Dining at Disney – Sanaa

Time for another disclosure, this is my second favorite restaurant at Disney World and there are days I have difficulty making that ranking decision between Sanaa and California Grill. They are dramatically different restaurants both in food and price, but the quality shines through in both locations. The food is so unique here that we verify all of our dishes are nut and fish free so that we all can share bites of everything.

I remember our first visit to Sanaa and encouraging my husband and boys to try the bread service with all of the toppings, they weren’t sure about it, but I had visited India and knew how good this could be. Sanaa executes this perfectly and we now order it every time we visit; yesterday was no exception and it vanished quickly.


We ordered a South African wine to pair with our food; most of the menu is African and Indian flavors and my husband and I learned long ago that a wine local to the type of food will pair well.


All of our dishes were amazing, and I have sincere compliments to the chef; that original visit inspired me to bring lamb into my own cooking. My eldest ordered the lamb shank, on our original trip it was the youngest, and I tought them both to make sure they get the marrow from inside the bone as well as the meat from outside. After the duration of cooking it’s perfect. The meat simply falls off of the bone when you pick it up: perfection.


I selected the duck; I can’t get it fresh and I haven’t had success reproducing recipes with frozen so this has not made it into my repertoire. It was served a perfect medium rare, with very crispy skin and duck confit (made from the legs and thighs) on the side. Like the lamb and other red meats, when cooked correctly it simply melts in your mouth.


My husband opted for the Braaivleis, a trio of grilled meats; the meats aren’t ever listed on the menu as they are subject to change. His came with pork tenderloin, lamb chops, and a boar meat sausage. All were perfect and flavorful, with the sausage as a clear favorite of my husband and boys due to the unique flavor profile.


My youngest selected the Spicy Durban Shrimp with Aloo Masala after researching all of the terms so that he knew what he was ordering. Again, another amazing dish, the shrimp were full of flavor, and we may have to start ordering extra bread to soak up the sauces.


When it comes to nuts, the desserts are different story and my eldest made sure he ate enough that he didn’t want dessert. My youngest got the Spice Trade Candy Bar and my husband and I split the Kenyan Coffee Petit Entremet. Both were amazing.

  

If you are willing to be a bit more daring in food options, definitely try Sanaa.


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Dining at Disney – Via Napoli

Yesterday we enjoyed another favorite, not for dinner, but rather for a very late lunch. We try to do this at least once during our longer trips at Disney to get a pizza “fix” which we enjoy at home at least once a week. Via Napoli, is our well-established favorite for this with their flour imported from Italy, San Marzano tomatoes, and in-house made mozzarella. In the future, we may have to try Blaze in Disney Springs…maybe.

The meal is simple, red sangria, an appetizer (prosciutto and melon this time), a family style salad, and a large pizza.


The melon and prosciutto is easy to do at home, the saltiness of the prosciutto and the melon are simply a perfect complement. This is a very elegant simple appetizer on skewers if you are looking for something unique. And the salad was loaded with tomatoes, cucumber, green and Kalamata olives, marinated mushrooms, and peperocini and peppadew peppers with a simple red wine vinaigrette was perfect in the heat of the day.


We followed this with a pizza with some of our favorite toppings; this is always the difficult decision since we love them all. We selected Italian sausage, pancetta, and pepperoni.

All good!


We rounded out the day with snacks as we got hungry.

Dining at Disney – The Boathouse

My husband made yesterday’s reservations based on a recommendation from a friend. It is one of the new restaurants located in Disney Springs and it is right on the water. They have a collection of vintage Amphicars (they go straight from the road into the water) that you can take tours of the lake on. The evening was nice, so we elected to sit outside and enjoy the view. We began our meal with wine and bread.

  

They have a very good raw bar and we elected to have a dozen oysters as a starter, on a good/bad note the raw bar was so backed up that they didn’t arrive until our meal, but the manager made it more than right and they were really good. We had selected the Lucky Dux oysters which are harvested in Massachusetts for the Boathouse. They were served with a classic cocktail sauce loaded with horseradish and a cucumber mignonette (cucumber, garlic, lime, oil); I could not decide which complemented them better. 


For the table, my husband ordered Truffle Fries with Lemon Aioli; we rarely eat fries so these were a treat, even more so since they were tossed the the truffle oil and freshly minced garlic and parsley. They did however deliver a huge bowl of these, since we have plenty left I am considering turning them into hash browns or making a hash with those and the shrimp (see next paragraph) this morning. I thought I had a better picture, this will have to suffice.


Concerned about the portion sizes after looking around I selected a cup of Maine Lobster Bisque and the Firecracker Shrimp appetizer as my dinner (especially in consideration of the oysters and fries). I was right and still brought back over half of the shrimp. (I still need to get lobster bisque into my recipes.) The shrimp really were deserving of their name; I had been looking for some spicy food and these delivered. The shrimp are very lightly fried with sliced Serrano and sweet peppers, and then tossed in the sriracha mayo; wow.

  

My husband selected the New Smyrna Beach Wild Cobia from their daily fish features; it was cooked perfectly and well complemented by the roasted vegetables.  


My youngest select the Grilled Fresh Fish Tacos, which arrived with huge chunks of fish (we forgot to ask the variety) and avocado along with a jalapeño-lime crema. He simply devoured the plate and commented that they were amazing. He did have enough space to help me with a few shrimp, taste my husband’s cobia, and devour some fries.


My eldest, with the fish allergy, selected the Grilled Sea of Cortez Shrimp & Grits. Somehow I didn’t get to taste this either, he said it was delicious and that the grits were amazing.


This was certainly some of the best seafood we have had, not only at Disney, and we will be returning!

  

Dining at Disney – Kona Café

Decided to relax yesterday evening rather than finish this post, it is a vacation after all. 

Margaritas were the choice for this evenings accompaniment; I selected habanero lime, it had a very mild hint of spice. I would recommend that they allow it to be a bit hotter and ease up on the sugar.

As with all Disney restaurants they are very helpful when it come to allergies. They serve a Hawaiian bread made with pineapple juice and serve it with a house-made macadamia nut butter. For my nut allergy eldest, they brought real butter and kept the other off of the plate. For those without allergies, the macadamia butter is really good.


We had the Seasonal special roll for an appetizer, a California Roll with lightly seared Hamachi Tuna and our fish allergy eldest selected the Tomato Bisque topped with Bacon and Arugula Oil. The sushi was really good, definitely what a had a craving for. I did get to taste the soup, wow, another item I need to work on at home. 

  

For dinner, we had very varied meals, I selected the Tuna Poke appetizer along with another roll, the Hamachi Tuna-Cilantro Roll. I have to say it was too much for me, and I should have skipped the second roll even though it was really good. The poke was awesome!

My husband had the fresh fish of the day, a pistachio encrusted tile fish, which was really good and prepared well.


The boys selected the Duo of Pork and the Island Burger. The chili-rubbed pork loin elicited the only (mild) complaint; my boys are used to very moist pork tenderloin, as I cook mine until the center reaches 135, and then let it rest so that I serve it at 140-145.

  
Overall, it was a very good reasonably priced meal, I forgot to take a picture of the menu, but all Disney menus can be found, here is the one for Kona.

Dining at Disney – The California Grill

My up front disclaimer: this is my favorite restaurant on property. In my opinion worth every single penny.

As usual we started with drinks, a very dry, slightly dirty vodka martini for me and a vodka gimlet for my husband while the boys dug into the lavender focchia bread with butter and Hawaiian sea salt.

  
  

And then we ordered the wine, which was just waiting to be paired with food.


As I sit here and look out at Cinderella’s castle I am content reflecting on our dinners. My husband and eldest had the win with the filet on black truffle risotto and a side of French green beans. The steaks were a perfect medium rare and the truffle risotto was simply divine.


My youngest selected the sushi for his meal; thankfully this way I could steal a taste in trade for bites of my own dinner. He had the lobster and spicy Kazan rolls (these are a great appetizer, as are the beet salad and flatbreads). The menu changes regularly but there are certain consistencies that I have recognized over the past 21 years. 


I had the cioppino, also amazing but messy since everything is in its shell. 


Please enjoy, it’s amazing. Also, note that you need to dress for the occasion; this is not a casual restaurant.

Disney Dining – Homecomin’

Day two we elected to try one of the many new restaurants in Disney Springs, Homecomin’. The house specialties are moonshine and fried chicken. 

We decided to start with drinks and fried green tomatoes. The drinks arrived quickly, I had a Muleshine in respect of the specialty and my husband opted for the Basil Smash. Both were good drinks, but slightly sweet.

  
The fried green tomatoes were simply awesome with a salad of spinach, watercress, and arugula.

My husband and I split the hangar steak cooked medium rare with a side of Southern coke slaw. The steak was cooked perfectly and they split the plate for us (just nice). Good call by the chef, the menu said asparagus and there was none on the plate; it’s out of season and would not have been as good as the tender zucchini. The slaw was crisp and fresh, but with it being Southern slaw, I was expecting a hint if jalapeño; definitely good, but no heat at all.

  

My boys had two different fried chicken meals, the famous fried chicken and fried chicken with doughnuts. The seasoning was good, the skin was amazing, but the chicken itself was a touch on the dry side. The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery. My son said that the doughnuts tasted as if they were fresh from the apple orchard. (If you are not from Michigan, that is high praise.)

  
So, in summary, it was a good option for our late lunch/early dinner, the ingredients were clearly fresh and high quality. It won’t make my list of favorites, but it’s certainly an alternative for classic Southern food at Disney.

Dining at Disney – Flying Fish

There are many opinions about the food at Disney. It is always difficult to determine the quality of the review in absence of knowing the style of the reviewer. Since you have all (hopefully) enjoyed my recipes, I hope that you have a distinct understanding of my tastes.

When we go out to eat, I prefer it to be either outside of my realm of expertise or take an investment of time not always available to me as a working mom.

We tried Flying Fish years ago before the recent renovation. The renovation was completely worth it. The overwhelming smell of fish is gone, the ceiling is higher making the whole restaurant peaceful (quiet), and the bar is beautiful.

  
We started with a cucumber martini with harshly muddled cucumber and Hendricks gin. Definitely good if you are a fan of either cucumber or gin. I will be abusing my cucumber more when I make my Hendricks and tonic at home.

The semolina bread with nori (seaweed) baked in served with a house made créme fraiche butter sprinkled with sea salt was earthy and really good .

  

We ordered the wine before the lobster bisque arrived. A Pinot noir was recommended to go with both our octopus/sea bass/shrimp and salmon.

  

The lobster bisque must have taken hours to make, the color could only come from using the lobster shells to make the stock. It was perfect and I now have a request from my husband to perfect lobster bisque.

My husband and eldest selected the same meal with one key variation. My eldest is allergic to fish and they replaced the sea bass with 2 jumbo prawn. The octopus was the star; it was cooked perfectly with the prawn as a close second. My husband claims it was the risotto. I'm going to disagree, I tasted the grilled tentacle and it was perfection; another skill I have yet to master. (This has been on my list for awhile to master.)

   
My youngest and I each selected the salmon. (If you must choose, select the octopus; although our waiter Chris says the lobster pasta is the best item on the menu.) The salmon, cooked medium as recommended by the chef, was cooked perfectly. It was completed by the grits, that simply added a creaminess to the dish. The carmelized onions and grilled avocado were a treat with the salmon.


If you haven't tried it or if it has been awhile, please check out the Flying Fish if it is in your budget, it was appropriately priced for a top tier Disney restaurant. It clearly ranks with California Grill and Citricos.

Selene Restaurant

Yesterday, I got an opportunity to do something I have never done before. It was completely by fortunate chance. We are visiting my in-laws who spend time in Florida in the winter; this year they have rented a condo in St. Petersburg near the beach. It’s been too cool for swimming, but it’s been nice to enjoy short sleeves and walks on the beach as compared to our winter weather. As we were returning from one of our excursions we were discussing the restaurants they had and had not tried and which ones might be good. We happened to drive past Selene, which they had not noticed before or tried. 

The plans for the evening were to go to a seafood restaurant they had been wanting to try; unfortunately we discovered that they don’t take reservations. We started to look for other options and the discussion led back to Selene, a quick look at their website revealed it to be a run by a Greek family with a Greek chef with lots of experience in New York. Their website proclaims their commitment to excellent service, quality ingredients, and meals always from scratch. So, we altered our plans and decided to call Selene, they took reservations. 
It was only once we arrived that we discovered it was their opening evening. The waitstaff were energetic and nervous, but also kind and attentive. We sampled some of the cocktails; they were unique and delicious. The Sunset Sangria has a taste of vanilla that is an unexpected sweetness and the Mediterranean Mule is light and refreshing (also served in a copper mug like a Moscow Mule). 

My elder son order the daily soup as a starter, it was a delicious spinach soup which I forgot to take a picture of; it had a creamy texture, but no cream. 

My husband and I started with the Bruschette; there is a piece of sea urchin hiding in each of those spoons. The sea urchin was good, but the lemon in it didn’t seem to fit. It gave it just a touch of a cleaning agent after taste at the end.

Bruschette
  

My younger son ordered the striped bass special on a bed of mashed potatoes – very good!

Striped Bass Special

 My older son who is allergic to fish ordered the Pulled Duck Leg with seared polenta. I barely had a chance to photograph it before it vanished from his plate. He didn’t offer me a taste, but assured me it was awesome. 
Pulled Duck Leg
 

 They shared an order of truffle fries that were amazing.

 

My husband ordered the Fillet of Grouper, which is served of sautéed spinach with a Parmesan and tomato cream sauce. The fish was perfectly prepared and delightful. 

Fillet of Grouper
 

 Considering the Greek roots of the restaurant, I ordered the Branzino. It is a simple white fish common in Europe and grilled whole. They fillet it before serving with a touch of olive oil, lemon, capers, parsley, and pepper. I was thrilled with my selection. It was expertly prepared. 

Branzino
    
    
Overall, I recommend Selene. I think they will quickly work out the kinks and establish themselves as a high end highlight in the beach area. If you are in that area of Florida – check it out. 

Dining in Madrid

When I travel, I try to eat local food and I encourage all of you to do the same. There are few opportunities to truly experience another country’s cuisine including foods you would not necessarily eat or even find at home.

My dinners have been truly exceptional and with all of the benefits of my recommedation. The first one I want to mention is a restaurant at the higher end of the spectrum, Asador Donostiarra. It is a well known restaurant here in Madrid and the walls are covered with pictures of celebrities and VIPs. I was delighted to attend with a large group which allowed us the opportunity to try a variety of items.

Here in Spain, one of the specialities is Iberian Ham, similar to Italy’s Proscuitto it is cured, but unlike Proscuitto the curing process lasts up to 3 years depending on the grade and quality. As an appetizer, they serve it simply, sliced thin on a platter.

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We also had a variety of olives and roasted asparagus as appetizers. We decided that of the dishes ordered, the stars were the monkfish with salsa verde and the steak tartare:

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Dessert came with complimentary digestifs, unfortunately I couldn’t get the names from our waitress who spoke only Spanish, but I think I have captioned them correctly. Both were good, but I prefer the Orujo.

Orujo and Patxaran
Orujo and Patxaran

Caramel flan is traditional and my personal favorite, but the cheesecake with blueberry sauce and rice pudding were also well received. The pudding didn’t even last long enough for a picture!

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At the other end of our dining experience we stoppped by Mercado de San Miguel, a market near Plaza de Mayor. It is essentially the ultimate in tapas dining. I have included a number of pictures of the available items:

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Fresh and Fried Seafood
Fresh and Fried Seafood
Fresh Mozzarella Bar!
Fresh Mozzarella Bar!
Just yummy.
Just yummy.
Fresh shellfish and molluscs
Fresh shellfish and molluscs
Gulas (mock Angulas) on bread
Gulas (mock Angulas) on bread
Pizza with Spanish toppings
Pizza with Spanish toppings
Jamóm Ibérico de Bellota
Jamóm Ibérico de Bellota
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Olive bar
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Desserts
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More desserts

Today we rounded off our dining with with a dish I missed in previous visits, Arròs Negre which for ease of explanation, I will call black paella.  It is prepared in the same way but is made with cuttlefish and rice. The color comes from squid ink. Although it has an alarming appearance, the taste was wonderful.

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Anniversary Dinner

No cooking for me today. Although I love to cook, I also love the restaurant where we got engaged. Today is our 20th wedding anniversary and we celebrated at the The Earle. The key to their food is the elegant simplicity, it has been another inspiration for my cooking over the years. Our favorite appetizer is the roasted garlic, even though I make it myself now I rememer the first time I had it when I was so amazed that roasting garlic could change the taste so much.

They serve it with a Kalamata olive puree, avocados, goat cheese, and sun dried tomatoes with crostini and mixed greens. The wine you see in the back was an anniversary treat, a white Chateauneuf du Pape.

Our meals tonight were delicious as usual, although tempted as usual by their duck breast I elected to have the pesto stuffed salmon and my husband had the veal scallops with garlic and mushrooms.

 Both were divine. Dessert wrapped up the meal, an apple tartin in warm cream; unfortunately it smelled so good that we forgot to take a picture, but I suspect that there will soon be a recreation here with apple season upon us.