Epcot's 2007 International
Food & Wine Festival

Signature Dining

Inspirations from India
Animal Kingdom Lodge

Chef: Suvir Saran
Devi Restaurant, New York, NY
author of "American Masala"

Winery: Mulderbosch Estate, South Africa

September 30, 2007

For the Gathering

Sweet Pepper, Onion and Chevre Bruschetta
Shrimp Balchao Bruschetta
Manchurian Cauliflower

Mulderbosch Rose


Crispy Okra Salad
Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc

Goan Shrimp Curry with Coconut Rice
Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc

Bombay-Style Koliwada Halibut
Lettuce, Radishes, Tomatoes, Scallions, Naan Croutons
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc

Masala Fried Chicken
Mustard Oil Potatoes and Fruit Salad
Mulderbosch Faithful Hound

Cheese Selection
Selection of Goat and Sheep's Milk Cheeses with Accompaniments
Mulderbosch Shiraz

Fig Flan
Kanu Kia Ora

Debra Martin Koma
AllEars®.Net Senior Editor

Suvir Saran ChefMy biggest dining splurge at this year's 2007 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival was a Signature Dining Experience offered on Sunday afternoon at Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Billed as "Inspirations from India," this two-and-a-half-hour, five-course lunch promised traditional American fare seasoned with the flavors of India as prepared by New York chef Suvir Saran, owner of the restaurant Devi, and author of two cookbooks, the most recent the just-released "American Masala."

Although I booked my reservation for this event separately, I was lucky enough to find that two friends were also attending. When we met up at the restaurant, we discovered that we were assigned to different tables, but the restaurant staff was happy to accommodate our request to be seated together. (Thanks to Catherine for her initiative in making it happen!)

Once allowed into the restaurant, we were given a glass of a slightly chilled, fairly dry Mulderbosch Rose, and were allowed to mingle while servers brough assorted finger foods around. While all were tasty, the savory bruschettas -- both the shrimp and the pepper and goat cheese -- were spicy without being hot, and paired especially well with the rose.


Shrimp Bruschetta
Table Mates at Inspirations from India

After about a half-hour of casual conversation, we took our seats at tables set comfortably for six. Restaurant manager Jeremy welcomed us, and introduced Mike Dobrovic, winemaker for the Mulderbosch Estate wines that we would be sampling throughout the afternoon. Also on hand to say a few words was Jiko's new chef, Brian Piasecki (formerly chef at Epcot's Le Cellier restaurant), who introduced the lunch's featured chef, Suvir Saran.

Brian Piasecki
Winemaker Mike Dobrovic
Garnishes, Raita, chutney

Saran spoke about his rationale for the meal we were about to enjoy, which was largely based on recipes from his new cookbook, American Masala. Masala, he noted means "spice," but also has connotations of "magic" and "flourish" and "exaggeration." And so the foods we were about to sample were similar to what Americans in the South would have been eating in the 1800s, but with a flourish of Indian flavors.

The first course placed before us was a crispy okra salad. I can't say that I've eaten a lot of okra in my time, being from the North, but I have to admit that this preparation was quite good. The crispy strands of the vegetable were spicy and the flavors commingled with the onion strips also in the salad. The sauvignon blanc the salad was paired with had an almost grassy quality, and the flavors combined beautifully.

Crispy Okra Salad
Goan Shrimp

We continued with the sauvignon blanc for the next course, Goan Shrimp Curry with coconut rice. The flowery qualities of the basmati rice when saturated with coconut milk created a deliciously sweet counterpoint to the spicy shrimp. It would have been a perfect meal unto itself.

Except that then we wouldn't have had the chance to try to the next course, the halibut. Which was stellar! The moist, tender white fish was perched atop a bed of lettuce, tomatoes and scallion in a koliwada sauce seasoned with garlic, ginger, garam masala and chili powder. Every bite was perfection, and the delicacy of the fish paired extremely well with the chenin blanc that was served with this course.

Fried Chicken Masala
Cheese Course
Fig Flan

The Masala Fried Chicken was a bit of a letdown after the wonderful halibut course, I'm afraid -- although the seasonings were robust and went well with the red blend, Faithful Hound, served alongside, the chicken itself was a bit dry and chewy. I should mention, though, that when you dipped a bit of the chicken in the condiments on the table (the standard yogurt-based raita and various chutneys), they did add a certain something to the poultry.

Just when I thought the meal was drawing to a close, servers brought around the cheese plate, which featured a variety of sheep and goat's milk cheeses, most notably a Humboldt Fog, with its thin vein of edible vegetable ash. The cheeses were all strong without being overpowering, and were an excellent pairing with the Mulderbosch Shiraz served with them. An unusual shiraz (my favorite wine of the afternoon), the tannins of this wine were gentle on the palate.

At this point, we realized that what was supposed to be a two-and-a-half-hour meal, had already surpassed the three-hour mark, but no one was in a hurry to leave. The dessert course, a very sweet and creamy fig flan was finally presented with Kanu Kia Ora, a golden dessert wine that Dobrovic described as tasting like "angels peed into the barrel." Um, OK. I know he meant to say it was as sweet and heavenly as if... but still the imagery left a little to be desired!

As the clock struck 4, Saran summed up the experience with several anecdotes, and we reluctantly began to gather our belongings and make our exit from this most enjoyable and satisfying afternoon.

I've been asked several times if I thought that the Food and Wine Festival's signature dining experiences were a) worth the money and b) worth traveling outside of Epcot for. My answer, based on this event, is YES and YES. While these events may carry a hefty price tag (this lunch was $155 plus tax), you do indeed get your money's worth, especially if you enjoy trying different foods and wines from some of today's most interesting and innovative chefs, in the nicest Disney settings.