A fantastic lodge setting combines with flavors of the Northwest to make Artist Point a prime Disney draw.
These days, dining isn’t just about food. We also need to be entertained, and themes, from single-item menus (we really have two grilled cheese restaurants?) to extravagant architecture, are a big part of our dining experience.
Restaurants on Disney property have focused on melding fine food with detailed settings, even outside the theme parks. The Boathouse reflects the marina concept of the new Disney Springs area with its shipshape styling (and amphibious cars!). The décor and service at Victoria & Albert’s plays the British Empire-era theme of the Grand Floridian Resort to its delicious heights. And the African/Indian cuisine at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sanaa gets its cues not just from the décor but the animal-filled savannah just outside the picture windows.
For a wholly American vista, I’ve been taken by Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, both for its splendid menu crafted by Chef Michael Gonsalves, and the Pacific Northwest panoramic setting.
Taking inspiration from the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, Wilderness Lodge opened 21 years ago, a sturdy wooden cathedral with an eight-story central hall boasting two 55-foot totem poles, carved on site, and an 82-foot tall stone fireplace. My favorite bits are the wood inlayed chairs that echo the work of Sacramento architects Greene and Greene. Inside the restaurant, those beautiful chairs are arranged under Arts & Crafts chandeliers and wooden columns that echo the Oregon forest.
Artist Point’s menu is practically minuscule in its focused approach. Well-executed starters include a field asparagus salad ($16), the smoky flavor of slightly charred shoots offset by salty prosciutto and greens harvested from the Epcot “Land” pavilion farms, dressed in a tart sherry and mustard vinaigrette. There’s a touch of the Pacific Rim in the massive dashi-braised short rib appetizer ($13), a tender bit of steak cooked in fish broth, accompanied by in-house pickles and daikon radish.
A veteran of California Grill, Gonsalves is a Massachusetts native and a graduate of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., where it appears he learned some useful tricks with fish.
As has become the norm elsewhere, a good part of the menu changes with the season, but one constant is wild-caught Alaskan king salmon (the restaurant gets upward of 350 pounds delivered every two days). I was fortunate enough to visit during the May-June Copper River salmon season and sample the prized harvest of Chinooks caught during their annual spawning run. While I sympathize with the interrupted mating, the cedar plank-roasted beauty ($41) had a flavor unmistakably superior to farmed fish, counterpointed by baby fennel and a touch of olive tapenade. Mark your calendars for next year.
Bison and venison often make appearances, but a particularly worthy choice—when it’s on the menu—is diver scallops ($36), beautifully seared and right at the point of tender perfection. A toasted Sardinian couscous called fregola makes a savory bed for the scallops.
Given a choice, I would get to the Lodge by water; you can park at the Fort Wilderness guest lot and catch the free launch. The approaching view of the vast wooden structure and its pools is positively Pacific. A stream and hot water geyser continue the illusion, and the nightly Electrical Water Pageant can be seen from the dock to add a touch of Disney-ness. It’s practically an after-dinner vacation.
In keeping with the Northwest theme, the wine list is exclusive to vineyards in Oregon and Washington State, with some great Willamette Valley and Red Mountain labels. It’s surprising that the inventive spirits along the Oregon Distillery Trail aren’t represented on the cocktail menu, but beers from my favorite Oregonian brewer, Widmer Brothers, are always a good choice.