Micky Dolenz, Tables in Wonderland, and Adventures in Disney Dining, or: “The ego sings of castles and kings and things that go with a life of style…”

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So Boots and I loaded up the family truckster last Saturday and made the drive up to Orlando. Our rationale for going up there was the “free” Micky Dolenz concert at EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival. I say “free” in “quotes” because if you “factor in” gas, tolls, hotels, and our Annual Passholder payments we make every month, this “free concert” ended up being quite “pricier” than “front row” seats to see “Barbara Streisand”, a singer so “odious” that she makes me want to “puke” all over the “floor”. Et cetera, et cetera. But let us not get sidetracked.

The Dolenz show was actually quite good. Boots is a ginormous Monkees fan (of the show, the music, the deep cuts, the personalities, and so forth) and over the years I’ve become quite a fan myself. In the 7+ years we’ve been together, we’ve seen Davy Jones twice — once performing a traditional British pantomime show, and then again in Miami Springs where he hosted a screening of the classic 1968 film ‘Head’ to benefit a local community center. As an aside, if you’ve never seen ‘Head’ and you’re a fan of absurdist cinema, drop everything and check it out immediately. That film was way ahead of its time.

Davy’s death last year was a massive bummer for fans; we had also seen him with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork during the Summer 2011 Monkees 45th Anniversary Tour, and it was one of the best shows I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. When Michael Nesmith announced that he would tour with Micky and Peter in 2012, we made the trip from Fort Lauderdale to Huntington, NY for the 12/01/2012 show. It was well worth the travel. Davy’s presence was sorely missed, but the music was a joyful celebration of the band’s surprisingly deep catalog of songs.

Davy was a regular at EPCOT festival performances, and after his passing Micky picked up the torch and carried it faithfully. This is his second year doing Flower and Garden, and if he was sick-to-death of trotting out the same old songs and doing the same old stage chatter every performance (“Hey kids: I sang this before SHREK!” before breaking into I’m A Believer), you couldn’t tell. He seemed happy, energetic, and really into his performance. We only caught one of his shows (he had three per day, with variations in each performance) but it was well worth the trip. The set-list was as follows (which might be slightly out of order, the Spiced Rum Dole Pineapple Whip was less than efficacious at enhancing my short-term memory skills-with-a-z):

  • (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
  • That Was Then, This Is Now
  • She
  • Last Train To Clarksville
  • Different Drum (written by Michael Nesmith for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies, a bit over-sung by sister Coco Dolenz here)
  • A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
  • Pleasant Valley Sunday
  • Daydream Believer (sung by a ‘chosen’ crowd member, with an assist from the audience)
  • I’m A Believer

Fairly substantial for an EPCOT show, I’d say. We saw Night Ranger do a really fine acoustic set last September which didn’t have that many songs. Yes, Night Ranger. I don’t believe in ‘guilty pleasures’, I feel no guilt in admitting ‘Sing Me Away’ and ‘When You Close Your Eyes’ are great pop tunes. So is ‘Sister Christian’. I went there.

So overall, it was a fun show. Boots even brought a homemade sign wishing Micky a happy birthday, which he did indeed acknowledge with a knowing point and a thumbs-up when he came out for his final bow. Boots was over the moon. We took a quick pic of the sign for posterity’s sake, which I’ll share with you now:

This was one fangirl who was EXTREMELY pleased with herself!

This was one fangirl who was EXTREMELY pleased with herself!

Then we tossed it. What, you think we’d carry that thing around all day? We had culinary business to attend to!

By now it should come as no surprise that Boots and I are Disney Geeks, in the sense that we enjoy visiting Walt Disney World often. Not so much the theme parks anymore, which we still hit whenever we feel like it, but lately that’s not been the focus of our journeys (a mere three hours up the ‘Pike from Fort Lauderdale). We’re more into the events, festivals, races, resorts, sightseeing, and of course dining. When we were last in town for the 2013 Marathon Weekend, we dined at the California Grill for the first time, and it was easily one of the best meals either of us had ever enjoyed. We also discovered Boma (more on that in a second), returned to the Kona Cafe for a surprisingly great burger, and did the usual counter service/food court thing when we were either feeling cheap or non-discriminating in our palates.

Regardless, I hadn’t heard of the Tables in Wonderland program until recently, and looking back I’m pretty much kicking myself for not discovering it sooner. For Annual Passholders it costs $100 (Florida Residents, $125) and it’s well worth every penny. In a nutshell, the card lasts 13 months and during that time you get 20% off your check at every Disney table-service restaurant. Anything from the cheaper fare to the super-pricey restaurants. THIS INCLUDES ALCOHOL. Let’s let that sink in for a moment… you know that bottle of Chateau Lafitte you were eyeing? It just got a LOT more intriguing.

The program also covers you for free valet parking at any resort if you’re dining there. Valet parking at Disney costs $15 a pop, so for that alone… dayenu. When some of these resorts fill up, self-parking can be an absolute nightmare (if you can find a spot at all). And finally, the discount is good for up to 10 people at your table, so your freeloading buddies get the benefit as well. Purchasing this was an absolute no-brainer. Between the parking and the food discount, we’ve already saved $53 between Saturday night and Sundaymorning, and we still have another 13 months to go. So yeah, if you enjoy dining around the House of Mouse, join this program.

OK, unsolicited sales pitch for Disney notwithstanding, after the Micky Dolenz show we got in the car and headed to the Animal Kingdom Lodge to have dinner at Boma: Flavors of Africa. As previously mentioned, we had eaten there before in January and LOVED it. The restaurant is buffet-style and features cuisine with an African flair. Buffets are almost always pretty terrible — I’m not the fussiest of eaters, but on the other hand if your favorite steakhouse is Outback, we need to talk about standards, knowhatimean? — but Boma is pretty standout terrific.

Reminiscent of an open African market, Boma has an expansive, inviting layout.

Reminiscent of an open African market, Boma has an expansive, inviting layout.

If you enjoy the taste of cous cous, curry, ginger, flavorful spices but not necessarily hot-n-spicey overload, this is your place. We started with the hummus selection, which included three different types made from peppers, tomatoes, and olives and came with pita triangles for dipping. The chilled curry pasta salad tasted fresh and extremely flavorful, as did the Tunisian cous cous salad. When it came to soup I decided to sample the Chicken Curry, whereas Boots chose Carrot Ginger. Both were met with extremely positive reactions, if by that you mean happy “mmmmm” noises and not much dinner conversation.

After we polished off our appetizers, we hit the entree corner of the buffet line. I found the Spiced Crusted Sirloin (served with a variety of condiments, I selected an African mustard sauce) to be very pleasing. I’m a strict medium-rare adherent when it comes to my meat, and the slice carved for me was juicy and flavorful with an excellent spicy kick along the outside. But both Boots and I came to the conclusion that you could totally come to Boma and eat vegetarian, and never miss a step. They were also serving roasted chicken and slow-roasted pork ribs, but other than the sirloin I eschewed other meat dishes to try the paneer, fufu, and Marrakesh cous cous side dishes. I honestly could not find a single fault in any of them. OK the fufu tastes like really good if generally unremarkable sweet potato mash, that’s the biggest “complaint” I can come up with. The horror.

Boots and I were already overstuffed blobules by the time we even started considering dessert. At this point, I usually just sample a few items and leave it at that. Boma is known for their “Zebra Domes”, a Kahlua-tasting creamy desert that’s hard to describe but unbelievably tasty. I grabbed one and enjoyed it, as well as a small serving of bread pudding and a few other bite-sized coconut-cheesecake and peanut-butter desserts. I shouldn’t have even bothered. By all Yiddishe standards, at this point I was entirely shtupped.

I'd also like to buy the world a Coke...

I’d also like to buy the world a Coke…

Boma is probably my favorite dining experience at Disney right now. For those with little fussy ones who balk at anything that seems remotely askew, they serve the standard mac-n-cheese/chicken fingers assortments. The quizzical thing, for me, was watching all the adults eating from this menu. Really? You’re paying $40 a head for some of the most unique and exotic dining options to be found on property, but sticking with items you can grab for $9 at the food court? Jeepers. To each their own, I guess. Nonetheless, if you’re at Disney and think the majority of their restaurants consists of little more than overpriced swill, give Boma a whirl. You won’t be disappointed. We’ve only been there twice and it’s become our new must-stop restaurant. It’s certainly not cheap; with beers and tip, INCLUDING our 20% discount, it still ran us $97. Totally worth every penny.

We decided to try something new the next morning for brunch, so we made a reservation to dine at Kouzzina by Cat Cora, a Greek/Mediterranean-themed restaurant in Disney’s Boardwalk Resort. Our reservation was set for 10:45 AM, so we arrived around 10 and decided to explore the Boardwalk area before eating. We had never been there before, so we spent a good deal of time looking around and checking out details minute and ginormous, both inside the resort and outside on the actual “boardwalk” itself right on Crescent Lake. The place is pretty cool. It was Sunday morning so things were pretty calm and easygoing, but I’d love to checkout the boardwalk at night, lit-up with all the street performers and night-life.

But we were there to dine, and as we entered the famed Iron Chef’s restaurant we were immediately struck by the elegant ambiance inside. Think plenty of dark woods, Mediterranean colors, soft lighting and an open kitchen. Although we had a reservation, the restaurant was pretty available for walk-ups. The aroma was filled with wafting spicy scents, the smell of a great kitchen being put to good use. It was almost immediately captivating.

We perused the breakfast menu over some pretty good coffee (stronger than the usual Disney fare). Boots went immediately for the Stacked Breakfast, which featured poached eggs with a creamy artichoke spread, olive toast, sweet potato hash and bacon. I went with the Breakfast Skillet, consisting of eggs, piquillo peppers, Greek cheese, Nueske’s bacon, onions and arugula, with a side of chicken sausage.

The Stacked Breakfast at Kouzzina.

The Stacked Breakfast at Kouzzina.

Do you really want to know why I got into running? So I can eat like this without guilt.

We both really enjoyed our meal. Boots enjoyed her breakfast so much, she almost passed out. I tasted a bit of her eggs, and they were fantastic. The combination of the egg yolk and artichoke spread blended together well. Her olive bread had olives literally baked into it, for a very strong olive flavor, one which she very much loved. The bacon itself was probably the weak link. Boots felt it tasted like typical bacon, nothing better or worse.

My skillet was a good melange of flavors. While it was swimming in arugula in very light dressing, it didn’t overpower the meal. The combination of fresh peppers, bacon, cheese, egg, and spices was perfectly put together. The chicken sausage itself didn’t feel greasy or heavy, but surprisingly light and tasty.

The Breakfast Skillet at Kouzzina.

The Breakfast Skillet at Kouzzina.

Overall we were extremely happy and satisfied with our meal at Kouzzina by Cat Cora. The total bill (including the discount and tip), which covered both entrees, a side order, orange juice, and coffee came to¬†$41, which is very reasonable given the quality of the cuisine. We made another favorite on this trip, one we’ll return to soon. Perhaps for dinner next time…

Well, that’s all I got. Hope you enjoyed my latest sojourn into music and face-stuffing. Here’s the video:

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