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Desparately Seeking Decent Food Around Disneyland, Anaheim, CA, tasted on April 29 - May 2, 2004  I really love Disneyland/World, etc. I love it in the same way I love Las Vegas. I'm all about authenticity, so how could I like something so obviously fake. It's the exuberance with which the fakery is executed that really wins me over. There's no shame. No embarrassment. And the authenticity is really the energy with which they try to create this manufactured experience. And I find it impressive and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, Disney is also a place for families. In a country that already is misguided when it comes to the values it cherishes in its food (quantity over quality), food for families is often the pinnacle of this misguidedness (is that a word??? It is now!). Combine that with my general inability to pick restaurants I haven't eaten at, and you get the meals we had during the first half of our trip to southern California.

On the first night we ate at Yamabuki, a sushi restaurant in one of the Disney hotels. I mistakenly thought that in trying to cater to Japanese tourists they would invest in having a really high quality Japanese restaurant. Incorrect.

The next night we decided to eat actually in Disneyland at the Blue Bayou in Frontierland. This was Cajun food. Well, it was more of an insult to Cajun food. It was awful. In a weird attempt to show off, the waiter informed us that the cooks in the kitchen were "so good at their jobs" that they were able to predict exactly how much of what dish would get ordered each night, and as such prepared it all hours in advance. Hours. On the positive side you could see the boats floating by from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride as you ate what you could of your dinner.

Back in the "plus" column, the hotel we were staying at was really quite nice. The Grand Californian is a beautiful craftsman hotel. Every detail is really well done. If you're a hotel snob and only like small art hotels designed by Philippe Starck then this isn't for you. But if you have kids, or don't mind being around them, and you even enjoy big hotels, this one was quite lovely. The beautiful design of the place extended to the "high end" restaurant on the premises - the Napa Rose. We got a babysitter for the night and headed down to see what they could do. It seemed promising. And in fact, they were clearly trying. All the old favorites were there - small courses, lobster, foie gras, a nice wine selction, etc.  And aside from our quite friendly but unfortunately named waiter - "Stanko", Napa Rose was predictable and kind of boring. Some of the food tasted flavorful, but for the most part, the place had scored high on the trappings of a nice restaurant, but the soul was missing. Countless restaurants around the world are trying to do this kind of high-end food. Call me jaded for having eaten at many of them, but since I can make comparisons, Napa Rose just couldn't keep up. It was too bad as the place was beautiful.

We trekked a little farther into the Disney nightlife area outside the park the next night to eat at one of Joachim Splichal's restaurants - Catal. Catalonian food sort of. I'd eaten at one of his places - Patina, and really enjoyed myself, so we thought we had a chance here. And of these four experiences, this one came the closest to being one we'd want to repeat. The eggplant and pomegranate dish was tangy, bright, and yummy. The lobster mushroom soup was super interesting with strong lobster flavor and a tiny bit of smokiness. It was almost too salty, but not. The flavor hit the side of your tongue. But the carpaccio salad was off balance. The filet mignon was juicy but not super interesting. And while the vanilla on the fritters made them somewhat interesting, they were not crispy enough. We had a scallop that was nicely caramelized, but the pasta underneath it was undercooked and the sauce had no flavor. The bread pudding and churro dishes for dessert helped end things on a somewhat positive note. In the end Catal was trying hard to be creative, but the execution was so inconsistent that it was hard to imagine going back.

I can imagine that some might ask me what the hell I was expecting eating on the Disney premises. I think that it's a reasonable question. That said, I still think it's possible that a company so focused on making great experiences might eventually figure out how to make ones that center around food. In the meantime, have no fear. We salvaged the trip and ate at several good places during the rest of the week. Stay tuned.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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