Reserve Dinner Review

Epcot
2003 International
Food & Wine Festival

"Gems of Germany"

Reserve Dinner Menu
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Reception

Mini Pierogies stuffed with Cabbage and Onions with Caviar
Potato Pancakes with Gravenstein Apples
Braised Pork on Rye and Caraway Lavosh Chips
Chef: Mark Mattern, Cinderella's Royal Table
Wine: Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2001

Dinner

Terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Tropical Fruit Jam, Micro Green Salad
Truffle Vinaigrette
Chef: Michael Ginor, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Hudson Valley, NY
Wine: Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2001

Whole Roasted Foie Gras, Caramelized Shallots, Apples and
Double-Apple Smoked Bacon with Fig Glaze
Chef: Michael Ginor, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Hudson Valley, NY
Wine: Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 1999

Ling Cod and Herb Spaetzel in a Lemon Verbena Butter with Braised Red
Cabbage and Cucumber Slaw

Chef: Mark Mattern, Cinderella's Royal Table
Wine: J.L. Wolf Deidesheimer Leinhöhle Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2001

Veal Short Rib, Tenderloin, and Sweetbread with Petite Cabbage Hearts and
Spatburgunder Jus

Chef: Scott Hunnel, Victoria and Albert's
Wine: Grafen Neipperg Lemberger Spätlese 1997

Lemberger Poached Seckel Pear with Cambozola Cheese and Spiced Black Walnuts
Chef: Scott Hunnel, Victoria and Albert's
Wine: Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 1988

Black Forest Chocolate Cherry Tower
Chef: Lothar Neumaier, Epcot
Wine: J.L. Wolf Forster Pechstein Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1999


"Gems of Germany"

Reserve Dinner Menu
Sunday, October 19, 2003

by Debra Martin Koma


I know what you're wondering. You're wondering what it's like to dine in an exclusive setting, supping on exquisite creations prepared by some of the most accomplished chefs at Walt Disney World, while sipping fine wines that have been carefully matched to the cuisine. You're wondering how it feels to be sitting among wine experts and winemakers, premier chefs and other connoisseurs. You're wondering what one wears to such an event, and how one behaves, and, most of all, you're probably wondering, is it really worth $175 per person.

Wonder no longer.

To answer your last question first, yes. Yes, it is most certainly worth every penny.

And here's why.

On Sunday, October 19, a friend and I attended the "Gems of Germany" Reserve Dinner, the first of nine such special dining experiences being conducted as part of Epcot's 8th Annual International Food and Wine Festival. It was held in the VIP Lounge of the Wonders of Life pavilion in Future World, and was to be a rather upscale affair -- men were required to wear a jacket.

After agonizing over what appropriate "cocktail attire" might be for Walt Disney World, my friend and I each settled on a simple dress -- mine a black sheath with a seashell pattern, my friend's a black jumper. That hurdle cleared, we then faced another: Did we know where the VIP Lounge *was* in the Wonders of Life pavilion? No, but we suspected the entrance might be down the hallway between Body Wars and Cranium Command, and, after asking a few Cast Members, we found that we were right.

CM Ruth showed us to a special door (under the 'FRONTIERS' sign), which led into a circus-themed reception area. While we waited for the elevator to take us upstairs to the dining room, we were given a glass of mineral water and had a chance to talk with the CM there. He told us that the lounge there was only used occasionally these days, although the upstairs area was still employed frequently for fancy dinners.

Finally, it was our turn to ascend to the dining area. Servers bearing trays of a light Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2003 handed us our aperitifs, then directed us to a room with a bar and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pavilion below (looking down on The Making of Me attraction, in fact). Tables and chair groupings, as well as tall cocktail tables, were scattered around the room and our group of 40 (a sold-out event) spent some minutes mingling and snacking on the hot hors d'oeuvres brought around.

There were three appetizers: the potato pancake with Gravenstein apples was the most savory, in my opinion, the sweetness of the apples complementing the rather bland potato nicely. The mini pierogies were a bit too cabbagey, although the sprinkle of caviar topping them was a nice touch. Braised pork on lavosh chips was somewhat stringy and difficult to eat gracefully, and the lavosh was overloaded with crunchy caraway seeds that overpowered the pork -- not a winner.

After several minutes, the red and white striped curtain that partitioned off the far side of the room was drawn back, revealing a circular area with a similarly red and white striped ceiling, carrying out the circus motif started downstairs. The ring-shaped table was appointed elegantly, draped in sparkly silver linens, and dotted with flickering candles, an assortment of glasses of different sizes and shapes, and copious amounts of silverware. The chairs were covered with a burgundy crushed velvet, dressed almost as stylishly as many of the diners. (Yes, we were dressed appropriately, although some women were much more formal, while others were clad in more casual pant suits. All the men wore jackets and ties.)

We made our way to our seats (designated by calligraphy-designed place cards), and our host John Blazon, of Epcot's Food & Beverage Services, welcomed us "under the Big Top," adding that the setting was most appropriate, since Disney was going to demonstrate that it was "at the top of its game" in the culinary arts. The main speaker for the evening was Doug Frost, a Kansas City wine expert and author who is both a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine. Also on hand were winemaker Ernst Loosen, head of the German winery Dr. Loosen (prononced LOW-zen), and Julie Swift of Valckenberg International, a wine distributor that is the exclusive wine supplier and a sponsor of the Epcot German Pavilion.

Frost opened the evening with his light-hearted observations about German wines and how he grew to love them, and was followed by remarks from Loosen, who talked about his background and the history of the Dr. Loosen estate. Loosen proved to be quite the cut-up, and his laid-back manner, along with Frost's humorous anecdotes, helped lighten the tone of what could have been a very stuffy, formal event.

The dinner began with two courses of foie gras, one served cold, the other hot. Given that I've never been a lover of liver, I was skeptical that I would find anything enjoyable about these dishes. I was so wrong.

The terrine of foie gras, served with tropical fruit jam, a micro green salad, and truffle vinaigrette, came with a tiny brioche. Although the foie gras, in this case duck foie gras, was cold, it had a smooth, not grainy, consistency, and when paired with the buttery brioche it fairly melted on the tongue. Of course, when guest chef Michael Ginor, of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, joined us to discuss his creation, he spied me reaching for a piece of plain bread, because my brioche had crumbled. "No, no, no," he clucked his tongue at me. "Use the *brioche* with that!" Thus chastised, I tried to gather up the crumbs of the brioche and spread the foie gras on them. He was right, of course. It was much better than any plain bread could have been. This foie gras was accompanied by a glass of Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett (2001), which was sweet and slightly fizzy. It left a clean taste on the palate, which offset the dryness of the foie gras.

Chef Ginor's second course was roasted foie gras, with caramelized shallots, apples and bacon in a fig glaze. The tasty morsel sat atop a thin bed of whipped roblochon potatoes and was served with Dr. Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spätlese (1999), a bit less sweet than the previous white, with a hint of spiciness. As Loosen himself mentioned when he spoke about the wine pairing, you almost sensed a hint of "Christmas cookie aromas" as you sipped. I preferred both this wine and this version of the foie gras, although my dinner partner preferred the previous course.

The next dish was prepared by Disney's own Mark Mattern, chef at Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom, a restaurant not known (at least by me) for its exotic culinary accomplishments. The ling cod with herb spaetzel that Chef Mattern prepared, however, dispelled any doubts I may have felt when I saw the menu. The white, lightly seasoned fish had a hint of lemon, which blended perfectly with the mildly herbed little pillows of German dough. This dish was paired with a drier white wine, J.L. Wolf Deidesheimer Leinhöhle Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2001, much more to my liking than the sweet vintages we'd sampled so far. As Chef Mattern spoke about the preparation involved with the dish, I noticed his name badge cited Pittsburgh as his hometown. Like the other chefs, he was extremely approachable, so I told him we shared the same roots and we chatted for a few moments about our hometown.

Our meat course featured veal prepared three different ways by Victoria & Albert's acclaimed executive chef Scott Hunnel: there was a veal short rib, a fork-tender bite of veal tenderloin, and a crispy bit of sweetbread, served with petite cabbage hearts and a dark red spatburgunder jus. While all three were excellent, I must say that the sweetbread surprised me the most -- I'd never tried it before (it's the pancreas of the animal, and I'm not fond of organ meats), but this was, well, sweet, with a soft texture, much more appealing than I'd imagined it would be. The wine for this course was the evening's only red -- a very dry, peppery Grafen Neipperg Lemberger Spätlese 1997. This came as a surprise, since Germany is chiefly known as a white wine producer. As Julie Swift noted in her comments, Germany actually does produce a fair amount of red wine, just doesn't export it. As primarily a red wine drinker, I must say that this wine was my favorite of the evening.

A poached seckel pear stuffed with cambozola cheese and spiced black walnuts, also prepared by Hunnel, served as our fruit course. The sharpness of the cheese, a cousin to very blue-cheesy gorgonzola, was perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the pear, and that of the Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 1998 that accompanied it.

The feast concluded with the appearance of Epcot chef Lothar Neumaier, who brought forth an impressive dessert finale: a variation on Black Forest cake, coupled with white and dark chocolate mousses, all contained in a chocolate cylinder adorned with chocolate streamers. Decorating the plate was a ribbon of spun sugar, dyed in the red, black and yellow of the German flag. Cherries soaked in brandy dotted the plate as well as being infused in the dessert itself. Our wine? The sweetest of the sweet -- an almost syrupy, very expensive Trockenbeerenauslese. I'm sorry to say that as much as I'm sure the tiny glass they set before must have cost, I couldn't drink it all -- it was just too sweet for me.

Rich coffee was brought around, along with a gorgeous bar of chocolate that bore the Epcot Food and Wine logo painted on a white chocolate square, compliments of Chocolates á la Carte. After brief closing remarks, we were instructed to follow a waiting Cast Member to our exclusive, private-viewing area to see IllumiNations at 9 p.m. I looked at my watch for the first time that night, surprised to see that it was indeed already 8:40. I asked one of our servers, Terry, who had been taking such good care of us all evening, if it would be possible to take the beautiful ribbon candy decorations home, and he sweetly conjured up a box for me, with a few rock candy swizzle sticks thrown in for good measure.

We quickly gathered our belongings and followed the CM to the area that had been roped off for us, behind one of the Showcase Plaza shops. There, the dozen or so of us who had chosen to view the laser and fireworks show could lean on a railing with an unobscured view of the lagoon. I've seen this current version of IllumiNations several dozen times, from all around World Showcase, and I must say that this was the best view I've ever had. When the fire barge ignited, I almost believed that my eyebrows were singed!

After the show, a CM offered us a ride via towncar back to our resort, but we chose to walk instead -- considering all that we had eaten and drunk, a walk on a wonderfully warm evening back to the BoardWalk Villas seemed like the thing to do.

So, is it worth $175, plus tax, for this event? As I'm sure you can tell, my answer is a resounding yes. The opportuntity to sample a wide variety of wines paired with food prepared by distinguished chefs, plus the chance to hear, and even talk with, winemakers and wine experts as they discuss their products and methods, all in an exclusive setting -- as the commercials say: Priceless.