)... We weren't massively bowled over last year, but the four of us thought that since it was the first year, we'd give it another try and hope for improvements.
Things started out a bit rushed for all of us getting to Epcot. We left home a bit behind schedule and were anxious that we'd be late. Lisa & Andy were waiting for a bus at Kidani Village (they waited over 45 minutes!), so we were texting back and forth. We decided that whoever got to Tutto Italia first would just sign in for the group - we beat them there so we just checked us in and tried to cool off in the lobby (it was HOT).
The General Manager (sorry, I didn't catch his name, did I mention that Tutto Gusto is really noisy? The acoustics in there are not the best for much of anything - the pubs in Northeast England were quieter!) assured us that they'd begin seating at ten to 12:00... And they did! Score one point for organization and promptness.
When it was our turn to be seated, they had assigned us to the same table we were at last year... The large tall table on your right as you first enter Tutto Gusto from the Tutto Italia lobby - not a good table, especially because we were going to get jostled regularly as the rest of the guests were seated. Lisa firmly requested that we sit somewhere else (thank you Lisa), so we were seated at a lower table in the main "throat" of the venue... Girls on one side of the table and boys on the other side... We were soon joined by another couple (who, by the way, really liked the Food & Wine Classic when able to attend), they joined in on the seating arrangement. It was very nice, there were three wine fluent people at the table (Lisa, Andy, and Mr Smith) and three wine not-so-fluent people at the table (Nora, Nick, and Mrs Smith). It turned out that the mix of people and conversation was really good... Even though it was quite noisy (lots of voices and cutlery sounds), we were able to talk to each other and enjoy the luncheon.
Now, before I get to the menu & the pictures...
As I said above, the venue was noisy... not only was it noisy, it was cramped. I saw the servers bumping into Nick and Andy numerous times and once I thought that they were going to clonk Mrs Smith on the head with the tray. It was very difficult to hear what the presenters were saying at the beginning - I made some notes and will try to share them with you. The biggest drawback (other than noise and how many people were crammed into the space) was the lack of a strong storytelling or educational component. For example, the chefs and managers began working on the food and wine pairings in March to be ready for the Festival Season (see how that rolls off the tongue)... But they didn't tell us why any particular wine was good with a particular dish (info we'd like to have)... In fact the main dish (yes, you'll see it below) was considered by our wine-fluent table-mates to be a rather poor pairing... A nice Italian Zinfandel would have been better than a Cabernet.
Now, onto the food (and wine without photos)...
Menu (I don't expect it to change throughout the Food & Wine Festival)
The Montegrande wines are imported exclusively to the Italy Pavilion at Epcot (so said Joe, the distributor). The winery is about 20 miles north of Venice, Paula (one of the younger generations of this family owned and operated winery) had photos of the winery on her iPad and seemed to be a very lovely lady, one of the servers translated for her as her English is rather non-existent. The winery is over 50 years old and is still family owned and operated. The General Manger of Tutto Gusto & Tutto Italia is friends with Paula's father and when the translations were taking a bit long and were being a bit inconsistent... he came over and helped out. The winery was started by Paula's Great Grand Father, the wines are grown on slopes and have sun all day because of how they face. The wine that we're having with the cheese course (la Tur) is not imported and 10 cases were brought in just for the Italian Regional Wine Lunches at the 2013 Epcot Food & Wine Festival, you can't get it anywhere else... even in Epcot. The other wines are available at the Italy Pavilion at Epcot (sorry, I'm not sure if they're available at the wine shop).
First course - translated - seared scallop, mushrooms, white polenta
The first course was paired with a "frizzante" wine (that means it's slightly fizzy and bubbly). The nose was citrus fruit and the taste without food was sour/dry. We were pleasantly surprised. Nick even said "this is a white wine I can drink" and I really enjoyed it. The wine was much fruitier with the food. We were quite impressed that the scallops weren't overcooked. The polenta was very good even though it wasn't very warm. The mushrooms had a nice chewy earthiness to them. As much as I like scallops, I'd have been happy to have a huge bowl of the mushrooms and polenta. I think we all really enjoyed the first course (except Lisa, she can't eat shell fish, but they were happy to bring her a nice salad with white asparagus and other yummy things).
Interior of Nick's scallop, not overdone... just right and very flavorful
So, the first course was a hit. Good wine, good food... Things are looking up compared to last year.
Oh! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the water service. Last year, I seem to recall that it was a bit difficult to keep our water glasses refreshed, this year, no such problem. Still or sparkling, your choice, was abundant and much appreciated.
The next course, pasta, looked and smelled wonderful when it came out. It was paired with another white wine.
Egg pasta (Lisa says it's called Priest Strangler and is made with flour and water only, typically), sausage ragu (Harry would like that), and cheese
This was a bit disappointing. The pasta was undercooked and it wasn't just mine. Uniformly around the table the pasta wasn't al dente and it was colder than the polenta (at least around the edges of the plating). The only pasta that was warm and al dente was directly below the sauce. The sauce was quite tasty, Nick and I mainly scraped around for sauce. The wine was pretty unremarkable - I thought that there were some hints of stone fruit and grass in the nose and that it was a bit creamier to taste than I expected. Lisa & Andy said it was dull and flat. Nick didn't like it as much as the first wine. Lisa said "this is wine for when there's nothing else to drink."
The third wine was a Cabernet... Now I like Cabernet wines. Not everyone does... Some think they're a bit unsophisticated, Nick thinks they tend to have a lot of tannin for his tastes. I liked it - it was fruity and full, simply yummy to me. It was paired with... TWO double lamb chops! I immediately thought of Harry and tried to figure out if there was any way to get him to this luncheon on his single Monday in town later in the month...
Lamb and roasted potatoes
Nick and I scraped off the herb crust (lots of rosemary, we aren't huge fans). The lamb chops were wonderful. Medium rare, just enough fat to be unctuous. The meat portion seemed huge. If they're serving lamb chops like this in Tutto Italia, we may have to reconsider dining there. Nick liked the wine with the lamb chops. The potatoes were cooked well and seasoned well. This was a huge hit with the four of us. No gaminess, just luscious lamb (I'm drooling!)
Another view of the lamb, just because
Last year, we weren't massively impressed with the La Tur cheese. This year, the portion was smaller (that's okay, I'll take more lamb and less cheese any day of the week)... However, the wine that was paired with it... OMG scrumptious. This is the unobtainium wine (you can't get it except at the Italian Regional Wine Lunch).
La Tur and purple grapes
I really liked the wine - the nose was a bit piney, the taste had loads of fruit and nice tannins. I thought that the creamy funkiness of the cheese (blend of cow, sheep and goat milk) made the wine seem chalky. Lisa and Nick really got alcohol notes when nosing the wine.
We were expecting that the Mocha Tiramisu would be like last year... If so, it was going to be easy to say "no". It was paired with a sparkling dessert wine with hints of vanilla and orange on the nose. Nick thought it tasted like fruit punch and Lisa said it was like orange juice (oh well, I thought the aftertaste was a little tart and I liked it).
The tiramisu this year was a home run out of the ball park! Nick ate every morsel... I only stopped because of the espresso (caffeine). All I can say is "damn, this is good"... Much better than last year. Last year, it was a piece of cake sprinkled with cocoa powder... not very impressive at all (not tasty either).
The kitchen creators
Now, I'm actually looking forward to the Beer and Food Pairing next week with Nick and Calvin...
Overall, the service was better than last year, the food was better than last year, and the wine was better than last year (even if WE weren't over the moon). Good show! Maybe it will be an annual thing with Lisa and Andy.
- Date: Monday September 30, 2013 - noon until 2:30 (it went over schedule, the service was nicely placed and we didn't feel at all rushed as we sometimes do at these special events)
- Cost: $75/person (for the quantity and quality of food, this seems reasonable)
Sorry Harry, it's too long until your visit for me to have smuggled out lamb for you. I ate every bite and even cleaned the bones... it was that good.
...on Monday, we went to the first Italian Regional Lunch of this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Season (yes, I consider it to be a "season") with Lisa & Andy.
Last year was the first year that the Regional Wine Lunch had been held in Italy (well, after all, France's restaurants - the usual hosts - were down for refurbishment and WDW couldn't let the opportunity to make money pass by...). We went towards the end of the 2012 Festival with Lisa & Andy (