Jiko - The Cooking Place is among the restaurants that will be participating in this year's Chef's Gala. I was asked if I'd like to sample the dish that Jiko's chef, Edward T. Mendoza, would be offering at the April 14 event, so I said sure, why not? I hadn't been to Jiko in a long time, it would be nice to see what's going on there these days.
Good things, it turns out. Let me put it this way: As soon as the bus drops you off at the World Showplace at the beginning of Heart of Florida's Chef's Gala, head directly to the station, or cooking place, if you will, where Mendoza and his team will be serving their Isitambu.
Isitambu is an African dish of beans and samp, broken dried corn kernels. It's a traditional dish of Africa, this one in the Zulu style, that Mendoza said was the favorite food of Nelson Mandela. Although it's not usually considered an haute cuisine dish -- it's often served as an accompaniment -- Mendoza makes it so with the inclusion of braised oxtail. It was seasoned with a fragrant garam masala that offered myriad spice notes, and that oxtail brought a wonderful fatty mouthfeel.
I'd have been more than satisfied to sup on a larger bowl of that, but Mendoza also served an appetizer of Oak-Fire Kissed Red Shrimp, with Congolese pili pili butter, accompanied by fried okra.
Inguday Tibs in Brik, turnovers with mushrooms, cheese and spinach wrapped in Tunisian style phyllo dough.
For the main courses, Seswaa Beef Short Rib was served with a puree of cassava and potatoes, topped with a spicy sambal sauce, with baby carrots nearby (these were more like teenaged carrots). The beef had been braised into tender submission.
The cumbersomely named Signal Hill + Llandudno Beach Seafood Potjiekos was sort of an African bouillabaisse, with Malay curry-scented lobster hunks, tender squid, big, meaty (but not chewy) mussels, and shrimp, with saffron rice beneath the flavorful broth.
For dessert there was a Kilimanjaro, an easily conquered stack of chocolate mousse, pink peppercorn meringue, cacao nib crunch, and pistachio financier.
And Malva Pudding, with ice cream in a nest fashioned out of katifi and topped with a kanu-shaped tuile.
Jiko is still an impressive dining room, with its central ovens representing the Cooking Place and the stylistic birds swooping around the room. However, the quality of the food could use a more sedate ambience. Service was first-rate.
Tickets are still available for the 2018 Chef's Gala, which takes place at Epcot (no park ticket required) April 14 at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $325 per person, with all proceeds going to Heart of Florida United Way's programs. Click here for the full roster of chefs and to purchase tickets.
I'll see you at the Jiko station.
Jiko -- The Cooking Place is at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-938-4733.