Except for a few short-lived stretches – referred to as the “picky periods” – both my sons are foodies, which means our Disneyland meals never included corn dogs or pizza. Over time, “foodie” became “cheffy” as my younger son, Jacob, attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University (and both have cooked in upscale restaurant kitchens).
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the California Adventure Food & Wine Festival is practically a holiday in our family— doubly so after a two-year Food & Wine hiatus! Jacob and I rushed to this year’s festival on opening day to seek out the “cheffiest” bites and sips.
Since the Sip & Savor Pass with eight tabs ($57 before Magic Keyholder discount) is the best way to take advantage of everything the festival has to offer, I challenged Chef Jacob to rank his eight favorite/tab-worthy dishes from the twelve marketplace kiosks, so here are his picks:
8. Grilled Top Sirloin with Roasted Garlic-Gruyere Smashed Potatoes and Black Garlic Chimichurri from Garlic Kissed
Coming from a festival marketplace centered around garlic, this dish definitely delivers on the promise of a strong and stinky punch. The creamy potatoes topped with tender pieces of beef make this one of the most filling options of the festival. The chimichurri adds freshness, and the addition of fermented black garlic was a nice cheffy touch.
Jacob’s only critique is that it was very heavy, and the chimichurri left a pool of oil on top.
7. Next Level Crackers and Cheese (House-Made Herb Crackers with White Cheddar-Infused Fromage Blanc, ‘Nduja Prosciutto Spread, and Cherry Jam) from Nuts About Cheese
There’s almost always some type of cheese plate at the festival but we usually skip it because it never seems like a good use of stomach space, but this year’s Next Level Crackers and Cheese is worth spending a Sip & Savor tab.
The buttery crackers have a flaky pie crust consistency, and the creamy cheese and cherry jam combo has a good balance of sweet, creamy, and tangy. I admit, I didn’t taste the prosciutto spread, but we attributed that – and it’s rare we say this – to too much cheese. There’s also something slightly spicy going on, but I couldn’t identify the source (though, it was likely from the ‘nduja sausage in the prosciutto spread I couldn’t taste).
The only downside is that biting into the crisp cracker caused the soft filling to squish out the sides, but a simple plating change would have made all the difference: instead of being served as a sandwich, the spread, cheese, and jam could have been layered on each cracker separately.
6. Glazed BBQ Pork Belly with Furikake-Togarashi Mac Salad from L.A. Style
This dish clearly paid homage to L.A.’s Korean culinary influences with the sweet, tangy, and umami-filled BBQ sauce. I find pork belly too fatty (and therefore skipped this dish), Jacob really enjoyed the extremely tender and perfectly cooked pork.
My other son lives in Honolulu, so the creamy mac salad reminded us of our favorite Hawaiian comfort food but was elevated with the spicy togarashi and salty furikake topping.
5. Chicharron-Crusted Fried Artichoke Dip with Smoked Pepper Crema and Oaxaca Cheese from I ❤️ Artichokes
In earlier years, the festival presented artichokes rather simply (like grilled with lemon aioli), so we were extremely happy to see one of California’s most well-known crops (and a premium ingredient) has been “plussed” in the form of delicious artichoke dip fritters with a crispy chicharron crust that added a slightly meaty flavor to the otherwise vegetarian dish.
The added surprise of black beans inside was a bonus for us, but bean dislikers probably won’t be as overjoyed to see them
4. Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch (Chocolate-Hazelnut Mousse Topped with Chocolate Hazelnut Glaze and Gold Leaf) from Uncork California
Disneyland’s macaron game is always solid, but this year’s Snickers Caramel-Peanut Milk Chocolate Macaron resulted in a split decision. Jacob felt the cookie was a little too sweet and chewy, but I thought it was just right. We both agreed that our favorite dessert of the festival (and therefore more worthy of a tab) is the chocolate-hazelnut – or gianduia – mousse encased in a dark chocolate shell.
The mousse is light and airy, but the best part is the surprising gooey chocolatey center with perfectly toasted hazelnuts for added crunch. A+ for sure.
3. Frozen Guacamole (Avocado Paleta with Lime Crema Pico de Gallo and Chile-Lime Seasoning) from Avocado Time
One of the most intriguing offerings at this year’s festival is definitely this twist on California’s favorite dip. Disney chefs created a creamy and slightly sweet paleta – a traditional Mexican popsicle usually made with fruit – as a vehicle for typical guacamole fixings.
The added crunch from corn nuts was also a welcome newcomer to the party and may actually become a staple when I make guacamole at home.
2. Chile Relleno Empanada with Arbol Pepper Salsa and Oaxaca and Cotija Cheeses from Peppers Cali-ente
We love chile rellenos, and we love empanadas, so we were not surprised that we loved this dish. What did surprise us was the heat from the arbol pepper salsa. When I mentioned that to Disneyland Culinary Director Jeremiah Balogh, he told me he’s heard things described as “Disney spicy” and wanted to change it.
“We don’t want to be known for that,” he said. “If it’s habanero, it’s habanero, and we want to make sure we treat the dishes the way we feel we should treat the dishes based on wherever they’re coming from.”
In this case, it’s not habanero, but the arbol salsa is still definitely not “Disney spicy.” The creamy cheese inside the empanada balances the salsa on top, but anyone with a low tolerance for heat (like me) might want to remove some before the first bite.
1. Mango-Carrot Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp and Jalapeno Crema from Golden Dreams
The biggest surprise – and my son’s top cheffy bite – is the mango-carrot gazpacho, which is “practically perfect in every way.”
Chef Balogh told me a cast member mentioned her family makes gazpacho at home, but because a lot of people have had gazpacho made with tomato, cucumbers, and bell peppers, the culinary team wanted to make it unique to Disney, which in this case, meant using mango and roasted carrot.
We found the dish had a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty. The small diced cucumbers added a nice crunch of texture on top of the smooth chilled soup. I would even go so far as to describe it as a restaurant dish rather than festival food. While it’s not as flashy as other offerings at the festival, I predict this gazpacho will win the prize for the most underrated dish this year.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Mac
We can’t talk about the 2022 Food & Wine Festival without mentioning the already-polarizing Peanut Butter and Jelly Mac, which definitely finds itself in a “love it or hate it” situation.
First of all, let’s make one thing clear: this is not macaroni and cheese (for that familiar fan-favorite, you’ll need to head to Garlic Kissed for their Carbonara-Garlic Mac & Cheese with Peppered Bacon).
This dish is made with elbow macaroni, but that’s where the similarity ends. Instead of cheesy bechamel, the noodles are coated in a sweet peanutty sauce which reminded us of Thai satay peanut dipping sauce (though not at all spicy) and then topped with an even sweeter brown sugar streusel and strawberry crackle (AKA pop rocks).
“If you have the chance to try the PB&J Mac – and whatever it is you’re thinking that’s great – but I guarantee you’ll be sharing your story with somebody, and guess what they’re going to say: where did you have that?” Chef Balogh said. “[Once you say] I had it at California Adventure during Food & Wine. Boom. I win. That’s what we’re all about.”
While we are certainly not in the “love it” camp, “hate it” seems a bit strong, and since the goal of Disneyland chefs was to introduce unique dishes, PB&J Mac certainly accomplishes that. However, we were left feeling a bit confused as it’s too sweet to be an entrée yet not quite sweet enough to be a dessert. The verdict: If you’re an adventurous eater and have a tab to spare, you might as well give it a try.
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Let’s Hear From You!
Have you sampled your way through DCA’s Food & Wine Festival yet? Which of Jacob’s picks are you looking forward to trying? Are there any dishes you’re surprised didn’t make our list? And are you brave enough to try the PB&J Mac, or is that a big N. O. for you? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
For more about this year’s Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival, please read our full guide:
UPDATED GUIDE: Soarin’ Over Disney California Adventure Food Festival 2022