Arrival and LocationWe checked in outside, off to the right of the main door to Via Napoli (the hostess was standing between the two red awnings with a clipboard - see photo below). Since we were a tiny bit early, and since the hostess said they would begin seating at 2; we had a bit of time for a photo of the other guests. At 2 o'clock they began checking us off of yet another list (maybe that was just for table assignment?). As we suspected, this room is full of very hard surfaces and is very loud. Keep in mind that originally this was designed to be an open-air eating area and was glassed in after Via Napoli opened. The chairs were very hard and they sloped downward at the front - not comfortable at all (nora put her purse behind her back to attempt to gain more comfort). Right off the bat, nick had trouble hearing what our three table mates were saying - honestly, the lady (mother) sitting with us had a very difficult time hearing also. We really can't blame all of the horrible acoustics on the fact that it's glassed in, hard concrete floor, hard concrete walls, and hard surfaced ceiling. The tables were well-set, it was a nice touch to give us all of the silverware from the very beginning. It was a bit crowded at the round tables with so many glasses; however, the servers tried to remove the used beer glasses after each tasting.
Gabriele Uberti was our host for the event. In comparison to previous reviews we've seen on the internet, his delivery and presentation was more polished than we expected.
Gabriele wanted to make sure that we were able to gain some appreciation for Italian, specifically Venetian, culture as well as appreciation for the food and the beer.
Masks are very much associated with Venice, specifically with Carnival in modern times. Since we didn't seem awed our host said we could not eat until we got informed about mask making. Italians can talk a long time... The mask maker, Georgio... Mask making is a family business for him, they've been making masks at Epcot for about 10 years. Most masks are made of paper mache. Georgio explained that in the 14th century masks were used for protection and so that you could anonymous. Masks were black and white back then, when wearing them in Venice boundaries were erased... You could be anyone, a merchant, a noble person, whatever; you could hide from creditors, husbands, girlfriends, etc; you could gamble without repercussions. Masks used to be worn on a daily basis, now they're worn at Carnival.
Did you know that even though the restaurant is called "Via Napoli" (because the best pizza comes from Naples) - the entire Italy Pavilion is actually modeled on Venice? If we had known this, it had gone into the "forgotten details" area of our brains.
We tasted four beers from two breweries... Moretti (more common in America, imported by Heineken) is about 150 years old and Menabrea (less common, family business) is also about 150 years old. Gabriele assured us that after 4 beers, we'd all be smiling like we at Carnival. Each beer was the accompaniment to a different course - fish, pizza, meat, and dessert.
Beer - Moretti Lager
- 4.6% alcohol
- very light
- little carbonation
- light on hops and malt
- nick says - more aftertaste than most lagers
Calamari Ripieni - Swordfish, Shrimp, Capers
We weren't really sure what to expect from this based on the description given on the menu. Here's nora's deconstructed explanation - a whole calamari minus the tentacles, stuffed with swordfish and capers, accompanied by a shrimp, an olive, and a lovely butter caper sauce.
- the calamari was overcooked and chewy at the ends, the center portion was cooked perfectly in the center area - not too chewy but with a good bit of springy bite
- the shrimp was overdone - easy to understand when trying to get so many plates of food out at the same time, we're hopeful that if we ordered shrimp at Via Napoli that it wouldn't be overdone
- the swordfish filling was quite tasty, we'd even say "very good" - nick said that it could of used a little more salt or perhaps a few more capers to add some brininess and salt to the dish; the filling was particularly delicious with the butter caper sauce
nick made a comment at this point "the portion sizes at these 'lunch pairings' is spot on; at Mexico, at Japan and here, the portions are ideal for getting the full flavors of a dish without getting past the enjoyment and satisfaction of the dish." We both agreed that the portions at Morocco last year didn't follow this "good tasting and pairing rule."
Beer - Menabrea Ambrata
- 5% alcohol by volume
- nose/aroma is much richer and has more caramel than the last beer
- color is amber
- full-bodied, pairs well with pizza
- slightly higher carbonation
- malt is stronger and hops are lighter than in the Moretti Lager
Pizza - Carciofi, Prosciutto Melone, and Margherita
- Carifiofi - pizza with no red sauce, artichoke and truffle oil (lower left in photo below)
- Prosciutto Melone - pizza with prosciutton, melon and arugula (right side in photo below)
- Margherita - traditional pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil
Gabriele gave us a lesson on eating pizza in Italy - it isn't cut when it arrives at the table, you cut it yourself; then you fold the slice in half and eat. Our opinions... Carciofi - nora liked the artichoke on this one, both of us were sort of "eh" about the truffle oil; nothing particularly impressive to our palates Prosciutto Melone - this was the favorite of both of us, we liked the absence of the tomato sauce and the prosciutto added a nice bit of porky saltiness and paired great with the bitter arugula and the sweet melon Margherita - eh, nothing to write home about; definitely wouldn't order this as a meal nick comments - nora's pizza crust from scratch is much better than this crust, the baking technique is spot on here, you can tell that the ovens are really used because of the char on the bottom of the crust (maybe they were rushing to make so many individual pizzas for the event?)
Beer - Moretti "La Rossa" (red)
- 7.2% alcohol by volume, very strong
- aroma = fruitier, more floral
- taste = rich and smooth
- some carbonation, but not a lot
- this beer is a "doppelbock" (a double bock)
- La Rossa is a red beer, everything in Italy that is red is powerful and strong (think of Ferraris)
- this beer is very rich, very full-bodied, very good, very strong
- Via Napoli is the first restaurant to get La Rossa on draft (they've had it since Via Napoli opened)
nora had this beer, in the bottle, at Portobello Yacht Club while Sandy and Harry were visiting. We had lunch there one day with Al and Sandy. overall, this pairing was not as pleasant as the second course
Arrosto Di Vitello - Veal roast & vegetables
- the carrot was not overcooked! the flavor was very sweet and the carrot had a nice crunch to it
- nora thought that the veal roast tasted like pork roast and nick thought that the sauce was too salty
- the mushrooms were excellent
- nora wouldn't order this for dinner
Beer - Menabrea 1846
nora was very curious about this pairing, one of her all time favorite things at Walt Disney World was the flour less chocolate cake with La Fin du Monde at L'Cellier
they went TOTALLY in the opposite direction, this beer was light and fizzy; not at all like La Fin du Monde
- 4.8% alcohol by volume
- aroma - hoppier, a tiny bit floral, fruity
- color - straw, blonde
- taste - flowery, fizzy; nick tasted lots of hops
- if La Rossa is like a Ferrari, this beer is like a 500 Fiat
- the lightest beer of the day
- a very old-fashioned beer, brewed in the manner of the original Menabrea
Torta Caprese al Cioccolato - Flourless Chocolate Cake
- flourless chocolate cake with pistachios
- topped with cocoa powder (don't inhale when taking a bite, 3 of us at the table choked on the cocoa powder!)
- pistachio whipped cream
The pairing ended up being better than expected, but it still doesn't compete with the flourless chocolate cake and La Fin du Monde at L'Cellier
Gabriele introduces the chefs
The beers the chefs were pairing with...
Final Thoughts and Wrapping It All Up
While our experience doesn't agree with the other reviews that we've found online, we enjoyed the experience. However, it's not on our list to do again by ourselves - however, if any of our friends wanted to do this pairing next year, we'd do it happily. It was definitely more enjoyable than the wine and food pairing in Morocco last year.
The noise level at this event was horrid, the group did quiet down while eating and drinking; but as each course was finished, it peaked again.
The biggest problem we observed with the service - they need more than one person refilling the beer glasses, while our glasses were readily refilled when we asked, the server started at the far end of the room and by the time they reached our table the bottles were often empty or nearly so.
The Big Questions
- Was the experience worth the price? - yes, but barely
- Did we feel rushed or hurried? - No, the event filled the allotted time quite well
- Was it weird to sit with strangers? - No, it was a bit odd to observe how plebeian their food tastes were (had never eaten swordfish or calamari intentionally, didn't eat their pizza crusts - usually feed them to the dog at home, were real light-weights when it came to beer) BUT it did help us to appreciate that while we feel like a lot of things at Food & Wine Festival are very pedestrian, there are a lot of people out there for whom F&W is very adventurous
- Did we learn a lot? - Not really
- Was the food adequate for the alcohol served? - Yes, again, we left feeling full and didn't eat again later in the day; if the portions had been larger, there would have been a lot of food left on our plates
- Final Thoughts - We enjoyed this, but are unlikely to do it again without guests