My family spent the afternoon at the Disneyland Resort on Sunday, April 14. The primary purpose for this trip was to meet up with a couple friends to experience the special food offerings available at Disney’s California Adventure for the Taste of California Marketplace, which is part of the annual California Food and Wine Festival currently being offered in the park. This is the west coast version of a popular, long-running event that Disney holds every Fall in Epcot at Walt Disney World.
The Taste of California Marketplace offers a selection of fairly small, sampler-style portions of a number of different food items, all designed by California-based chefs and intended to represent the state’s culinary culture. Small cups of California-made wines and beers are also offered to accompany these. All of these items are available at the now-defunct Lucky Fortune Cookery counter-service restaurant, which is located in the Pacific Wharf section of the park. This location provides a good infrastructure for the food service as well a large dining area (shared with two permanent restaurants with a great deal of available tables and chairs. It makes for a much more convenient location than the multiple locations that were used during the first year of the event and which are still in use at the Epcot event.
The sampler-sized portions served at the Marketplace mean that the typical guest is likely to try a variety of choices, particularly if the items are being ordered as a meal rather than as a quick snack. I ended up ordering 5 of the different food selections as well as one cup of wine. Another couple that was dining with us eventually ordered and shared at least one of every item offered.
I initially ordered one each of the chicken and beef California skewers, the Festival Cheese Plate and a cup of Mirassou Chardonnay on a first trip to the counter. The Marketplace also has the usual selection of soft drinks available and, since it was a hot day and the wine doesn’t really work as a thirst-quencher, I did order a Coke as well. After finishing those, I was still hungry enough to try a couple more items, so I went back up and ordered the Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin Slider sandwich and, for dessert, the Seasonal Berry Trifle.
I particularly liked the skewers, which included the meat and a few various vegetables with a sweet chipotle glaze. The sauce was fairly strong, but I found it to be extremely tasty and to really complement the flavor of the meat. I generally don’t like cooked vegetables, and I have a strong sensitivity to onions, so I didn’t really eat too much other than the meat. That did make the portions especially small for these (a common problem for me with skewers), but I did really enjoy the portions I did eat.
The cheese plate was ok, although I tend to like somewhat softer textured cheeses than most of the ones chosen for this platter. For one thing, I tend to find softer cheeses to be a bit more flavorful while these were a waxy. The one big exception was what they described as a huntsman cheddar bleu, which I thought was absolutely delicious. I love bleu cheese and it mixed with the cheddar to form a flavor that I found tremendously appealing. The cheese plate also came with some seedless purple grapes which were very fresh and at just the right level of ripeness. The platter also featured a good sized pita crisp. I’m not really much of a wine expert, so I asked the clerk to recommend a wine that would go well with my order. She suggested the Chardonnay as a good compliment for the cheese plate and I found that it did go well with it.
My least favorite of the items that I tried was the Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin Slider. This miniature sandwich was served on a small brioche roll and also included onion crisps and what Disney described as a citrus mojo criollo sauce. Due to my sensitivity to onions, I had to remove most of them from my sandwich, although I was able to leave a few on as I’ve found that fried onions generally don’t affect me quite as much as ones that are raw or cooked in other ways. That meant that I was able to get at least a bit of the flavor that they added to the sandwich. The sauce was very heavy on garlic, though, and I strongly expect that one’s taste for this sandwich will be very much measured by one’s tolerance for garlic. I generally do like garlic and initially found that I really liked the flavor. About half-way through the sandwich, though, I found that I had pretty much had my fill of it. The friends we were with pretty much picked this as their favorite item, though, so certainly your mileage my vary.
For dessert, I had actually asked for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Marquise, but was surprised when they gave me the trifle instead. When I checked the receipt, I found that it did show the trifle as well, so I guess that the cashier must have hit the wrong button. Since the trifle was generally to my taste as well, I decided not to bother trying to get it corrected. The berries were strawberries and were very fresh and nicely sweetened by both the vanilla custard and light whipped cream. The pound cake was a tad more dry, but still tasted very good. Overall, it was a good dessert, although I would probably be interested in still trying the other one if I make it back there before the end of the festival.
One thing that should be noted is that the marketplace does not make for an inexpensive meal. The items are priced fairly high for the portion sizes and getting enough food for a filling lunch can quickly run up in costs. They do honor the customary discounts for annual passholders and Disney cast members (employees), which can lower the cost a tad if you qualify. Without discounts or tax, the food items that I ordered came to a total of $24.50. The glass of wine was another $3 and the Coke was the usual $2.50 or so (I don’t recall the exact amount). Those prices for just one person are in the same ballpark as lunch at a fairly high-end table-service restaurant, although with service and presentation that are more in line with fast food.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I visited with my family, but I haven’t mentioned anything about my wife and son’s food choices. The reason for that is that neither of them ended up ordering from the Marketplace. The food choices just didn’t really appeal to my wife’s tastes and we also decided that the combination of the high prices and fairly exotic selections were questionable for a 4-year-old, even though our son does tend to be a fairly adventurous eater. This was where the Food and Wine Festival’s setting inside of a Disney theme park was very much an advantage. It was only a very short distance for them to go over to the Farmer’s Market counter service restaurant where both were able to get chicken strips for lunch.
The close proximity between the somewhat upscale offerings of the festival and the more traditional theme park offerings served us well after lunch as well. Our son did get restless with the somewhat longer, more formal lunch (and he was in a bit of a cranky mood anyway), but afterward we were able to easily take him to do things that were more enjoyable to him. Had we not been visiting with a small child, we might have been more interested in exploring more of the seminars and other events associated with the festival. Instead, we park-hopped over to Disneyland where he got to visit with Mickey and Pluto, ride the tea cups and the carrousel, and then finally see the "Enchanted Tiki Room" show before we headed home for the day. It was an extremely hot day, so we were fortunate that lines were pretty short allowing us to do quite a few things in just a couple hours.
California Adventure had been pretty crowded that day, so we were expecting much larger crowds at Disneyland than we actually found when we got there. I suspect the Food and Wine Festival is turning out to be a pretty good attractor for the park, although I’m also sure that the "2 for 1" deal for that gives 1-day at each park for one price is also bringing a lot of people in. I would guess that most weekend visitors taking advantage of the deal likely go to Disneyland on Saturday and California Adventure on Sunday, which would account for at least some of what we saw. I did notice that the lines for the regular restaurants in the Pacific Wharf area of the park were substantially longer than the lines at the Marketplace, which probably isn’t too surprising at the prices they were charging.
I would overall consider our experience with the Food and Wine Festival to be a positive one. The food choices at the Marketplace made for a very enjoyable and interesting lunch, even if the prices were definitely somewhat inflated for what was being offered. Still, it was an overall positive once-a-year experience and I could easily see going again next year.