I’m going to throw a party, and you’re invited! I’m going to have lots of food, wine, beer — maybe a cocktail or two. I’m going to decorate the place up special with lots of colorful splashes and moody lighting. And entertainment! Oh my goodness golly, I’ll have some really good entertainment. Truly, no expense will be spared.
Which brings me to a sensitive topic. I’m going to have to charge you $145 to attend my party. I’m sure you’ll agree it will be worth it. Would you like a place to sit down? I can put your name on a table for $170. And if you’d like to be separated from the other people, I can put you in a special spot in my place with your own table and a few other amenities, like a full bar and table service, so you won’t have to get up and get the food and drinks yourself. I’m happy to offer this amenity for a mere $270. Of course, as you know, I live in a gated community, and a nominal fee of $89 (plus tax) will be necessary to get through the gate. Oh, and parking! It’s only $14, and you’ll have to park outside the gates and walk in. Sorry, I don’t offer valet service — I’m trying to keep the costs down for you!
That’s pretty much the setup for Party for the Senses, the swanky food and beverage do that runs on Saturday evenings during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (Presented by Chase, although the Parties are hosted by Vanity Fair, the napkin people). Of course, it has always been thus.
Well, some of it. PftS attendees have always had to pay a premium price for admission to the Party, above and beyond the cost to get into Epcot and the parking. In 2009, the organizers (Party planners?) added the Wine View Lounge, a sort of gated area inside the vast World ShowPlace event space. The 2012 fee of $270 per person gets you a private reserved table in that gated area, admission 15 minutes before the huddled masses, a specialty cocktail toast as well as the premium bar and an artisanal cheese station.
That option proved to be so popular that this year the Party for the Senses has an in-between alternative. For $170, guests can get a table on the main floor (read: not within the gated area), a specialty cocktail and the 15-minute head start. Just the general admission ticket seems a hefty fee: $145 for the Party, $89 for admission to Epcot, plus tax. You’re talking over $500 per couple already. But I guess a lot of people figure “in for a penny, in for several hundred pounds,” because get this: you can still purchase general admission tickets to the remaining Parties for the Senses, but the two premium options are sold out for the run.
Party for the Senses is one of my favorite things at the annual festival, and I’m always thrilled when I’m invited to attend on a media pass. I went to the opening Party on Saturday, and things were running smoothly.
I had few favorites among the food and wine offerings. I think the best was from Chefs de France, which served a seared salmon fillet marinated with mustard accompanied by a blini with cucumber salad. The cucumber was a cool accompaniment to the fish.
Nearby, Cat Cora was in attendance to represent her Kouzzina with Cat Cora restaurant at Disney’s BoardWalk. Her chefs were serving a honey lavender lamb loin with smoked feta mash and kumquat pistachio chutney. (She, dressed in a beautiful red silk blouse and looking terrific, mainly stood and greeted guests.)
Kevin Dundon, executive chef at Raglan Road, had come in from Ireland for the week. The printed menu had him serving cobia, but the sign next to his station said it was coquilles St. Jacques, which seems an odd thing for an Irish restaurant, but Dundon has always been about knocking down stereotypes. It wasn’t a traditional St. Jacques, either, but it was good.
Dominique MacQuet of Dominiques on Magazine in New Orleans, was serving Nisbet oysters in the shell with cauliflower scallion creme fraiche. Quite tasty. Donald Link of Herbsaint, also in New Orleans. He was offering tastes of pickled shrimp salad with artichokes, chilies and mushrooms.
Oddly, the longest line — make that the two longest lines — were for the two cheese stations. I couldn’t quite figure that one out.
There weren’t any wines that had a wow factor, at least not for me. The best still wine was the Rib Shack Red from DGB in South Africa. Otherwise, Moet & Chandon and Mumm Napa are always quite drinkable.
There were more beer vendors than I remember from years past, and I enjoyed the option of having something a little more refreshing, such as a Radebrger pilsner to sip.
But the best thing about the whole evening was the entertainment from Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba. The troupe has been performing for several years, and I know there’s been some rumblings that maybe it is time to find some new entertainers. But I just don’t think you can do better than this. The trampolinists from the show did the high-energy number that has five or so of the acrobats bouncing and walking up the walls of a windowed backdrop, occasionally popping through one of the windows or defying gravity to walk to the top of the set. I must have seen it a half dozen times, and it still thrills.
But the juggling act — which I haven ‘t seen since it was added to the show — was, quite simply, astounding. If I had seen only a video of this man I would have assumed there was some sort of trick photography at play.
So there’s quite a bit involved with putting the Party on, and there’s certainly a lot there for your money, more than I can provide at my house. (For one thing, I don’t have an in with the Cirque du Soleil people.) Plus, don’t forget that your Epcot admission gets you into the park for everything else it has to offer. And those who purchase Party tickets — even the lowly $145 general admission! — can get preferred seating at the evening’s Eat to the Beat concert.
There are four more Parties for the Senses on the remaining Saturday nights. They start at 7:30 p.m. and go until 10 p.m. (Epcot is staying open an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays during the festival). Take a look at the official Epcot festival website for a list of the participants each week (they tend to feature visiting chefs who participate in cooking demonstrations and wine tastings the week prior to the Party).
For a peek at what a Party for the Senses looks like, click on the video below.