By Charly SHELTON
After five years, the California Adventure Food and Wine Festival is finally back. The beloved classic festival was put on hiatus after the 2010 event due to construction of Cars Land in 2011 and, despite massive public outcry and questions online, the event was not brought back when expected in the 2013 season. Now, six years after the last festival tents were folded, the California Adventure Food and Wine Festival returns from April 1 to May 1, with additional demonstrations and seminars held on weekends.
The last time this festival was held, I was 20. My friends could go and drink wine while I stood on the outside of the rope and watched them have a good time. The culinary demonstrations on the stage were of great importance to me and to this day I still use some of the recipes I learned. But with wine tasting and craft beer pouring to go along with the amazing food, I knew it could be better. I anxiously waited for the following year when I would be 21 and able to take part in the full Festival. That’s when it was canceled.
I’ve been waiting for this a long time, even considering going to Epcot in Florida for its food and wine festival. Now that it’s back in California, I was super excited and went to the park with high hopes. Usually when you’re so excited for something, it’s hard for the event to live up to what you’ve made it out to be in your mind. With this food and wine festival, that was not the case.
As excited as I was, this event blew past my expectations to something even better. During the week, when there are no seminars or culinary demonstrations, the Festival Marketplaces are the only part of the Festival that is operating. With eight different locations serving food and wine or beer, guests can get a taste of the Festival paying on a per-piece, à la carte menu style or, exclusively for annual passholders, through a Festival Marketplace Tasting Passport. The passport is $40 and offers six full size portions at any of the eight locations, or the à la carte option comes in at between $3.50 and $8 per piece. I went with a friend who is a passholder and he used the tasting passport while I paid à la carte style. We each got a food item at five locations, a beer flight and a wine flight each, and all totaled it came to about $70 per person. That is a little pricey but, boy, was it worth it.
It’s a difficult call to make, but I think the best dish of the day was the white cheddar ale soup with bacon in a Boudin sourdough mini-boule, a thick, almost chowder-like soup with cheese and crumbled bacon in a little tiny sourdough roll. Or possibly the Meyer lemon macaroon with blueberry dust, blueberry marmalade and Meyer lemon cream. Out of all the things we tried, the only thing I was unimpressed by was the zinfandel-braised wagyu beef, which was okay on its own but did not stand up in comparison with any of the other dishes served at the Festival.
Honorable mention goes to the deep-fried artichoke chips with spicy aioli, which had just the right amount of spice to give it great flavor but not so much that you need a glass of water, the chilled ahi poke with avocado cream, wakame (seaweed) salad and sesame tuile, and finally the pork belly bao taco, a braised pork belly slab with pickled vegetables on a super light and soft bao bun, served folded up like a taco.
As for wine, I suggest the pinot noir flight. Four little glasses for $19, but one of those glasses is Gogi Wines’ “Tiger,” a pinot noir from Kurt Russell’s vineyard that sells at $75 a bottle in the store or $25 a glass at the festival. Also offered are a cabernet flight, a chardonnay flight, a Southern California beers flight and a northern California beers flight – all of which are great, but I have a soft spot for those pinot noirs.
The weekends throughout the month offer other events such as culinary demonstrations, beverage seminars on the art and science of wine, beer and spirit production, lifestyle seminars featuring gardening, wellness, art and other topics, and the “Celebrity Kitchen” where celebrity chefs host a 90-minute culinary showcase to demonstrate their favorite recipes as well as create some new ones. This weekend’s Celebrity Kitchen features Guy Fieri and is currently sold out. A full list of chefs and celebrity guests, as well as more information on the Disney’s California Adventure Food and Wine Festival 2016, can be found at Disneyland.Disney.go.com.