Saturday, January 15, 2011

last but not least...

Okay, it's high time I posted the meal "highlight" from my recent trip. Yes, I had the pleasure, once again, of dining with Chef Tj. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, we had dinner reservations at 1900 Park Fare, at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort - the current home of my favorite chef.

I was very fortunate to have already made arrangements with Chef Tj. This was the first time that I actually knew Chef Tj was expecting me.

We arrived just in time for our ressies (thanks to poor travel-planning on my part; resort-to-resort travel is always a bit tricky, and I should have allowed more time). There was a bit of a line to check in, but once we reached the check-in counter, everything went quickly. We were immediately taken to a photo area, where they asked us to place our coats and bags on a bench. We were posed in front of a nice Christmas tree, and photos were taken. Later, during our meal, we were offered these nice photos, for $31.95. No offense to those who like this program, but 32.00 for a photo of us in front of a tree? Okay, *maybe* I could understand if the photo was with Cinderella & Prince Charming... but a *tree*? (Needless to say, we passed on this one.)

We were quickly seated, and I informed our waitress that Chef Tj was expecting me. She said she'd get him. She was actually very sweet, and helpful - everything I would expect in a nice restaurant from the wait-staff. However, I'm afraid she won't play a major role in this report simply because she was over-shadowed by the chef. :-)

Not long after, my hero arrived at the table - smiling, and happy to see me. He's always like that - from my very first encounter with him, he appeared to be so excited to have the opportunity to create something for me. He genuinely appears to LOVE what he does. He's truly more of a food artist than a chef.

As per the usual routine with a buffet, Chef Tj walked me through all of the offerings, and pointed out what I could eat. This is always done rather quickly, and it's always a bit of a challenge for me to remember everything, but best as I was able to note: there was a nice squash salad, some bread, a Tomato Florentine soup, white rice, and I believe one or two other veggie dishes available. Not a whole lot, but I wasn't expecting anything. At a place like this, even if Chef Tj wasn't there, someone would most likely make me something to go with the few buffet items. It's worth noting though that Chef Tj is new at this restaurant. He told me that he really hopes to add a few more vegan offerings to the standard buffet soon.

I tried a bit of the squash salad (tasty!), and a bit of bread, because I knew I might have just a little bit of a wait, and I was starved! (That's a must, when I dine with Chef Tj - must arrive hungry!)

Pretty soon, he arrived with my first dish - a special little salad, in a wine glass! Not only are his dishes so tasty, the presentation is always beautiful!

The greens were wrapped in sea-weed, and coated with just the right amount of an amazing strawberry vinaigrette. There were lots of different greens and veggies here - a wonderful mix of items. Honestly, the best salad I've ever had. Here's a second picture, to show you some of the goodies in it. (I must confess that it turned out to be much easier to eat when I just put some of it on a plate.)

After the salad came two soups, with some buckwheat noodles. He described the soups as "one spicy, one sweet". The sweet one was a carrot soup. It was good, but not my favorite. The spicy one was a red pepper soup with a tomato base. This one I liked a lot. The noodles were probably a nice accompaniment to the soups, but were just "okay". They were served cold, with a bit of green beans in them, and a bit of a "licorice" flavor to them (anise?).

(Okay, I would never want to hurt Chef Tj's feelings, but I just have to share this story with all of you. 1900 Park Fare is a character meal. As you are dining, several characters make their way around the room, chatting with guests and posing for photos. These were some of the most fun characters I've ever encountered. Drisella, one of Cinderella's step-sisters, was my absolute favorite. She arrived shortly after my soup and noodles. She asked me what I thought of the noodles, and I said they were okay but not my favorite. She said they looked like worms, or something she would feed her cat, which had my dear hubby responding that our cat wouldn't touch the stuff. This resulted in an entire conversation about how finicky Lucifer is. She just embodied this role so well!)

Next came my appetizer - and my favorite dish of the night. I love Chef Tj's entrees, but his appetizers often end up being my favorite. He said this was one of his "new" dishes - vegan spring rolls, on a bed of hummus, with some crackers (fried pita bread sticks). There was a nice little bit of sauce on it, too. I'm so bad at describing flavors, but this was just wonderful - the springs rolls, as well as the hummus and bread sticks. I knew I would regret it when the entree came, but I couldn't help but finish this one off. Mmmmm!!!

By this time, of course, I had already eaten considerably more than my average "normal" meal... but thankfully I had eaten a very light lunch that day, and was prepared to roll out of the restaurant at the end of the night.

Next came the entree... and my attempt to describe it. There were carrots, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, corn, potatoes, and some tofu, with a balsamic vinaigrette and onion straws on top. There was also a very spicy catchup on the side. It all worked very well together, and made for an amazing dish.

And last but not least, dessert. Chef Tj would never let me leave without dessert, and this one clearly required some early preparation. The photo really doesn't do it justice, because it was just too difficult to get a good shot from so close! How Chef Tj came up with this idea, and managed to make it work without toppling over on the way to the table, I'll never know.

Starting from the bottom, we have nice pineapple, followed by a cube of vanilla Rice Dream coated in caramel corn, with slices of bananas on top of that, and topped with a cherry. A few raspberries were scattered around the plate, and the whole thing was topped with chocolate sauce - dribbled table-side. (I should have gotten a picture of Chef Tj making the presentation!)

I have to tell you all, though - this was just a wonderful place to dine, and not just because of Chef Tj. The wait-staff was so nice, service was top-notch, my non-vegan hubby said that everything he tried on the buffet was very good, and the characters were an absolute hoot! I couldn't have asked for a better evening. I'd go back here in a heart-beat, even without Chef Tj. In fact, just remembering this meal has put me in such a good mood that I'm going to do something I rarely do... I'm going to share a picture of *me*, and Prince Charming.

See that big goofy grin on my face? You'd think I'm just so happy to be posing with Prince Charming. But you all know the truth, right? I'm just happy to be dining with Chef Tj! (Besides, my real Prince Charming was already sitting across from me at the table.)

And that's it for my latest trip meals. But I'll be back! I actually did just a little bit of extra "research", in an attempt to find some vegan snacks at Walt Disney World. I'll be sharing that in some future posts.

Until then, wishing you all some vegan meal "happily ever afters".


Gabriella said...

What a wonderful, informative review of 1900 Parkfare! I just made my reservation online for the second night of our trip in March. I'm so excited about going, even if we don't get Chef TJ, at least I know there will be a second vegan-friendly chef on hand. With characters and a buffet to top it off, even our son will be thrilled! Thank you so much for another fantastic post and you look lovely in the picture with Prince Charming. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

This is amazing!! I was so sad when I heard chef tj left ohana, but this place looks just as good!! I can't wait to go back to disney!! Thanks for sharing this!!!