epcot2014 party

I was invited to attend Party for the Senses on Saturday, the first of this year's Saturday evening events that are a highlight of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival each year. The event fills the massive World Showplace with food and wine stations, plus a stage big enough to handle to acrobatic talents of members of Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba. I've been fortunate to attend many of these parties, and I think Saturday's may have been one of the better ones.

It seems that in the past few years I had only one, maybe two, favorite food items. This year there were at least four solid contenders for Best of PftS, and I had great fun trying to narrow it down to a single winner.

epcot2014 porkbelly

Early in the evening I came across Capa Restaurant, which is set to open later this month at the Four seasons Hotel and Spa at Walt Disney World. Chef Tim Dacey and his crew were serving a beer-brined pork belly with apples and Marcona almond. Frankly, I didn't notice the apples or the almonds, but that pork belly with its crisped exterior and wonderfully fatty meatiness was stellar. I had two; I stopped counting how many my companion had after four.

Divas Garlic ShrimpPhoto: The Walt Disney Company

Fall is in the air, when the divas venture out of air-conditioning in search of Florida's fabulous food festivals. Our perennial top pick is the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Disney World, open daily through Nov. 10, where we happily sip and nosh our way around World Showcase at more than 25 international Marketplaces along the waterside. (And burn those calories with a mile-long walk around the park's lagoon.)

We adore the small bites, just enough for a taste or two. From escargot in France to crispy pork belly with black beans, tomato and cilantro in Brazil, and kimchi hotdogs in South Korea, we get our happy on as we sip a cocktail or wine with each little dish.

A favorite that's back this year is the Garlic Shrimp at the Australia Marketplace. Pair with a cool chardonnay or a pale ale, then traipse off in search of the next discovery – it's a delectable trip around the world without a passport.

DahlmannEXCLUSIVE -- I thought there was something different about Jens Dahlmann when I saw him walk into the World Showplace Saturday evening at the first Party for the Senses of this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Dahlmann, as Epcot's executive chef, has been in charge of the festival for the past several years. He's been very much a hands-on overseer, frequently seen in his crisp chef whites bouncing around the World Showcase from kiosk to kiosk to things are going smoothly.

That's what was different about him Saturday night: He wasn't wearing his chef's jacket. He arrived at the event in a blue blazer and open-collared white shirt. He might have been mistaken for just another Party for the Sensors if not for the ever-present oval nametag that identified him as a cast member.

The reason for the costume change, it emerged, is that Dahlmann is no longer Epcot's executive chef. Effective immediately, he is now general manager for Epcot Food and Beverage operations. His longtime assistant, Gregg Hannon, takes over as executive chef for the park.

It's interesting that the changes would be made mid festival, but Dahlmann and the other team members have turned the multi-week event into a smooth running machine. The transition should be seamless.

Besides the sartorial shift, Dahlmann had another different look: one of relative calm. And he looked ready to party. I'll have notes about Saturday's edition of Party for the Senses on Monday.

Cress tacoSmoked halibut taco at Cress. Photo: Cress restaurant

Saturday is National Taco Day, to which you might very well ask, "Which nation?" It's true that taco is one of the few foodstuffs we've adopted that is legitimately authentically Mexican, but adopt it we have, in a very big way.

According to the National Taco Day website — yes, it has its own website — Americans ate more than 4.5 billion tacos last year. I have a pretty good idea how many I ate, but I have no idea who is responsible for the other 4 billion. The site also says those tacos would equal the weight of two Empire State Buildings, although I have to think it would be pretty close to impossible to actually put the Empire State Building on a scale. And what would we possibly do with two of them?

Of course, you have to take what they say at nationaltacoday.com with a grain of sal because it also says the "word taco is the Mexican equivalent of the English word for sandwich." Actually, sandwich in Spanish is sandwich; torta is sort of the Mexican equivalent.

But let's not quibble, not on National Taco Day Eve.

thaipurple fish cakes

I came across another nice little eatery in that unlikely and unassuming strip mall on East Colonial Drive. We've been here before, at Taka Taka, a Venezuelan restaurant. This time it's Thai Purple Orchid Cafe & Grocery, although the grocery part of it is pretty meager — fewer shelves than many people have in their closets.

And there aren't a lot of tables in the cafe part, either. But the owner will greet you graciously and will even serve you the food. I can say for certain, but she may have been back there cooking it, too.