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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rethinking My Approach to Disneyland Dining

The Cream Cheese and Jalapeno Mickey Pretzel - a winner for a snack

Mrs. DisneylandTraveler's dad has been in the hospital for the last few days being treated for an infection that caused him to stop eating and lose most of what strength he has left. But it's being treated and he will recover for him to join us here back home. He loves going out to eat, especially breakfast, when he isn't fighting off infections. And indeed, with Mrs. DLT and I spending a lot of time at the hospital the last few days, we've been eating out a lot too. We've been eating out so much that I'm kind of getting sick of it actually. Mrs. DLT's father's favorite spot for breakfast that he enjoys thoroughly is right down the street - and it's dreadful. Mrs. DLT herself, not being the adventurous dining type, likes to play it safe, going to restaurants and mostly eating the things she knows she will like or at least should like. God forbid that anything like a mushroom, olive, artichoke heart, or pickle touch her plate. She'll run out of the place screaming.

How about a deep fried dill pickle from the Carnation Cafe?
It tastes just like it sounds.
And slowly, I've found myself falling into a dining rut as well when it comes to going out to eat. While I may be far more adventurous than Mrs. DLT when it comes to dining, and since we seem to go to the same restaurants over and over, I find myself ordering the same things I have enjoyed from that particular restaurant that I have had in the past. I guess you could call it going to the "old stand-by". Somehow, while I may consider myself an adventurous diner, I've actually grown quite conservative. So I've been thinking to myself the the last couple of days, if I'm going out to eat, I really need to stretch my palette and try new things (something Mrs. DLT usually does not do though she surprised me at the Olive Garden the other night by ordering grilled chicken breasts with peaches)

Baked Potato Soup from the Carnation Cafe - an "old stand-by"
I would have to describe our dining experiences on our last trip to Disneyland as a mixed bag and a little weird. Indeed, I really had opportunities to stretch my dining wings so and did so but I also left some dining opportunities on the table so to speak and I am a little disappointed in myself for that. It started on the night we got there. It was early evening on a Saturday and since our deluxe AP's have Saturday as a blackout day, we couldn't go into the park. But instead of going to Downtown Disney like we should have done, we walked up Harbor Blvd. and ate dinner (which turned out to be actually breakfast) at the IHOP (International House of Pancakes for those who don't know). IHOP is usually fine. I ate one yesterday. In fact, I at the exact same thing for breakfast yesterday that I had for dinner at Disneyland a little over a month ago. Can you see why I would be kicking myself? I missed an opportunity. What about Naples, Catal, Ralph Brennan's, or even somewhere we haven't been like the Earl of Sandwich? Blew it on my first day.

Chicken Tomales for me and Mrs. DLT from Concina Cucamonga in DCA
An "old stand-by" that proved to be a major disappointment.
Over the years, Mrs. DLT and I have had a lot of bad food inside the Disneyland Resort Parks. We've taken notes and learned lessons. Prior to our last visit, we pretty much had our dining routine down to a science and could go several days without a dining disappointment. But there was something of a collision on our last trip. Disney, to their credit, is constantly tinkering with menu offerings giving new and more adventurous choices. And since it had been almost 2 years since our last visit, there were also new places to try. We made to Flo's V8 Cafe, Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta, the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe, the Jolly Holiday Bakery, and the revamped Carnation Cafe and had mixed results but at least these were the new places we made it to.

The 5 Cheese Ravioli from Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta - a winner in my book

I guess here is my source of dining frustration - you know that trip to IHOP when we arrived? Well, we actually went to IHOP for another breakfast later on in the week. Another missed park dining opportunity not mention the Anaheim IHOP is expensive compared to the one in your neighborhood. Mrs. DLT wanted to go up to Disney Character Warehouse in Fullerton (a wasted trip) so on the way back we stopped at Mimi's Cafe, another chain restaurant that we have locally. Not only another missed opportunity to try something new in the park but what I ordered in trying to be more adventurous was absolutely horrible. Here's another one - we went twice to the Fiddler, Fifer, & Practical Cafe but really, especially during the morning hours, the FF&P Cafe is not that much different than your local Starbucks only much, much larger (which is fine but there are a half dozen Starbucks within a mile of where I live). Starbucks serves wonderful beverages and very good breakfast offerings but we didn't need to go back a second time. Here's the real kicker. Twice we went to see Billy Hill and Hillbillies and both times it was around lunch time - we ended up actually eating in the Golden Horseshoe which seems to deep fry everything but the ice cream. You might as well put a sign on my back that says "Kick Me". Oh... wait a minute. We were in ToonTown waiting for our Roger Rabbit fast pass return time window to open. Again, it was around lunch time.... lunch time in ToonTown either means horrid pizza or a plain hot dog. We opted for the hot dog, a simple, plain hot dog with mustard. OK.... now you can Kick Me.

Bacon, caramelized onion, and arugala flat bread pizza from Village Haus
Very good but very rich. Probably something that should be split with someone else.
So there are at least a half dozen missed opportunities to be adventurous and try something new with Disneyland dining which now I find myself losing sleep over (a stretch of the truth but only by a little bit). I took Mrs. DLT and my sister over to look at the menu at the Carthay Circle Restaurant  praying there would be something that would catch their eye and both shook heads lamenting that their was nothing on the menu they would even order other than the cheeseburger but at $22, something they thought they could do without. But what about the duck wings and braised short rib raviolis??? Basically, with the Carthay, I was out voted. I wanted to try new menu items at Cafe Orleans and French Market, but we never made it. I have never had the fried chicken from the Plaza Inn (which is on my bucket list) but never made it there either. Never made it to the Blue Bayou, Wine Country Trattoria, or Big Thunder Barbecue, all of which we enjoyed on past trips. I wanted to try the skewers from the Paradise Garden Grill but never made it back over there either. Naples in Downtown Disney has made some the best pizza I ever ate - nope - didn't make  it nor did we make it the new Earl of Sandwich.

Turkey Dinner for Flo's V8. It was alright but did I have eat this twice? 
When (if?) I make it back to Disneyland, I'm going to make a concerted effort to change my approach to dining. First thing, ditch the chain restaurants simply because they are convenient. Second, stay away from typical park food - you can get hot dogs and fish and chips anywhere. Third, if there is a restaurant I really want to go to but others balk - I'm going to hold my breath until I turn blue (or conveniently say I forgot something back at the hotel and need to get it but go to the restaurant instead - I have absolutely no issue dining alone). It's probably OK for snacks but fourth - never eat meals at the same place more than once a trip. Fifth, try to make agreements ahead of time that these are the restaurants were are going to. All menus are posted on the web. Make reservations if you have to. Me and Mrs. DLT are normally pretty good at this but going with my sister and her husband created different agendas from time to time. Sixth, be bolder with dining choices - you only live once.

You could make a meal out of Trader Sam's appetizer offerings.
Why didn't we?

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