Notes from the Festival: Party for the Senses, Marketplace Recommendations

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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.

epcot2014 tortelloni

Kevin Johnson of the Grocery in Charleston was offering a sweet corn tortelloni with butter bean ragout and lump crab vinaigrette that was also a standout. And Cook Like the Big Dogs' Kenny Gilbert, from Jacksonville, had a delicious Moroccan spiced shrimp with cauliflower ginger puree, pickled raisins and dill.

Epcot2014 enchilada

I loved the enchilada from La Hacienda de San Angel's Lupe Sanchez. It was filled with chicken and covered with wonderful mole.

Our friend Kevin Dundon of Raglan Road was plating a spiced duck breast and duck leg confit with duck heart and a chili mango salsa. Suvir Saran's country rabbit terrine from American Masala in San Francisco worked nicely with the pistachios and Pernod. And Robert Leonardi from Wolfgang Puck Cafe in Downtown Disney had a delicious sea scallop with spring pea puree and creme fraiche. Is Wolfgang Puck Cafe getting serious about doing good food again? It may be time to go back for a full visit.

epcot 2014 macaron

On the sweeter side, Olivier Saintemarie of Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie, steps away from the venue at the France pavilion, had a crazy good macaron exotique, with banana and passion fruit and a sorbet of pineapple and coconut.

epcot2014 colombo

If you needed any more proof that rose wines are the current rage, you would have found it at Epcot Saturday. Roses were available by the bunches. Famille Perrin had a lovely 2013 Cotes du Rhone Reserve rose that went nicely with the nearby sweet corn tortelloni. In the same grouping, Jean-Luc Colombo Wines was offering tastes of the 2013 Cape Bleue Rose. And Chateau d'Esclans Garrus had a 2012 that didn't even look like a rose but rather like just another white wine. Interesting (and one of the favorites).

Other Parties for the Senses (Party for the Senseses?) will be held Oct. 11, 18 and 25 and November 1. Cost is $149 per person and requires admission to Epcot, so we're not talking a cheap night out. But with all the high-quality food and beverages, plus the phenomenal entertainment by La Nouba, including the spectacular trampoline finale, you should be able to justify the cost. Reservations at 407-939-3378.

Other Festival Observations

Before we leave the Party, I experienced something I hadn't at previous Senses events, and have noticed people on social media discussing as well. People are getting territorial about the communal stand-up tables set up for guests to use at the event, to the point of rudeness, in some cases. These are places where you can rest your wine glass, put the plate down and try to eat your food sample with a modicum of dignity. My host Saturday had arranged a very nice reserved table, one where we could actually sit down. But when you're on the other side of the room, it doesn't make sense to head back to the table with each little sample, not that I'm against the exercise.

So when my friend and I approached one of the tall, backlit Lucite tables with our hands full, reaching to set our things down without spillage, the one man standing at the table took exception to us moving in and said: "I have four people coming." I'd never been refused shelter like that. We said we'd be happy to move when his friends arrived — it doesn't take long to taste, sip and move on. A moment later the man's phone buzzed — his friends were alighting elsewhere. He moved away with a snide "it's all yours" comment to us.

Is this a trend? And to the Festival organizers need to make it clearer that these tables are not something to stake a claim to for the evening?

Champagne Luncheon Tres Bien

epcot2014 foam

epcot2104 quail

I sat in on the Champagne lunch at Monsieur Paul at the France pavilion. It was a seated, multi-course lunch with pairings from Nicolas Feuillate, including, yes, a demi-sec rose for the dessert course. The entree was a stuffed quail with green cabbage, bacon and black truffle, and it was delicious. Not that many of my tablemates would know. I was seated with five women from various parts of the country, and only a couple of them would even take a bite of the quail — it looked too foreign to them. The soft-boiled egg on the green asparagus that was the starter course also seemed off-putting to some of them (it may have been the foam that so delicately topped the egg). That's fine, everyone has different tastes. But these people had just spent a hefty chunk of money for the lunch — you'd think they'd at least give it a try. Oh, well, the young serving crew made sure the Champagne flutes were kept full, so money's worth was achieved, I suppose.

Marketplace Eats

Epcot2014 escargot

Speaking of France, again, there was a change this year with the escargots presentation at the Marketplace kiosk. I know, mon dieu, right? The past few years the snails have been presented in tiny bite-sized brioches. This year, they are in a tartlette. Good, yes, but I preferred the previous version.

epcot2014 alfredo

Another change is at the Hops & Barley kiosk, which somehow stands in for the United States. Last year it was serving a delicious lobster roll, a decidedly American dish, if you consider Boston and New England to be part of America. This year the roll was replaced with a baked lobster Alfredo dish. I was incensed until Epcot's executive chef (and now its food & beverage general manager) Jens Dahlmann pointed out that fettuccine Alfredo is entirely an American invention. But still. I'd have forgiven it entirely if the dish had been better, but it's not one I'd recommend.

Epcot2014 chicken

One of the best things I sampled, and one of the most filling among the usual smallish kiosk offerings, was the griddled "yard bird" from the new Farm Fresh marketplace. It was a sizable chicken breast, tender and juicy, served with braised greens and house-made habanero sauce that was reminiscent of sriracha. I liked it as well as the pepper-bacon hash that is being slung from the same kiosk. And the Orlando Brewing I-4 IPA that they're pouring made a nice accompaniment for both.

Other good bites: the salmon at the new Patagonia marketplace; the pork belly at Brazil; vegetarian moussaka at Greece.

What about you? What are your observations about this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival? Leave a comment below (you can also elect to have your comment post to Facebook).