Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews, Part One

BY MIKE WARING – MAY 2009

This is Part One of a multi-part set of reviews from our most recent trip in May 2009.

On this page, Mike reviews two newly-opened restaurants in the Walt Disney World area: Sanaa in the brand-new Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas and Sweet Tomatoes in the Crossroads Center near Downtown Disney.

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Sanaa, Kidani Village, Animal Kingdom Villas

Sanaa (pronounced “sah-NAH,”) is the newest (and only-est) restaurant in Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas, a Disney Vacation Club resort. First, if we’re going to apply truth in advertising, the DVC villas at Kidani aren’t exactly at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but a good ten minutes walk away. That shouldn’t really represent a problem, but after a long day in the parks the trek might be a little more than one, especially one with small, cranky, hungry children, might feel up for. So unless you’re up for a walk or a bus ride, Sanaa is pretty much your only choice when staying at Kidani Village.

Ostensibly the cuisine of the Sanaa is described as Indian with African influences. We pooh-poohed that idea and then found we were wrong: the food was pretty much exactly as advertised. If you don’t like Indian food, better find another restaurant.

We started with a drink in the bar, because it’s a new bar that we felt we should investigate and, more importantly, I needed a cocktail or three — it was a long day a-travellin’ and me throat was weary and parched. It’s a very nice space, similar to the wine bar next to Jiko. The bar staff was enthusiastic, friendly, and probably a little bit bored. There was obviously good business making for drinks for diners, but Mary and I were the only people having a pre-dinner cocktail. Upholding the traditions of the Empire and all that, I started out and then stuck with Kingfisher, a wonderful Indian lager, while Mary drank some sort of fruit smoothie and alcohol concoction that she pronounced good, even though a true aficionado of the art of cocktail preparation would refuse to countenance the existence of such a travesty. Turns out her mango margarita was tasty though.

After a substantial wait for our reserved table (and remember, Kidani Village is not fully completed yet, so take this into account), we were seated and able to peruse the menu. We started with the appetizer sampler for two, which contained samosas, roasted cauliflower, and duck in red curry sauce. We liked all of them. We also got the Indian Style Bread Service, for which one can choose from a total of four types of bread typical of the sub-continent. With the bread comes a selection of chutneys, raitas and relishes, which frankly were the real reason we ordered it, because nice as naan is, it’s the relishes that make Indian food sing. We went with the old standbys such as coriander chutney, cucumber raita and lime pickle. I really don’t encourage those unfamiliar with Indian food to get the lime pickle, as it is intensely flavored and some have compared it to eating copper scouring pads coated with acid. Those people are perhaps lacking in refinement, as I find lime pickle to be a piquant and delightful accompaniment to any meal.

For our entrees I had the lamb tandoori, which was unusual in that it was a rack of lamb and it did not appear to have any tandoori seasoning actually on the lamb, but it was accompanied by a small sauce bowl containing something with tandoori-like spice flavors. I liked it a lot, but it wasn’t what I rationally think of as tandoori.

Mary had a combo meal with chicken red curry and beef short ribs. The chicken was not especially curry-like, though it was very tasty. Both items were seasoned with a nice blend of spices that reminded us of Moroccan dishes.

Other than a steak, there really isn’t too much on the menu for non-adventurous eaters to fall back upon. The rest of the entrees include a banana wrapped fish and a spice rubbed Cornish game hen, plus a vegetarian entrĂ©e. All are somewhat unusual and off the beaten path.

There’s also a salad sampler from which the diner can select three salads from offerings that include roasted beets; carrots, orange and mint; and chickpeas with cucumber and tomato. Sorry, macaroni salad is not one of the offerings, nor is anything else that might be found on the buffet line at a Golden Corral. I like the offerings but I suspect many people, especially people with children who think that Fruity Pebbles are a daring culinary choice, may find the salads, and indeed most of the other menu offerings, somewhat adventurous.

All in all, we ordered a lot of food for two people and we ended the meal somewhat feeling like we’d eaten an entire python instead of the other way around. I’m not really sure I would go out of my way for Sanaa, like I would for Jiko, for instance. It was pleasant and tasty and unusual, so if I were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, even when not in the Villas, I would probably try it again.

Sweet Tomatoes, Crossroads Center, Orlando

Every once in a while we get a hankering to eat something that is demonstrably not animal flesh, or the product of industrial processes exotic and strange, and thus beyond the understanding of those not versed in the arcana of food chemistry. In times past, we’ve gone to the once mighty salad bar restaurant to graze among the green leafy vegetables and warm soothing soups. But hard times have fallen on the salad bar restaurant industry in recent years and we no longer go there, looking instead for our vegetarian fix via a veggie sandwich at Panera Bread. It’s been years since we have visited a salad bar restaurant, because we now live near Colorado Springs and Coloradoans think that vegetable matter is best left as feed for the real food — meat!

So it was with some trepidation that we visited the Sweet Tomatoes in Orlando, since all of our experiences with salad bars in recent years have been less than exciting. The problem is that the initial salad bar restaurant concept was pretty good. But then came mission creep and the salad bar restaurants no longer offered just a bountiful array of veggies and toppings. Along came the bakery and then the pizza bar. Then the baked potato bar was followed by the pasta bar. The end was in sight when the taco bar was introduced and no longer could one enjoy the crunchy plant matter in peace. No, someone was dripping yellow industrial grade taco cheese sauce in the BacoBits bin and 128 ounce containers of pop were on every tray.

Sweet Tomatoes is pretty much a throwback to the original concept of salad bars, where the concentration is on salads. Groundbreaking concept, I know. It seems that they stuck to the basics more than other places we’ve visited over the years. There’s no pasta bar. No pizza. No taco bar. Basically it’s salad and soup. Some bread. Simple desserts. The one we visited was located in Crossroads Center near Downtown Disney, so it’s conveniently located for many Walt Disney World visitors.

To start off, there’s the salad bar itself: the main event. (They like to point out that the bar is 55 feet long. How American – defining food by the foot.) There is a nice selection, with various types of salad greens, pretty much all the toppings you can think of and a variety of already prepared salads for those with simpler tastes. Unlike other places, there are few starchy “salads” like potato salad, pasta salad and the like.

After the salad bar you pay the all-you-can eat price (under $10 per person, with the price varying slightly by day of the week and time of day) at the cash register. Past the registers are a few more bars. One is dedicated to soups and chilis and a total of eight or so are on offer, which is more than I can remember at similar restaurants. There’s a bar with various breadstuffs, including pretty tasty corn bread muffins and foccacia. There are also both sweet and Idaho baked potatoes, along with toppings. Finally, there’s mac and cheese for the totally non-adventurous eater, as well as one bowl of a pre-made pasta.

The dessert bar has a frozen yogurt machine, along with various toppings like peanuts, chocolate and caramel sauce and sprinkles. There are low-cal alternatives like fresh fruit and cottage cheese and a sugar-free jello-and-cool-whip concoction that I assume is based on a special flavor of the month, which in our case was strawberries.

And of course there are soda fountains and other fruit drinks and ice teas available. And that’s it.

If you’re looking for a starch fest, this isn’t the place for you. If you want fresh veggies presented attractively — and believe me, the staff is constantly cleaning and straightening the displays — this is the place for you. I love the fact that they haven’t diverged from the basic offerings into pizzas and pastas and such. For the amount of food one could conceivably indulge in, the prices are hard to argue with. Definitely worth a try when you’re looking for a break from the burger and fry rat race.

Continue to Part Two: Wolfgang Puck Dining Room in Downtown Disney