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Review: 10 best bites at this year’s Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival

Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival Ð Chocolate Crunch Cake
The Mickey Mouse-themed chocolate crunch cake is among the new items featured this year at the 2019 Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, which runs March 1 through April 23 at the Anaheim theme park.

On the plus side, the just-opened 14th annual Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival is the biggest it’s ever been. But on the downside, it’s the biggest it’s ever been.

In other words, how can one person possibly taste and sip their way through 36 savory and sweet dishes and California-made beers and wines in one day to make credible recommendations?

I tasted more than a dozen new items at this year’s festival, which opened Friday for a record 54-day run at the Anaheim theme park. To help the U-T fill out its culinary picks list for this year’s fest, I asked Disney executives, staffers and food bloggers as well as park-goers who queued up in often-sizeable lines to get their first taste of the fest.

About 60 percent of the food and drink items at this year’s festival are new or reimagined versions of past food favorites. In keeping with the park and festival theme, all of the items are made with and inspired by the bounty of California’s agricultural, livestock, wine, spirits and artisan food industries. Craft beer also has an expanded presence this year, with the Paradise Gardens area turned into a beer garden, and San Diego brewers Karl Strauss and Pizza Port among the featured beermakers.

In keeping with California’s changing culinary tastes, there are 12 vegetarian and vegan dishes in the mix, the largest number ever, as well as a few gluten-free items. Chef John State, Disneyland Resort’s culinary director, said it’s gratifying to see that response to these items, especially from non-vegetarians, has been so strong.

The festival food and drink items can be found in 14 temporary marketplace huts stationed along the back boardwalk stretching from the Carthay Circle restaurant to the Paradise Gardens Grill near Pixar Pier, as well as at five food carts, the cappuccino cart and the Paradise Gardens Grill restaurant.

The festival also features children’s interactive cooking classes, family-friendly seminars, celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, winemaker receptions at Carthay Circle, beer, wine and cocktail events and a dinner with Disney chefs on March 28. The festival’s long-running star, chef Guy Fieri, returns for his 14th year. His signature event is sold out, but he will do a cooking demo on March 9 on the Palisades stage.

Festival food items range in price from $6 to $13, with the higher-cost items usually represented in much-heartier portions. Beers, wines and cocktails run from $10 to $15 a glass. Fresh fruit teas are $5. Desserts are in the $5 to $7 range.

The easiest and most-economical way to explore the festival is the Sip and Savor Pass, a plastic placard that hangs from a lanyard with snap-off coupons that can be redeemed for eight food and non-alcoholic beverage items of choice. The cost is $49 for annual passholders and $54 for day visitors.

Twin brothers Kyle and Ryan Joynt, 33, of San Diego purchased a pass to share on Friday. Their goal was to each enjoy four items apiece — which, with careful consideration, will provide plenty of sustenance for a one-day visit.

The twins are longtime Disney fans and repeat visitors to the food festival, both at Disney California Adventure and the Disney World Resort in Orlando. Their first selection of the day was the California Artisan Cheese Plate ($8), with candied and dried fruit and a cracker assortment, at the Uncork California wine booth. They agreed it was tasty and a good value.

“I like food festivals because you get to sample a lot of stuff and the portions aren’t too big,” Kyle said.

Ryan said he thinks it’s “cool” how the festival is focused on California-grown and California-produced items.

Here’s an insider’s guide to some of this year’s other best bites:

Chocolate-Peanut Caramel Parfait

Don’t miss this brand new to-die-for dessert at the Golden Dreams booth near the Grizzly River Run ride. It’s a decadent five-layer treat of fudge, salted caramel, toffee, crumbled shortbread cookies and a dusting of sea salt on top. I liked it so much I ate two.

Anaheim Chile Relleno Bites with Salsa Verde

The favorite new dish of official Disney food blogger Heather Sievers (@diningindisney on Instagram) is this savory and zesty Mexican dish with bright and spicy notes. It can also be found at the Golden Dreams booth.

Impossible No “Meat” Ball Submarine with Marinara Sauce

This hearty and satisfying $12 meal is delicious and meaty, even with no meat. The sausage-flavored meatballs are made with Impossible Burger meat, served in a crusty roll with warm marinara sauce, Parmesan cheese and a side of kettle-cooked potato chips. It’s available at the Paradise Garden Grill.

Artichoke Toast with California Olive Tapenade

Disney California Adventure park general manager Gary Maggetti loves artichokes, so he’s particularly fond of this new dish at the I Heart Artichokes booth at the foot of Pixar Pier. It’s a fresh and flavorful tapenade of black olives, artichoke heart petals and olive oil on a slice of baguette smeared with fresh California cream cheese.

Ghost Pepper Mac & Cheese with Chili Cheese Corn Chip Dust

One of the hits of last year’s festival was the garlic-infused mac ’n’ cheese (which is back this year at the Garlic Kissed booth), but chef State has doubled down this year with this ultra-spicy alternative at the Peppers Cali-Ente booth near Pacific Wharf. Maggetti said the first test version of this dish that came out of State’s kitchen was so hot it made his eyes water. It’s been toned down a bit since then but still has some kick.

Harris Ranch Grilled Beef Tenderloin Slider with Chimichurri Sauce

A No. 1 favorite with park-goers since the festival was introduced in 2006, this filling and tender mini-burger always satisfies. It can be found at the Cluck-A-Doodle-Moo booth near the Little Mermaid ride. And if you’re looking to cut back on your beef consumption this year, there’s a new Impossible Burger slider with guacamole and pepper jack cheese at the Avocado Time booth just a few steps away.

Citrus-Brined Pork Roast with Tangy Barbeque Sauce and Lemon Pepper Slaw

My favorite dish from 2018 is back at the Citrus Grove booth near the now-shuttered Bugs Land. It’s a big and filling portion of tender shredded pork with a tart slaw. At just $8, it’s one of the best deals in the park.

Meyer Lemon Blue Diamond Almond Macaron

Another favorite from 2018 is this oversize French macaron cookie that zings with flavor from California’s own Meyer lemon juice. Besides an almond cream filling, there’s a raspberry jam surprise in the center.

Strawberry & Coconut Rice “Frushi”

A refreshing sweet treat that’s back from last year is the Oikos yogurt, fruit and rice dessert that’s made to look like sushi, with a fruity wasabi glaze. It can be found in the Berry Patch booth at the entrance to Cars Land.

Esquites Sweet Corn Nuggets with Bacon Lardon

New this year, this dish is a takeoff on the traditional Mexican corn salad known as esquites. Bite-size nuggets of sweet corn cake are fried and topped with salty chunks of bacon, grilled corn, spicy sauce and a spritz of lime juice. It can be found at the Off the Cob booth near The Golden Zephyr ride.

For information on the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, which runs daily through April 23, visit disneyland.com/foodandwine.

pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com. Twitter: @pamkragen