several flavors are also recommended. Waiters are often known to bring sampler plates of several or all the desserts - just ask! Lots of fancy coffees, grappas and brandies to linger over here - you might try the Schioppino ($4.25), a lemon sorbetto with vodka and Spumante, as a refreshing alternative to dessert.

PALO TIP: Just GO. If you have kids, arrange to leave them at the excellent child-care places where they will be given a fine dinner. Palo is the greatest bargain on the ship - there is only a $5.00 surcharge for this deluxe experience, everything else except drinks is included, just as it is all over the ship. You will have an evening you'll never forget.

AND ONE MORE THING: Before your Palo evening, consider spending an hour or two in the Rainforest Room of the Vista Spa. This relaxing, inexpensive and pampering experience, where you wander freely from sauna to aromatherapy room to steam room, is a perfect way to get you in the mood for Palo.

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SOME OTHER DINING OPTIONS ON THE WONDER

PARROT CAY - Due to choosing to dine at Palo on her last evening, the Czarina missed out on dining at Parrot Cay, though I did sample the lunchtime buffet and found it good, especially for salads and pastries. My "table family" described the Caribbean food as excellent.

GOOFY'S DOG HOUSE AND PINOCCHIO'S - Pinocchio's has on-deck pizza, and Goofy's (by the pool) does hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst and chicken fingers with onion rings or french fries. I didn't manage to try Pinocchio's, but I can heartily recommend everything at Goofy's, especially the cheeseburgers and chicken fingers. Purchase a beer on the other side of the pool, and you're all set for lunch.

CASTAWAY CAY BARBECUE - This barbecue is amazingly good. The Czarina ate at the adults-only Serenity Bay location, which offered fresh grilled salmon or steak sandwiches in addition to hamburgers or hot dogs, good salad-bar selections and fresh fruit. Try several things, pile on the condiments and head back for that blissful hammock on the beach!

A NOTE ON YOUR TABLE SERVERS - If you feel you have received good service from your server and assistant server on the cruise, the Czarina implores you to tip them accordingly. If you dine at Palo or elsewhere on the last night of your cruise, it's easy to forget to do this, especially if you skip breakfast on debarkation day (and believe me, you may not feel like breakfast by then).

Unfortunately, these servers are not paid very well - this is industry standard and not exclusive to Disney - and they are very dependent on their tips. If you feel this policy is unfair, by all means write to Disney; but remember these hard-working folk and give them their envelopes.

This review was originally published
in the December 26, 2000 issue of ALL EARS
Registered with the Library of Congress ISSN:1533-0753

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