Click the image above to see a video of the party!
The Party for the Senses has always been a favorite part of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The Saturday night events offer a festive cocktail-party sort of atmosphere with food and wine stations manned by visiting chefs and wineries as well as various chefs from restaurants throughout Disney property.
This year there were a couple of changes. The major change was the addition of themed nights. The festival started with a Spanish theme and then moved on to “comfort foods with a twist.” I visited last weekend for the South American party, and what a great party it was.
The food seemed better than in the past, and there wasn't as much crowding. Some might attribute that to the way the room was set up. (Did I say room? The World Showplace is so large it has its own ecosystem.) In previous years, the entertainment stage dominated the middle of the room; this year it was off to the side.
But even with better crowd flow, to my eye there seemed to be a smaller crowd. A Disney official said that the parties have been selling out, but one of my sources tells me they’ve been running closer to 50 percent capacity.
Whatever, it left more food for me and the several hundred other happy partiers.
One of my favorites was the Argentinean wild boar with chayote cassave hash and mole from Robert Irvine’s eat! in Hilton Head, S.C. The boar was surprisingly tender but with a rich, fatty mouthfeel. Panhandlers may have recognized Lee Lucier, who was serving the food that night. He had eat! in Pensacola, which I reviewed a few years ago for my State Fare column in Florida magazine.
I also liked the grilled ribeye alambres with Maggi chimichurri and arroz con crema from Dos Caminos in New York, offered by Scott Linquist and Ivy Stark.
Mat Carter of the Mission & Zinc Bistro, Scottsdale, Ariz., was dishing up a wonderful stew of almejas al vapor (clam stew), which had chorizo, Peruvian potatoes, aji, yucca, rock shrimp and taro. There was still a little room in the pot to add a little spice.
Among the Disney chefs, the standout was the shrimp and ahi tuna ceviche from Lorene Vanetti of Whispering Canyon, of all places. It had wonderful citrus flavors. I also liked the sweet potato arepa that Jeff Bliss of the Grand Floridian Cafe was serving.
Stephane Cheramy of the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando had the best dessert, soft chocolate cake served with coconut tapioca, tropical chutney and coconut sorbet.
Few wines were stellar, but even without that qualifier the Caymus 2007 cabernet sauvignon was wonderful, full of black cherries and floral scents.
Instead of cast members from Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, entertainment was provided by a South American style band called Maru.
Another change at this year’s party was a premium seating area that offered a private table, a full bar, artisanal cheeses and servers for an additional $75. That’s above the regular party ticket of $135 plus admission to Epcot. The ironic thing was that this year there seemed to be a lot more seating for the regular admission folks. There was always a table nearby to place the wine glass when I was sampling an unwieldy plate of food. Of course, that might be another indication of a lower turnout.
There also was a change in the way the various food and wine stations were mapped out. In years past, colors were the indicators. This year there were different shapes, and most people didn’t catch on. The wording in the program telling you to look for the shapes was too small to be read in the low light.
Still, it was an excellent party, and it’s always fun to walk out of Epcot just as Illuminations is beginning. There’s the pomp and excitement of exploding fireworks, and the satisfaction that I’ll be in my car and well away before the crowds start clogging the roads.
Remaining Party for the Senses themes include classical cuisine (10/17), Asian (10/24), Fall Harvest (10/31) and Italian cuisine (11/7).
Go to the Festival Web site for more information and reservations.