I was a bit disappointed when I found out that I’d be staying at the Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom Lodge for the TravelingMom.com retreat and wouldn’t have a chance to eat at Boma, an African-themed buffet restaurant. My husband and I ate there on our first vacation together and I loved it. I know a lot of foodies turn their noses up at the mention of a buffet, but I like to sample a variety of foods so it works for me.
Instead, we were scheduled to eat at Jiko, the high-end restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I checked out the menu online and tried not to be too concerned. I’m a picky eater, so while I am usually willing to try new things, I don’t like my food choices being under someone else’s control. Some of the anxiety stems from a week-long trip to central China, where I never got to order my own food, and where the menu tended to be a little too exotic for my tastes (I was fine with the incredible spiciness, but had some difficulty with animal body parts we don’t normally eat here). I have to say, first of all, that whoever chose our men for all of the meals at Disney did a fantastic job. In addition to meeting the needs of quite a few people with dietary restrictions (food allergies, vegetarians, etc.), the meals were familiar enough to ease my concerns while still being unique enough to be memorable.
I didn’t capture pictures of all of the courses at Jiko, but these are some of the highlights. We started off with an appetizer sampler that included Crispy Beef Bobotie Roll (these were like spring rolls, but with beef), Tibs Watt in Panekoeke (sort of like beef crepes, for lack of a better comparison), and I believe a small piece of Ahi tuna. I didn’t touch the tuna, but the other two appetizers were amazing.
The next dish was wild boar. I had never had wild boar, but it was delicious. One of the other attendees joked that she would tell her kids she had eaten Puumba for dinner! [Note only is that kind of a creepy thing to tell your kids, but Puumba is a warthog. Related, but not the same.]
For the next course, we had the choice between a roasted butternut squash soup, and the lovely salad pictured below. Guess what I chose?
After that we had an Intermezzo, and I’m not entirely certain what it was. It was like a small scoop of a very tart lime Italian ice soaking in some sort of alcohol. Vodka? What I found interesting was that the Jiko servers had taken note throughout the meal of who had been drinking alcoholic beverages and who had chosen non-alcoholic beverages. There was a round of champagne at the beginning and then some heavily flowing wine. I don’t particularly like champagne or wine and I was running on very little sleep, so while I had a small taste of the champagne (purported to be the same champagne Mandela had at his inauguration), I opted for Diet Coke most of the evening. Based on this, they were serving guests either the alcoholic version or a non-alcoholic version. It was all seamless – they never asked anyone – and I was impressed. However, since I am just that observant, I was savvy enough when they came around to me to specifically request the alcoholic version. Unlike a lemon sorbet, which gently cleanses your palette, this treat sort of shocked your palette into forgetting everything else that had come before. I wish I had thought to ask for a name, or to at least take a picture!
The main course was one I was prepared for… or so I thought. I had pretty much chosen the filet mignon from home, but my investigations online led me to a discussion of the macaroni and cheese it comes with. Apparently, everyone swoons over this macaroni and cheese, but according to the blog I was reading, it had been removed from the menu. Indeed, our menu didn’t mention it at all. But, when anyone ordered the filet mignon, the server asked about macaroni and cheese and I was more than happy to say yes. When it arrived, however, I was disheartened to see it sitting in a pool of… juice. I prefer my meat cooked medium well (a proper medium-well, not a charred medium-well) and I was envisioning enduring a bloody main course. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The red sauce is a red wine reduction that is rich and velvety (and while it no doubt contained plenty of “juice,” it didn’t taste like I feared). The filet mignon was cooked perfectly for me, and the dish with the sauce was sheer heaven. I am already plotting a trip back to Jiko (theme parks? what theme parks?) so I can have it again. The lovely macaroni and cheese combined with the richness of the sauce was amazing. In the meantime, I’m thinking that I need to learn how to make a proper red wine reduction. I literally cannot stop thinking about this dish weeks later.
By this point, I should have been full. I ate every little bit of every dish (except the Ahi tuna) because it was too delicious to stop. And you had better believe that I wasn’t letting a drop of that sauce to waste. But it was on to dessert. I can’t completely remember what was on that dessert tray, but I’m pretty sure (from the Jiko menu online) it was:
- Tanzanian Chocolate Crèmeux with Chocolate Crunch, Chocolate-Cherry Mascarpone
- Amarula Crème Brûlée with a Spiced Chocolate-layered Bottom, Cheesecake
- Caramel and Toffee (Creamy Madagascar Vanilla Cheesecake with Salted Caramel, Macadamia-Almond Toffee, Whipped Cream, and Chocolate-Covered Coffee Beans )
I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to Jiko, but I certainly hope so. All of the food we had during the retreat was delicious, but Jiko was just plain divine…
By the way, while pretty much all of the restaurants at Walt Disney World welcome children, Jiko is really better suited to grown-ups. The kids menu is nothing short of horrifying after sampling the adult fare. It includes cheese pizza, grilled chicken, salmon, and macaroni and cheese. If you have to bring them along, by all means do it, but if you can get a night out to dine like adults, this is the restaurant to try for.
Disclosure: Meals and accommodations at Walt Disney World were provided by Disney for the Travelingmom.com retreat. Why else would I have had so much food all at once?! There was no promise of coverage, or of a positive review. The opinions in this post are my own.