The first major meal of our week-long celebration of my 50th birthday was at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge’s signature restaurant, Jiko. We’ve been to Jiko a number of times before, and we’re pretty much in agreement that it’s our favorite place on the property. The food at California Grill is arguably just as good, but the quiet, reserved-but-unstuffy atmosphere at Jiko is way better than the noise and haste of California Grill.
We were on a two-and-a-half day blitzkrieg of the parks with two other couples, close friends Thom & Jeff and Scott & DeeDee, who had come into town Monday to get the party started. Thom & Jeff stayed at Universal so that they could do the Harry Potter park on Tuesday, while Scott & DeeDee stayed at the house. While Thom & Jeff were drinking butterbeer at Hogwarts, the four of us were eating Wood-Fired Pizza. I think we won.
Wednesday’s adventure actually started at 50’s Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios. Thom & Jeff are big retro fans, so we thought it’d be right up their alley. Hitting the Studios (can’t miss the Muppett Show!) was just a prelude to the evening’s meal.
Now comes my biggest criticism of Disney World: it’s like pulling teeth to get a drink. I get that alcohol service isn’t on Disney’s top priority list, but the bartenders seem to move at a glacial pace and aren’t all that engaging. Lounges are nicely-appointed, and the one at Animal Kingdom Lodge is beautiful (although dreadfully small), but the only one at which we’ve ever gotten great service is the bar at Wilderness Lodge’s Artist Point restaurant. I’m just stumped at this island of mediocrity in an ocean of otherwise world-class service.
We met everyone for a cocktail about half an hour before our reservation and then headed down. Gretchyn and I had been in the restaurant about two weeks prior for an impromptu dinner with her visiting brother-in-law. We had gotten an order of the Wild Boar Tenderloin as an appetizer, and it was so ridiculously good that I asked our quite-helpful waiter Eduardo, to put in two of those for us right away.
The full description of the boar was Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin with Mealie Pap, Chakalaka, White Truffle Oil and Micro Cilantro. By any name, it was delicious. We even suggested that they turn it into a main course.
We also ordered the Roasted Mushroom Flatbread with Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Masala Curry, Crispy Fennel and Ice Wine Gastrique. It was an excellent place to start.
When our friends asked for recommendations, I had to go with the Braised Beef Short Rib with Truffled Potato Puree, Pearl Onions, Baby Carrots, and Cabernet-Tamarind Sauce, since I had had it on that prior trip and it was amazing. From the comments around the table—the three other gentlemen had it—it was just as amazing again. The rib is obviously cooked low and slow in the sauce and spices. Despite being meltingly tender, the meat maintains enough structure to still be ‘beefy.’
DeeDee had the Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon with Sweet Corn Risotto, Roasted Mushrooms and South African Cabernet Reduction, which she said was quite good. Gretchyn had the Maize-crusted Corvina with Vegetables of the Moment and Tomato-Butter Sauce. It’s not the first time she’s had it, and it’s always a marvelous piece of fish.
Having had the short rib recently, my only choice was to go for the Seared Barbarie Duck Breast with Potato and Spinach Masala, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Port Emulsion. I will confess to loving the pig of the skies, but this exceeded my expectations. It was perfectly cooked, wonderfully seasoned, and the accompaniments spot on. The meat was dark and rich, and the ends just crispy enough to make a great contrast. Fantastic dish.
The wine was a 2002 Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon. I had narrowed it down to that or what I’ve previously called “the best wine to come out of South Africa” the Vilafonte C Series—so I figured we’d go with something none of us had tasted. It was sufficiently tannic to go with the beef, but not so much that it was too powerful for the more delicate foods.
Next up: Eating our way around World Showcase at the Food and Wine Festival